I know, I know. You had a visceral reaction to the title of this blog. It probably wasn't a nice reaction. It probably went something like, "Ew, why would I want to write like a lawyer?"
Here's the problem: I am/was/will always be a lawyer. Regardless of whether I am practicing law actively or not, it is part of my DNA. My lawyerly-ness influences my writing more than I want to admit. So obviously, I couldn't write a column on my journey to publication without talking about it. :-)
Being a lawyer is both a blessing and a curse. The curse part has to do with people hating your profession, and occasionally hating you because of your profession. The blessing has something to do with why so many lawyers end up as successful authors. And really, it's related to the curse. Because part of what people hate about lawyers makes us really good writers. The great thing is, you don't have to be a lawyer to enjoy these blessings. I've extracted them from my DNA and am ready to hand them over to you.
1) Care about words. A lot.
Lawyers are trained to pay enormous attention to words. Why does a statute use the word "shall" in one section, and "may" in another? Why does one case paraphrase another, instead of quoting it? What is the definition of the word? What was the definition when the statute was written?
Lawyers treat words like individual, precious beings with distinct personalities and meanings. Writers must, too. When you say your character has "auburn" hair, you convey one meaning. If you say her hair is reddish, chestnut, or sable, you convey something else. Be precise. Slender and lean are different words. So are cruel, mean, and vindictive. Don't allow yourself to become sloppy when it comes to your most precious resource.
2) Care about punctuation. Even more.
We've all seen the fantastic book, "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves." (If you haven't, go read it right now.) Everyone should know that the placement of a comma can dramatically change the meaning of a sentence (i.e., Eats shoots and leaves; Eats shoots, and leaves.) I once litigated a case over the placement of a comma. When your livelihood can turn on a semi-colon, you don't throw them around lightly.
Learn your punctuation. Dashes are powerful weapons. Commas can be confusing. God help us if you start throwing in semi-colons. Be thoughtful and learn from your copy-editor. You will get these things wrong. I do all the time. Don't try for perfection, but never give up, and never take it lightly. This is your craft and your tools. Chose the right one for the job.
3) Only use passive voice when you are avoiding responsibility.
Then, use it all the time.
I spilled the toxic waste. The toxic waste was spilled. See? Neat, right? I went from taking responsibility to absolving myself completely. The active and passive voice both have a role in writing. But when telling a story from deep within a character's point of view, you should have a reason for them to step into a passive voice. Why would someone telling a story move from the actor to a passive bystander? Don't eliminate the passive voice completely. Just pick the right times to use it.
4) Be passionate. Care about your work.
If you've ever heard a lawyer argue a case, you'll know they get excited. Really excited. About stupid things, like commas, and "shall"s, and "may"s. You should bring this same passion to your work. Writing without passion is limp, boring stuff. Fill it with life. Fill it with passion. It doesn't matter what you're writing. Make it the most important thing in the world. Make it sparkle.
Now, don't hate me too much if you try all this and someone tells you that you sound like a lawyer. It's okay. The best writers often do.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Given Inara Scott's love of argument, it was really only a matter of time before she ended up in law school. The mossy forests and volcanic beauty of Oregon led her to Lewis and Clark Law School and Portland, where she finally decided to settle down. It took another five years for Inara to screw up the courage to quit her lawyer job and devote herself to writing and teaching. Today, she writes anything and everything, including children’s books, young adult fiction, and adult romance. Her debut novel in the fabulous Delcroix Academy Talents/Candidates/Marked series was published in 2010 by Disney-Hyperion Books for Children, with the second book released in 2011.