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Some of our script writer friends say that entertainment is more important than correct police procedure in crime fiction - being in the Force we find it hard to ignore incorrect procedure, it totally turns us off a novel. What do you think?
 

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Since every police force does things slightly different, there's a variety of "accurate". 

Besides, unfortunately, most people's ideas of procedure comes from movie and TV, so true procedure might not look right to the average reader.

as long as the procedure follows logical steps, I don't care how closely it conforms to one particular police force's SOP.
 

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Yes! I'm a real life detective and when the rage started about the CSI shows years ago, I thought I'd tune in and check it out. I hated it! I could only stomach about 10 minutes of the episode before I turned it off!  The crime scene dude was telling the detective what to do (not real), they lifted a print off the wooden bar in the tavern (not real - I've never lifted a print in a bar and if I did, the suspect could easily explain it away - "I drink there know and then"), then the dude lifted the print and looked at it through the light (okay - this happens to check the quality of the print) but then the actor read the print and named the suspect by name (not even close to being realistic). They all end up back at the office and plug in the suspect's name into a computer.  This was a really nice computer system because it listed a current picture of the suspect along with his fingerprints, DNA profile, and criminal record (No, we don't have such 'toys' in the police department -  in fact, most of our databases are text based and appear much like the old MS-DOS systems from back in the 80's).

Yeah, if you want to keep my attention, police procedure better be real - and given the innovation of the internet, its not too hard to find out what whe can and can not do in investigations...

Just a few thoughts from a detective turned author...
 
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Bridges said:
Some of our script writer friends say that entertainment is more important than correct police procedure in crime fiction - being in the Force we find it hard to ignore incorrect procedure, it totally turns us off a novel. What do you think?
There is a difference between being "real" and being "believable." In fiction, you are going for believable. That means that, even if something does not follow standard operating procedures to the letter, it needs to at least follow the logic of the world you have created in the book. Does anyone want to read about the 100 hours the hero has to spend filling out forms and processing paperwork? Of course not. But whatever you present in the fiction, it must FEEL real and it must fit with the expectations of the audience. When I was reviewing Jack's book, I took him to task a little for some of the police procedural stuff for this reason (though I still enjoyed the book and recommend it). Because the behavior didn't follow a logical chain of events. It doesn't have to be 100% "by the book," but it does have to feel as if the characters are behaving in a way that is rational in the context of the world you are working with.

A reviewer for A Game of Blood specifically called the book a mix of police procedural and urban fantasy, though as I was writing it I didn't start out intending to write a police procedural. And no, Mitch certainly violates standard operating procedures at ever opportunity. But in the context of the world presented, his actions and the actions of the other officers around him fits and makes sense. It may not be 100% accurate, but it passes the "truthiness" test so to speak. There is a standard operating procedure that is evident in the book, it just is not a "real world" SOP.
 

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Experts are the bane of every writer's existence! :) God forbid you should write a story featuring a gun that didn't exist for another six months or have someone fly on an airplane that wasn't in commercial service for another year! You'll have hell to pay!

I used to write cartoons, so it really galled me when, in Mrs. Doubtfire, they showed Robin Williams dubbing in dialogue for a cartoon that had already been animated. The voices come first, then the drawings! But I realized that that wouldn't have been as entertaining for the general audience and restrained myself from standing up and bringing this inaccuracy to the attention of the audience. :)

As a reader, I'm luckily inexpert in most areas, so the "truthiness" test works for me.
 

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I know almost nothing about how the police/Secret Service/FBI, etc. work, so it would have to be pretty far out there for me to say 'Hey, wait a minute!'  So, to answer your question, police procedurals don't have to be realistic for me. 

But I'm not your prospective audience (since I'm not interested in police procedurals).  If I were, I'd know more about them.

Authors have to realize that readers who pick up their particular book picked it up because something about it interested them.  Whatever that 'something' is, the reader probably knows more about it than the average person.  Therefore the author has to expect the target audience is already somewhat of an expert and write accordingly. 

Speaking as the prospective reader, if the author writes something that I know isn't true, it drops me out of the story.  My 'suspension of belief' has been shattered.  Something bad enough can ruin a story for me. 

 

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I think police procedure is very important - especially if you're writing police procedurals.  The trick, though, is what to gloss over with a few sentences and what to concentrate on.  Some things are more important than others, and boring people to death going step by step on some things that aren't important to the story will not win any new readers. 

I think even more important than police procedure is the culture.  The police culture.  If you get that down, and skip over a few steps to move the story along: "They measured the scene and marked the bloodstains" you will be appreciated by cops.  It's all about standing in their community, what is approved, what is disapproved, who your loyalty is to. That takes a good friend in the police department.  There's a lot of "us" and "them" among agencies.  This is Michael Connelly's trademark - he gets into the culture.

 

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Procedure - changes from place to place!

However, I find myself rolling my eyes and putting a book down when the author clearly has no clue what they are talking about. I recently read a book in which the "lead detective" on a case was a complete and total moron. I've been a military police officer, prison guard, and studied criminal justice though. While not everyone has that experience to lean on, readers aren't stupid. You need to make sure you're writing smart and that you know what you're talking about. Detectives didn't get to where they are by being ignorant and non-observant. So, make sure your writing reflects that and you should be fine.

