Author Topic: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?  (Read 696 times)  

Offline TromboneAl

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Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« on: October 31, 2016, 09:15:55 AM »
Yesterday's Thief and my WIP involve a PI with mind-reading capabilities. In the next book, I'm considering having him work together with his police-detective friend.

This will put me into the police procedural genre. I have no firsthand experience with police procedures.

Do you think that with some obsessive research, I can write a book like that without falling into the pitfalls of unrealistic details?

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Offline Olivia Westbrook

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #1 on: October 31, 2016, 09:23:42 AM »
I'm no expert, but I think it can be done. You're always told to write what you know, but if we only wrote what we knew from direct experience, our books would probably be rather dull. I don't think Dennis Lehane has any experience as a private investigator, but his Kenzie/Gennaro PI series is absolutely wonderful. Many writers research, and so I think if you're dedicated to getting it right, you can make it work!
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Offline KelliWolfe

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #2 on: October 31, 2016, 09:28:43 AM »
I've never lived on Mars, danced at Almack's, dated a billionaire, or driven a Ferrari 488 GTB, but I've written about people doing all of those things. With enough research you can tackle anything.

What I like to do if I'm getting into something new like you're talking about is to immerse myself for a while in a stack of books in that genre so I can get a good feel for what the reader is going to be expecting. It's as much about that as it is getting the technical details right, and you generally absorb a lot of details just from all the reading. At that point you've got a solid footing to really know what you need to research and what you can gloss over the way that is normal for the genre.

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Offline AliceS

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #3 on: October 31, 2016, 09:55:13 AM »
There are a lot of books out there on the subject. You could get one for a safe grounding in the necessities. I have a cousin who is a cop and he gave me a lot of good feedback. My town has such an excess of writers that there is a writer's workshop held by the police. And they even allow a ride-along.

I've found that most professionals are happy to answer serious questions about their day to day.


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Offline TwistedTales

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #4 on: October 31, 2016, 10:13:55 AM »
I've a mind to try my hand at a crime fiction one day, so I've been collecting sites/forums that offer online information and advice. These are the links I have tucked away. I haven't tried them yet, but they might be worth looking at. In fact, I think I might have found them here.  :D

Police forum for writers

http://www.realpolice.net/forums/writers-questions-218/

https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/crimescenewriter/info

http://www.silverhartwriters.com

Offline valeriec80

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #5 on: October 31, 2016, 10:50:35 AM »
I'm fairly certain that most police procedurals are horribly inaccurate. I did a bunch of research on the FBI once and found out stuff like FBI agents don't have partners and don't really do field investigations and decided that if every single FBI movie and tv show I'd ever seen could get all the basics wrong, accuracy was not that important. YMMV.
 

Offline Edward M. Grant

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #6 on: October 31, 2016, 11:04:47 AM »
Remember, there's a big difference between TV, movie, and book audiences. It's one thing to have CSI magically get DNA matches in five seconds on TV, but police procedural readers may throw the book across the room if you do the same in print.

If you really care about being accurate, you should probably talk to the local police and try to spend some time with them. One writer acquaintance even got a day with them in a helicopter a few years ago.

Offline Nicholas Erik

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #7 on: October 31, 2016, 12:07:42 PM »
I'm fairly certain that most police procedurals are horribly inaccurate. I did a bunch of research on the FBI once and found out stuff like FBI agents don't have partners and don't really do field investigations and decided that if every single FBI movie and tv show I'd ever seen could get all the basics wrong, accuracy was not that important. YMMV.

This. Unless the accuracy is the point, television and film have skewed the perception of what law enforcement do so much that if you get it "right" you might actually annoy people.

Examples: a defibrillator does not restart someone's heart when they've flatlined. Or, when someone takes a bullet in the field, it's generally bad form to pull it out, since you're more likely to make things worse and cause the person to bleed to death. And, when someone gets shot in a "safe" place like the leg to avoid killing them this is obvious nonsense. Easily can hit an artery or have massive complications from any gunshot - no remotely safe bullets, and pretty much no one is a good enough shot to ensure they don't clip an artery when they "save" their partner by kneecapping them or something.

