Night On Fire

Calm down, this isn’t about my love life. NIGHT ON FIRE is a book by Douglas Corleone (no relation). Here’s what Douglas has to say about the book and about himself:

In NIGHT ON FIRE, hotshot Honolulu defense lawyer Kevin Corvelli narrowly escapes a deadly arson fire at a popular Hawaiian beach resort only to land the prime suspect – a stunning but troubled young bride charged with murdering her husband and ten others – as a client.

DOUGLAS CORLEONE is the author of the Kevin Corvelli crime series published by St. Martin’s Minotaur. His debut novel ONE MAN’S PARADISE won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award. A practicing attorney, Douglas divides his time between New York and Hawaii. NIGHT ON FIRE is his second novel. You can visit him at

Douglas has kindly agreed to tell us how to bring courtroom scenes to life. Take it away, Douglas!

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Breathing Life into Courtroom Scenes

You love Law & Order but will use any excuse you can to get out of jury duty. Why? Because real-life trials are generally boring. Viewers may become rapt by high-profile trials featuring such defendants as O.J. Simpson and Scott Peterson, but I’d wager very few members of the general public would be interested in sitting down with the thousands of pages of transcript from either trial. Yet today’s legal thrillers are as compelling as ever, because contemporary authors know how to breathe life into their courtroom scenes.

How is this accomplished?

As with any great fiction, you start with dynamic characters. An author of legal thrillers must be skilled not only in story-telling but in persuasion. The author must convince his readers that his lawyer-protagonist can persuade a jury, even in the face of mountains of evidence against his client. The lawyer-protagonist must also be a skilled investigator. Certainly a lawyer may retain the services of a professional investigator, but today’s lawyer-protagonists must also get their hands dirty. They must seek evidence and interview witnesses at their own peril. And they must face a formidable adversary across the aisle. In real life, bad lawyers are difficult to watch; in fiction, bad lawyers can devastate a story.

Of course, lawyers aren’t the only players in a criminal or civil trial. The judge plays a significant role in steering the case and quite often affects the outcome in ways jurors never realize. The judge’s rulings on what evidence is admissible at trial can mean the difference between guilty and not guilty, between a verdict for the plaintiff and a finding for the defense. Authors of legal thrillers should spend time developing the judge’s character, not just as a referee, but as a person with a past, and perhaps an agenda. Same with every witness who takes the stand at trial. Not every witness tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Many witnesses lie, and trials are more riveting because of it.

The author of legal thrillers must also know how to edit. The author alone decides which parts of the trial the reader experiences, and which parts are conducted off-screen. In real-life, some witnesses take the stand for days or even weeks at a time. In fiction, a direct or cross-examination that lasts more than a few pages can easily put a reader to sleep.

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NIGHT ON FIRE is available in hardcover from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your friendly neighborhood indie bookseller.

WRITING PROMPT: Your main character had to go to court. Why? Good lawyer or poor lawyer?



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Night On Fire

  1. Joyce Lansky

    April 16, 2011 at 10:49am

    I totally agree. Making a court trial scene interesting would be tough, and it takes great talent to pull it off. I think strong characters are the key to all great fiction. I mean, Lois Lowry once wrote something about how none of her fan letters ever mentioned her great plot or strong verb choices. It’s all about characters and what the fans think of them.


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      Marian Allen

      April 16, 2011 at 1:01pm

      I love that Lowry quote! I grew up watching Perry Mason, so courtroom drama always has appeal for me. It would be awfully dry, though, without strong characters. Remember the courtroom scenes in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD?

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  2. Evelyn

    April 16, 2011 at 2:50pm

    How true. I always find myself finding at least one to identify with… or pick apart. 🙂

    Of course with court and crime dramas I’m always trying to figure out what’s gonna happen next.

    Congratulations, Douglas! Can’t wait to read Night on Fire!

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  3. Douglas Corleone

    April 16, 2011 at 3:17pm

    Thanks for the comments!

    The one positive is that by the time I reach the courtroom scenes, the evidence is already laid out, the witnesses are chosen, and I can revert to being a lawyer. Writers have to make so many choices; attorneys must use the evidence before them, so by the time I reach the trial in a story, many of the choices have already been made. That’s a relief.

    Reading courtroom scenes (my own and others’) is always a great joy, because effective courtroom scenes are filled with snappy dialogue. No need to describe a courtroom — just drop two lawyers into the well and let ’em rip.

    Evelyn, thanks for the congrats — hope you enjoy the novel!

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