When in doubt, write what you know! If you don't know it - research!:D
 

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If my military thrillers were real, they'd be one page long.
We drew our weapons and ammo, went to the airfield, waited for the plane, and it never showed up.

Inspector Morse is one of the top selling series of books of all times.  Very little police procedure.  It was all about character.

I don't think you should get things wrong, but fiction is also entertainment and we have to get the reader so involved in our characters and story that we get a certain degree of suspension of disbelief.  Yes, I roll my eyes at many of the mistakes in military thrillers, but I also accept the realities of the genre.

On the flip side, when I see things that only an insider would know, it intrigues.  Men Who Stare At Goats had so much in it that had been classified and real, and only a handful of us knew/participated in, it was quite fascinating.

As was the Swedish K submachinegun in RED.  
 

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I think research is an important part of getting it right ... to a point. It's no good having an LAPD detective carrying a department issued gun of a type not available. Having said that there are many myths about procedures and crimes that are perpetuated in books and films that we believe to be true and are in fact false.

The biggest laugh is overcoming laser beam alarms and making them visible with smoke, or redirecting them with mirrors to clear a path. Another one is when a car strikes a person who is standing and he finishes up under the car. Or another is holding down a pressure switch with chewing gum whilst they steal the diamond. Try getting British forensics guy to climb a wall to reach a window to take prints ... no chance... It's against health and safety. I doubt they would even climb a ladder. Don't even get me started on CCTV footage on outside cameras at night, which are at best useless and yet are always being portrayed as crystal clear, or that they can pick out a small feature and make it easy to distinguish. Having said all that, I would use it on the basis that people have been led to believe it is true.
 

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If authentic is boring and slows things down, I don't see any problem with a little embellishment.  It annoys those people who actually work in those professions(and that's understandable), but the general public doesn't know the difference.  If CSI were realistic, there wouldn't be too many people watching it.  However, if an author is marketing a book as a "Gritty, realistic portrayal of law enforcement," I would think they'd have to be a bit more meticulous, because that's what the people buying the book are going to expect. 
 

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I don't really care if a guy puts a magazine in a revolver. I can handle that.

What is very entertaining is a book where an author can skillfully work procedure from any profession into the story. By procedure I mean a series of related steps that lead to a logical conclusion. It's not necessary, but can be an asset.
 

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When I was writing "Justified" I considered this very seriously. In the end, the fact was that the crime itself was a turning point but not the story was about the character. I tried to get some details just right, but what was more important was to follow the journey after the fact and away from the crime scene.

That said, the level of detail and correct procedure necessary depends on the story (tone, plot, themes). If correct procedure is not followed to the letter, then at minimum it needs to be logical to the story and the world you've created.

What you do not want is for the reader to stop reading and throw your book across the room while cursing you. Above all else, in fiction, whatever method you choose, it needs to be fluid and fit in the context of your story.
 

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I'm working on a paranormal suspense where the main character is a police detective working out of a magical crimes division.  I have some adjustments in police procedure to reflect a world where magic is at work.  Otherwise, I'm trying to stick as close as I can.  Lucky for me, I'm related through marriage to a retired police detective.  He's been kind enough to agree to read through it for me after I'm done.
 

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There's some detective work in my book, but it's not the focus of the story and the detective is a minor character.  I glossed over most of the details(Because they weren't terribly important to the story) except for a scene in which he's watching an autopsy being performed.  I put a lot of detail into that scene, and I'm fairly certain its accurate, because I researched it from several different sources.  With my detective character I mainly focused on him as a person, his anger over the bureaucratic mentality permeating his department, etc. He's a good cop who is stuck in a bad situation, and that's his main purpose in the book.
 

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If you think that's bad, try being a musician and seeing every actor in a movie with a string instrument or piano not even LOOK as though they are playing it properly.  :mad:
 

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This is interesting, because I've just been writing a novel set in the south of France and I realised when it came to a point where the heroine was arrested that I had no idea whatsoever about French police procedure - so I've been wondering exactly how much of it I need to show and what I can gloss over. (though with luck nobody who actually knows this will in fact read the novel) I like the approach of making it logical and following its own rules.
Incidentally, I work in an art gallery and I have actually jumped up and down and shouted during movies that show almost anything to do with works of art being moved!
 

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I don't know enough to actually be calling out all the errors as I read, but it bothers me in principle if I am absorbing mis-information. I like to learn real things along with my fiction, and I hate to be "lied" to about things that should be "real" even in fiction.

The complete disregard Hollywood has for this kind of fact checking has led to the situation that the more a jury member has watched police/law enforcement/detective shows, the poorer decisions that person makes in court cases. That's sad.
 

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I think a lot of this holds true regardless of genre.  My hubs has to grit his teeth over medical shows - House, ER, etc. and generally refuses to watch them on the grounds that he can't suspend disbelief when they're getting so much wrong.  Interesting, he said a big one is the scene in which someone is coding and they shock 'em, then ramp it up and shock 'em again, rinse and repeat.  If I understood his explanation correctly, if someone codes and/or flatlines, they're going to crank that sucker up and shock the everliving *#%! out of you.  I asked him why they don't ramp up and he said because usually the lower settings don't do it and also seconds can mean the difference between someone coming back with no damage, coming back as a vegetable, and not coming back at all.  Makes sense to me, but I still appreciate the drama of two or three "CLEAR!"s :)
 
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