July 9, 2024
The Anatomy of a Legal Thriller

The Anatomy of a Legal Thriller

Breaking Down the Elements of Suspense in the Courtroom

Laura Essay

When you walk into the courtroom of a legal thriller, you know truth is waiting to be revealed. The fervent thrill of the battle, uncertainty of outcome, and vacillating controversy smolder in the cauldron of the courtroom. Heart-pounding suspense draws readers into an experience that leaves them exhausted and wanting more. Suspense enshrouds this truth. It is the main character.

Suspense in the courtroom is achieved with strong characters, conflict, and high stakes. It is then delivered with a brisk pace, sporadic breadcrumbs of information, and atmospheric details that further define the characters involved. When a protagonist is likable, readers are drawn in and want more from the relationship. They watch the courtroom drama unfold as a compelling villain brings in conflict. The stakes must be high but can be anything of value. The protagonist can overcome a challenge, reveal an injustice, or expose an evil. Suspense builds as readers ask, “What is the protagonist willing to do? What would I be willing to do?”

The pacing in the courtroom must be swift enough to keep readers on the edge of their seats, grabbing at tidbits of information, wondering what will come next. It can be a game of cat and mouse with readers being deceived in ways they find satisfying. The atmosphere must enhance the drama, adding the final touches to the characters and their plights. Atmospheric details accentuate the personalities of the characters: how they fit in, if they fit in, and where they fit in. While foreshadowing builds courtroom suspense by letting readers know something may happen in the future that the characters don’t know, flashbacks increase suspense by causing readers to ask, “What does this mean?” Both can deepen the readers’ understanding of the characters or bring about the need for more details and more answers.

Blending fact and fiction with emotional intensity helps to engage readers. Suspense can build as the story offers a gripping exploration of significant societal issues, such as the opioid crisis and its impact on individuals, families, and society. The morally complex cast of characters can reflect people readers have encountered in their own lives. The attorneys, witnesses, spectators, judge, and jury encompass the entirety of society.

A central character’s personal stakes—such as guilt over a past tragedy—add a layer of emotional intensity that fuels the narrative. The protagonist’s journey through the courtroom is not just a professional battle but a personal quest for redemption. This duality keeps readers invested, asking themselves what they would do in similar circumstances.

As the conflict unfolds in the courtroom, the readers’ need for justice increases. Suspense intensifies as this need grows and relationships with the characters deepen. What begins as a quest for truth becomes infinitely more complicated as the protagonist struggles to balance their desire for justice with the conflicting motives of other characters. The need to expose greed, corruption, or negligence can drive the narrative, with powerful adversaries attempting to prevent these truths from seeing the light of day.

A crucial aspect of maintaining suspense in a legal thriller is the interplay between the protagonist and the antagonists. The protagonist’s internal struggles, the desire for revenge or justice from other characters, and the questionable morals of minor characters all contribute to the tension in the courtroom. Realism and accuracy in the legal proceedings allow readers to see the extremes to which witnesses will go to amplify their side of the story or hide all possibilities of discovering the truth.

Legal thrillers can tackle complex societal issues, exploring the guilt felt by those involved and the pain experienced by families affected by tragedies. Readers seek the truth, but it may not always be complete or satisfying.

Truth is exposed in layers. It’s often the unexpected truth that confronts readers in the end, leaving them questioning broader societal issues. The challenge for any writer is to maintain that suspense, keeping readers hooked until the very last page.

About the Author


Laura Essay is a dedicated advocate for justice and compassion. With a law degree from Creighton University School of Law and experience as an assistant attorney general, her debut novel, Side Effects Are Minimal, illuminates the opioid crisis. Laura infuses the story with raw emotion, exposing the insidious forces driving the opioid epidemic and the devastating consequences felt by individuals, families, and society.

For more information, please visit lauraessay.com


Legal thriller author Laura

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