Beginnings are always tough, but something I found useful when trying to define the focus of my current WIP is the format of the legal brief. Attorneys use legal briefs to narrow the focus of case from a lengthy rationale to its essential parts. Last week, I thought perhaps I could use the format of the legal brief to help me explore my novel.
To make any legal brief easy to scan, it is broken into distinctive parts: parties, issue, facts, rationale, and holding.
Here’s how you can make it work for your story-line:
PARTIES: In a legal brief, the parties are the plaintiff and the defendant. In your story, the parties are your protagonist and your antagonist. Don’t go into detail over secondary characters or sub-plots, remember, you only want the most essential portions of your novel. This will also ensure you have a clear picture of your protagonist and antagonist.
ISSUE: The issue is often written in the form of a question and covers the main issue the court is trying to decide. Think about the main point of your novel and place your theme here. For example: Is life predestined or can free will alter our future?
FACTS: This section is comprised of the facts of the case and a general overview of how the plaintiff and defendant wound up, first in court, then in appeals court. When used for a story-line, this section will contain some back-story on how your protagonist and antagonist came to be rivals. What each party wants and how they intend to defend their positions.
RATIONALE: This is a summary of as many as forty to sixty pages of why the court made the decision it made. For your story, the rationale is a general roadmap of your plot arc. The beginning, the slow rise to the climax, then the climax. You want to show the reasoning behind your protagonist and antagonist’s actions.
HOLDING: This is the court’s final decision; however, in your story, the holding will represent your ending or the denouement.
Of course, feel free to change the headings anyway you want to, but this should give you a very simple road map of how your story unfolds.
What about you? How do you manage those sloppy beginnings?