Friday, June 24, 2011

New Beginning 864

“Councilor, you seem to be arguing that this man's appeal can be dispensed with because failure to do so will slow down the courts. Let me make my position on this perfectly clear: I don't give a shit. That's right, I said shit and I'm the judge, so you'd better fucking listen.

“If the courts have to be unfair in order to operate, it is better they stop. There are thousands of decisions the courts could make to speed up processes. Instead they let themselves get bogged down with procedure and detail and then ignore it all because it makes it too hard to kill someone.

“Councilor Burgess, if you want to argue that this man should be executed, fine. But don't try that argument. Now, I'm going to use another one of those procedural delays which are so abused, and order a recess for two days. Come up with a new argument in the mean time.”

Victor Burgess put his notes into his briefcase, looking like all he either wished he had more than four months experience under his belt or he wanted to go back and help his father run the pet shop.

Burgess watched the defendant being taken back to prison. Two days. How the hell was he going to be ready on time? A whole new argument. Maybe the words the judge used would give him a clue, except shit and fucking, of course. Burgess approached the court stenographer.

“Hey, Charlie, can you email the court transcripts ...”

“Already did, Victor. It should already be in your folder.” Charlie looked up. “I sent you a copy, too, Ben.”

“Thanks Charlie,” said Ben Reeves. Then, to Burgess, “Shit of a day at work, eh?”

"I'll say. I was a lot happier floating around in Grisham's head than I am on this page."

Opening: D Jason Cooper.....Continuation: anon.


Evil Editor said...

P1: Delete the last sentence.

P2: The last sentence isn't clear. What do the courts ignore? I'd delete it.

P3: The first two sentences contradict each other. Just delete them.

P4: Delete "all." I'd also delete "either wished he had more than four months experience under his belt or he." One simile describing his look is enough.

P5: Delete the first sentence. Delete "except shit and fucking, of course."

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Writer should read David Morrell's Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, with particular reference to what he says about swearing.

Picture someone picking your book up in a bookstore and reading the first page. It's got two things going on-- court procedures. Yawn. And a whole lot of cusswords. Worse than an elementary school playground.

Basically, the opening is relying on blue language to distract from the fact that it's dull. There's no need for it to be. If a man's life is at stake, put that in the first sentence. Or, at the very latest, the second.

gj said...

If this is set in the US, it's "Counselor," not "Councilor." The former refers to lawyers, the latter to members of a muncipal political body.

Anonymous said...

The swearing just didn't work for me. It almost felt like they were swearing just so there could be swear words. Plus, not only did the judge swear, but he commented on it, and then narrator commented on it later, so I almost felt like the book was saying, "hey look at this. I have swear words in my book so it's cool and edgy," which was just annoying.

Adele said...

The philosophical tirade is a wearisome read. You might do better to just refer to it rather than give it to us verbatim. Maybe Burgess's friends admire his ability to get the judge going, or everybody is starting to wonder if the judge is going to have a stroke.

I'd rewrite, and start with the first two sentences of para. 5.

As you know, Bob: the entire interaction with Charlie slows the pace and seems unnecessary.

And Para 4: "...looking like all he either wished he had..." I know what you're trying to say, but this makes no sense.

vkw said...

I thought the dialogue was weak. I just can't see a judge taking this long to put the smack down on your lawyer. Judges like to be brief and to the point.

Try this:

"Councilor, you seem to be arguing that this man's appeal can be dispensed with because failure to do so will slow down the courts," Judge McGoo said in his southern drawl. "The courts could easily make decisions to speed up the process but at the risk of being unfair. We might as well just stop, if that is the game we have to play."

The judge looked down on Victor from over his wired-rim glasses like a scolding father. "Councilor Burgess, you have two days to find a reasonable argument on why the defendant should be executed."

I thought the cussing was unnecessary. I see it as a poor attempt to bring interest to an opening that isn't all that interesting.

If the author thinks this may be the case, then I suggest starting the story somewhere else.

batgirl said...

Is this written in omniscient pov? First we're told what Burgess looks like, then we're inside his head.
I generally like in media res opening with dialogue, but this one left me with too many uncertainties.

Except that I like the judge much more than I like Burgess, presently. Burgess is coming off as not very bright - is that intentional? Is this a My Cousin Vinnie scenario, only Vinnie's the prosecution and not the defense?