Yet these are all well-accepted tropes. I'm sure there are police procedural how to books for writers if you want to get it right, but I think - in many instances - what's accurate and what makes for good genre reading are often two different things.

ETA: I don't think there's a large chasm between the realism expectations of book readers and TV/film viewers. Whether accuracy is critical depends on how it's marketed and who your target audience is. People interested in true crime and the mechanics of police work will be far more demanding of true-to-life accuracy than those picking up a hard boiled detective yarn. Kind of like the difference between The Wire and Law & Order.

Nick
« Last Edit: October 31, 2016, 12:11:37 PM by Nicholas Erik »

Offline m.a. petterson

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #8 on: October 31, 2016, 01:41:10 PM »
How big is your mailing list? Best-seller Mark Dawson has several experts on his for questions and to keep him accurate.

Find someone in LE to beta read for you. I had a cop beta my last title and he helpfully pointed out an inaccuracy.

I have several dozen books in my crime reference library. They are very helpful. But do not buy the $124 'Practical Homicide Investigation' book. It features many, many pictures, most all in color.


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Offline Steven Hardesty

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #9 on: October 31, 2016, 02:22:55 PM »
You might shove the story back a few years in time - like to the 1950s - when police procedures were primitive.  That would make it less likely your lack of knowledge would matter or be caught out.


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Offline Decon

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #10 on: October 31, 2016, 03:17:06 PM »
I was grateful when a few ex-law enforcement authors on here replied to one of my posts and pointed out that my premise for a police procedural was flawed. I was thirty thousand words into the WIP and it knocked me for six. I put it to one side, thinking all was lost and moved onto other WIP stories I had on the boil. Thanks to their input, and more research, I've gone back to it and done a re-write to bring it within the realms of procedure for the LAPD/LASO area. If  I hadn't done that, when I eventually complete the story and publish, I could have fallen foul of readers for the genre who take it seriously and probably they would have given it a 1 star. Police procedural stories have at their core the same sort of dedicated readers that the harcore sci-fi genre has, and they will be quick to pick up on a poorly researched story.

Sometimes you will say come across such as - "He withdrew his Glock 17 and flicked the safety off with his thumb", when in fact the safety for that is part of the trigger mechanism, like a second trigger that you pull with your trigger finger first to enable the Glock to fire. It's those sort of things that can turn a reader of the genre off from continuing if you get it wrong.

Like others have said, research is important for a police procedural. If you can't find someone in law enforcement to talk to, there's plenty of information on the web, including official sites, together with sites that list different laws for different states. It's okay for cops to break the rules in procedure, and the law, because some do. But it helps if you know when they are doing so.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2016, 03:59:26 PM by Decon »


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Offline Ariel Eaves

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #11 on: October 31, 2016, 03:20:14 PM »
The most useful research will be reading books in that genre. Figure out what the key tropes are, what people expect, and what you can/can't get away with. Reading reviews of said books would also be a good idea. If people are criticising others for making a simple mistake, you can make sure you don't do the same!
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Offline Jeff Tanyard

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #12 on: October 31, 2016, 04:26:41 PM »
This will put me into the police procedural genre. I have no firsthand experience with police procedures.

Do you think that with some obsessive research, I can write a book like that without falling into the pitfalls of unrealistic details?

Have you read Bester's The Demolished Man?  Police procedural + telepathy.  Maybe that'll give you some ideas.

It's been a long time since I read it, and I don't remember much, but I remember the "tenser said the tensor" thing:

Quote
Eight, sir; seven, sir;
Six, sir; five, sir;
Four, sir; three, sir;
Two, sir; one!
Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tenser, said the Tensor.
Tension, apprehension,
And dissension have begun.

Everybody say it with me: tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun...   ;D

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Offline WRPursche

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #13 on: October 31, 2016, 04:48:03 PM »
I am writing a police series. I did a lot of research before starting, including talking to detectives and policemen. And reading a lot of crime novels.

The beta readers for book 1 in the series included 4 detectives, 3 policemen, 1 sheriff, a DEA agent, and an FBI agent. I was really happy that my up front research resulted in no major issues being found as far as procedures. However, I got a lot of relatively minor, but really helpful tidbits to include that I think will make the book even more realistic.

