Friday, June 8, 2012

The Plausibility Factor

A porn star, a prime minister, murder, dismemberment, and the postal service.  Where does it all come together?

Our neighbors to the North - Canada.  An arrest of Luke Rocco Magnotta capped off an international manhunt this week.  Authorities found him at an internet cafe in Berlin apparently scouring for news of his exploits.

Mr. Magnotta is accused of killing his partner, cutting him into pieces, and then mailing those pieces to various Canadian officials.

This started my thoughts towards credibility.  If I wrote a story with the same facts, I doubt anyone would find it believable.  The sordid details of Magnotta's story can't possibly be true.  It is so far away from reality that it feels like a novel or movie.  We don't want to believe people will perform gruesome acts against each other. 

As a writer, I deal with the plausibility factor.  Is the story I'm writing plausible? Are the character's actions believable?  Or is it so far out of reality that no one would believe it and thus not want to read it?

But I also deal with it as a trial attorney.  Most jurors have never experienced the murky world of criminal law.  To them, every story has a conclusion, everything makes sense.  Unfortunately, crime does not lend itself to neat packages and clean corners.  Every case has unanswered questions.  Jurors have a difficult time getting over the plausibility factor because a violent act is so far removed from everything they know.  As prosecutors, we first have to help jurors believe the crime actually happened and then we can move into proving who did it.

The further I move in my career, the odder the cases get.  Home invasions, solicited murders, high tech drug dealing, new DNA solving cold cases. 

So how do we deal with it?  At trial, I generally start with scene setting witnesses.  Witnesses who will let the jurors know the crime actually happened.  These are the first responders.  Paramedics who treated the dying victim.  Firemen who battled a blaze.  The officers that discovered a body.

Then I move into the proof against the defendant. 

What about dealing with plausibility in writing?  I'm still working on that.   

1 comment:

  1. Don't even get me started on this one! :) I had an editor pass on my first book even though she really loved it because she said it was not realistic or plausible that someone who was abducted would stay with their abductor and not return home at the first opportunity! Even though in real life, this actually happens all the time. *sigh* I once critted for someone whose plot felt slightly implausible and then the writer told me that the implausible thing in the book actually happened in real life. Go figure. This is a tough one. I try to imagine if I were watching this as a movie and these things happened, would I keep watching or would I walk out of the theater because it seemed too outlandish. It's a fine line sometimes.