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Dear Ms Rand

I am a lawyer recently involved in very interesting case.  I think it would make a great book (marriage, infidelity, death, fraud, theft, personal tragedy etc, etc), but don't know whether I should stick to the facts adn document the case or write it as fiction and "embellish" it where necessary.

Is there any rule of thumb, especially for a first time writer?

Many thanks

Hello Matthew Esq.:

I am a dedicated watcher of Court TV and I know there are many interesting and involving cases in our courts that would make marvelous books. Just ask John Grisham!

There are no rules of thumb that I know of, but you probably know more about the problems inherent in a non-fiction work of this type than I do - getting releases, disguising names, etc. Or, you can forget all that and just lay out the facts. The trouble with this is that if you're not careful, it ends up reading like a trial transcript. Readers want to know about the people involved.

For that reason, if I were considering such a book, I would write it as fiction ("Based on a real case"), disguise the characters and use other names, locate it elsewhere, etc.  This way, you can draw your characters as you like, giving them the background/reactions you want them to have. Where the story needs drama you can add it, and you can leave out all the stupid stuff. I would use the testimony pretty much as it is, with the cuts as mentioned.

I trust you have read the greats in true crime: Capote, Ann Rule, Aphrodite Jones, Grisham, etc. Capote, of course is credited with inventing "creative non-fiction," I don't think you could go wrong using IN COLD BLOOD as a model.  James Frey (that James Frey) has written some wonderful books on writing, the one I'm thinking of is HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL. You might consult that.

This sounds like it will make interesting reading and I do hope you persevere with it. If you have more questions, please come back. I'd like to help if I can.

I hope this helps. If it does, a nice rating would be greatly appreciated. I am proud of my high score over 800 questions.

And good luck with your writing!  

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Susan Rand


I can answer questions about the elements of fiction and non-fiction writing: how to get started, writing techniques, re-writing, etc. I will NOT write for you, do critiques except from my website at, or give you ideas. I will not answer home-or-schoolwork questions in any category. If English is your second language, please say so, and I will make an exception. Please submit no more than one or two questions at once, as I tend to go into detail in my answers.


I wrote my first book in 1957 and have been writing and studying writing since. I have a BA in Written Communications, and have taught writing both privately and through adult education for 15 years. Have also edited (fiction books) for an online publisher and edited/wrote more than 100 articles for a teen sex education site. Currently writing web content and mentoring beginning writers.

BA degree in Written Communication

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