One thing to keep in mind is that law enforcement procedures differ quite a bit across different states and even within the same state. Examples include how many cops ride in a car (i.e. do they have a partner or ride solo), whether detectives have partners, whether the department has a separate homicide or special crimes group, what kind of guns they carry, whether they are required to carry while off duty, whether they have to live in the same jurisdiction they serve. . .the list is endless.  The good news is that this buys you a little creative freedom.

I totally second the points made above about TV shows. The biggest difference I believe is 'time'.  What is shown on TV in terms of how long it takes to get stuff done (DNA results, especially) is way too short. And there are no magic software programs that allow cross referencing a credit card receipt to a gas purchase to a make of car from a image detection on a security camera to the property tax files to homeland security airplane ticket purchases etc etc in 30 seconds. (Basically the entire 'electronic' detection sections of shows like Hawaii Five-0 and Rizzoli and Isles.

Offline TromboneAl

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #14 on: October 31, 2016, 06:01:41 PM »
Thanks for the tips.

Don't they call it the CDI Effect--audiences expecting DNA results is 10 minutes?

You might shove the story back a few years in time - like to the 1950s - when police procedures were primitive.  That would make it less likely your lack of knowledge would matter or be caught out.

It will take place in 2023, so that might help.

Sent from my Nexus 7 using Tapatalk
« Last Edit: October 31, 2016, 06:17:13 PM by TromboneAl »

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Offline KelliWolfe

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #15 on: October 31, 2016, 06:18:07 PM »
Thanks for the tips.It will take place in 2023, so that might help.
In that case you can probably get by with some basic research to make it sound authentic, and then hand-wave a lot of the tedious stuff away with advances in computer and forensic technologies. Oh, and you might check out JD Robb's In Death series, which are police procedurals set in NYC in the mid 21st century.

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Offline Joseph Malik

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #16 on: October 31, 2016, 06:27:38 PM »
there are no magic software programs that allow cross referencing a credit card receipt to a gas purchase to a make of car from a image detection on a security camera to the property tax files to homeland security airplane ticket purchases etc etc in 30 seconds.

EDIT: Disregard previous. Local cops likely don't have it.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2016, 07:08:16 PM by Joseph Malik »
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Offline Jena H

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #17 on: October 31, 2016, 06:27:50 PM »
A couple of months ago a guy started a thread and said he was a retired law enforcement officer, and said he'd be glad to answer questions people had about cops, detective work, procedures, etc.  It was probably in July or so....  I can't remember his name and not sure if he's been around since then.  But he even listed the sorts of things he was familiar with and other topics he was less familiar with.
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Offline RN_Wright

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #18 on: October 31, 2016, 06:35:47 PM »
One item that lets the air out of a story is the introduction of an Interpol "field agent." Interpol doesn't have them.

And on TV everyone is a "Special Agent." Are there no "Garden Variety Agents?"   :P


Offline Matt.Banks

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #19 on: October 31, 2016, 07:08:05 PM »
I am listening to the Self Publishing Round Table podcast #165 on youtube, it's with crime fiction writer Rosanne Dingli. It's very informative for crime fiction but the advice is also good for other genres. How to build up a protagonist/antagonist, how much research to do or how many "facts" to include and plenty of examples.

Offline dgrant

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Re: Write Police Procedural Without Experience?
« Reply #20 on: October 31, 2016, 08:51:57 PM »
If you're in the US, check with your local police department, and your county and state police as well. Many offer ride-alongs, where you not only get several hours to ask a police officer about his daily (relatively boring) schedule, but also to observe it in action.

Also, at least once a year, many departments offer a "citizen's academy", which goes into a lot more in-depth detail on how the cops, courts, and citizenry fit together, as well as tours of jails and ride-alongs, and sometimes even firearms qualification. For example, Here's the Colorado Spring, CO CPSD page: https://cspd.coloradosprings.gov/content/citizens-academy

Just don't be like a mystery writer a friend knows, who called the local police out of the blue to ask about the best way to dispose of the body. That led to some, ahem, extremely intense questions being asked, up until they were absolutely sure that all the people she had killed and intended to kill were purely fictional.