Anonymous said...

Why would someone with 4 months experience be the prosecutor in a murder/capital punishment trial? Someone like that would be more likely to assist the prosecutor as part of of his team. Maybe he could have only 4 months experience taking lead on a case like this but by then you'd think he'd be smarter than that.

Maybe the judge could be more like this: Your argument has given no grounds for denying an appeal other than your personal opinion that it's a waste of time. The defense bothered to show up with intelligent arguments, you should do the same. I'm giving you a second chance because I'm so nice . . . but only to lawyers who also happen to be douche-bag idiots. . . .

Actually on second thought I don't know why the judge would give him a chance to rework his argument. Isn't this just a preliminary meeting to decide whether or not the appeal will go to trial? Why doesn't the judge just decide to let the appeal go through to trial and make the lawyer come up with a better argument there?

Unknown said...

I am presuming that you haven't had a lawyer or a judge, for that matter, read your story. Because we'd all put it down. I've been a lawyer in Virgina for better than 15 years and my hubby does criminal defense, including death penalty cases. This intro doesn't ring true because the details are wrong.

Any judge that talked like yours does would be removed from the bench. Sure they all want to say that the lawyer's argument is a bunch of BS when it is, but they don't. No judge is going to recess a case because the attorney's not prepared. The judge is just going to rule against that attorney and report him to the bar. If the judge does swear or otherwise act un-judical, he's not going to rant about how he can do so because "I'm the judge." We all know that he's the judge from the black robe.

Also, to get "Death Qualified" in most places an attorney needs to sit as second chair on at least 2 death penalty cases and be approved by a panel before he can "first chair" i.e. be the primary attorney. Appeallate work will have a similar vetting process. NO ONE is going to hand a death case off to someone with 4 months' experience. Death cases get publicity and very senior counsel.

You also don't have "court rat" lingo down. People aren't "taken back to prison" they are "stepped back." The defendant is probably in a holding cell at the courthouse. He won't be transported to the prison until that evening. And he's likely not in the courtroom at all (assuming an American court). A criminal defendant is unlikely to be transported to court just to hear argument on his appeal.

Even if the Court reporter could e-mail a transcript from the courthouse, she is unlikely to do so until someone asks her to do so and says they are going to pay for it. Reports get paid for transcribing, she's not going to send a free copy out. Court reporters also generally need time to turn a transcript around. If yu want insant transcripts, you generally need to tell them up front. The copy you get will also have a notation (usually in the e-mail) that it may have errors until finalized.

You might need some more research and a criminal defense or prosecutor beta reader between this and the next draft. If you don't have access to someone who does this for a living, go to your local courthouse and sit in on trials for a few days. Most are open to the public. See how they work.

Okay, now that I've handled the believability issues, to the substance of what you wrote.

I think you are starting in the wrong place. Victor gets chewed out by the judge and then thinks about getting chewed out. Not very compelling. You might want to start with:

"Victor Burgess watched (Name the Defendant) get stepped back. Two days..."

Find something compelling and start there.

Evil Editor said...

I've no idea how different terminology is there, or if the story is set there, but I believe the author lives in Australia.

none said...

The author may live in Australia, but Aus doesn't have the death penalty. You have to try bastions of democracy like Saudi Arabia and the US for that.

Evil Editor said...

Also, Japan and Switzerland. 70 countries have the death penalty, so the story must take place in one of those 70. We need to determine which of those countries lets lawyers with 4 months experience prosecute death penalty cases (assuming it takes place on Earth in present day). Or we can just ask the author where it's set.

none said...

To say Switzerland has the death penalty is a tad misleading--it's only Swiss military law that has it. Hardly comparing like with like.

Evil Editor said...

I thought we were theorizing on where the story is set. Now I find we're discussing whether the death penalty is less egregious if it's carried out with Swiss army knives.

Dave Fragments said...

I read this and couldn't comment because this past weekend was a mess of new airconditioner and guests and strange men traipsing around the house with ductwork and relatives wandering in and out...

I first went to look at Scott Turow's PRESUMED INNOCENT and read the opening.

That opening is all about the character Rusty Sabich. It is in his voice, it is his history and it is compelling.

This opening hasn't captured much about Victor Burgess other than he is inexperienced. It tells the reader more about the judge than Burgess.

That's a problem.