Really Useful Links: Both Sides of the Law by Paul Anthony Shortt | Resources | Links for Writers

Paul Anthony Shortt

 All of the greatest adventure or crime stories include characters skirting, or even outright defying, the law. Even less action-packed genres can wind up with their heroes in conflict with the authorities, whether the law is something to be broken for their own gain, navigated to help a friend, or as an obstacle to force them to find an alternative solution to their problems. The law can be an ally, the tool of an enemy, or a chance to expand on your setting and draw your readers deeper into the world of the story.

But laws are tricky, and they change from country to country. So not only do you, as the author, have to worry about getting geography and culture right, but you also have to make sure you’re up to speed on the laws where your book is set. Even if you don’t plan to feature law as a major element, it’s important to consider the possible implications of anything your characters do. As I’ve said before, research is incredibly important, and getting something wrong about the law, or having characters break laws in a manner not fitting with the tone of your book can be a dealbreaker.

So what can you do to cover yourself and not only avoid legal errors, but use the law to make your story that much more interesting?

  1. Strictest Laws in the World – Never assume you’ve got the complete picture on a given country’s laws. You would be amazed how harsh some laws can be, and this guide will give you an indication of just how far the law can go.
  2. It used to be illegal for women to wear pants in France – Strange laws don’t have to be frightening; they can also be amusing. While France recently revoked the law against women wearing pants, the change in law did inspire other outlets to list weird laws from around the world. Strange laws like this can be a good source of inspiration for amusing plot turns, and can add an extra layer of depth to your depiction of a country if you take into account how such laws will influence people’s behaviour.
  3. Stalking Laws – On a more serious note, many books feature characters following or observing others, for a range of reasons. Whether your writing about an obsessed killer, an amateur detective, or want to have your romantic lead track down your heroine, it pays to find out what acts are likely to land those characters in legal trouble. You can find detailed information on stalking laws in Ireland and the United States. And don’t forget the rising problem of cyber-stalking.
  4. Violence and Self-Defence – Movies and TV shows have taught us that anyone from a police officer to an office worker can assault and even kill another person with impunity, so long as they’re one of the Bad Guys, but real life doesn’t work this way, and books are often expected to be much more true to life than their visual counterparts. While self-defence laws exist to allow people to protect themselves, the exact consequences of harming someone who’s trying to harm you will vary greatly depending on the circumstances. Different countries and states will also have their own laws governing assault and self-defence. It’s vital to learn the laws of your book’s setting if you plan on having violent acts play an important part of your story.
  5. Weapons – Similarly, many authors of horror, crime, thrillers, or urban fantasy may want their characters to be armed with particular weapons. Find out what weapons may be legally possessed and carried. What ones are allowed with permits? Would your hero need a special position or relationship with the authorities in order to carry the equipment you want them to have? Again, these laws differ all over the world, and even in America, which is notably in the spotlight for its gun laws, there can be a variety of restrictions and permits to consider.
  6. Powers of the Police – If you’ve made it this far, there’s a good chance you’re considering having your characters cross some legal lines, so you should now take the time to find out exactly how the police are required to operate. In Ireland, the Gardaí have particular codes of conduct and restrictions (such as the limited availability of firearms to officers). There would be similarities between our own Gardaí and the British Police, of course, but never assume that one will be equal to the other. And while state laws in the US can vary a great deal, there are particular rules all American police must follow.

Of course, learning about these laws doesn’t mean that your characters have to obey them. Many of the most engaging conflicts come from situations where a character is forced to put themselves in jeopardy by breaking the rules and facing the consequences. And having an antagonist break such laws without consequence is an effective way of establishing them as a threat.

Unlike in real life, in fiction, the law is your tool. Use it to make your heroes’ lives harder whenever you can.

(c) Paul Anthony Shortt

About the author

Paul Anthony Shortt believes in magic and monsters; in ghosts and fairies, the creatures that lurk under the bed and inside the closet. The things that live in the dark, and the heroes who stand against them. Above all, he believes that stories have the power to change the world, and the most important stories are the ones which show that monsters can be beaten.
Paul’s work includes the Memory Wars Trilogy and the Lady Raven Series. His short fiction has appeared in the Amazon #1 bestselling anthology, Sojourn Volume 2.



Twitter: @PAShortt

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get all of the latest from delivered directly to your inbox.

Featured books