Our heroine arrives at the address where she has agreed to meet a possible witness to a murder she’s
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All along the alley, dogs begin barking.
She dashes up the stairs and locates the apartment she’s seeking. She knocks at the door, and it swings open. The scent of cordite fills the room. Someone has just fired a gun.
What’s wrong with this scene?
As Lee Lofland, a former police detective who writes extensively and acts as a consultant for many authors, TV and movie writers, would tell us: Cordite has not been used since the end of World War II in US ammunition. If you want your contemporary fiction to be believable, don’t have your characters detect cordite! It’s a dead giveaway you don’t have a very good handle on crime scenes, and you haven’t done your research.
Granted, fiction requires the reader to accept the author’s world and characters as “real.” But that doesn’t mean people need to accept the suspension of how the world really operates.
Recently I have encountered several stories that dodge reality in ways I find disconcerting.
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Yet our private detective waltzes into a doctor’s office, flashes some credentials, and the receptionist not only blurts out the patient’s appointment schedule, but offers the use of an office so the detective can review the files. Of course, our private detective is incredibly handsome and charming. He flirts with the receptionist, who falls under his spell.
There’s the case of a tough-but-attractive female protagonist, who meets the equally tough-but-attractive local law enforcement officer in charge of the case which she is investigating. They develop a questionably inappropriate relationship, which will surely lead to sex by the end of the story. After resolving their issues of trust, discuss the confidential details of the case at hand.
And professional ethics! In another novel, a school guidance counselor helpfully fills our inquisitive hero in on details concerning a student’s disciplinary record.
Likewise a social worker spills the details of why a child is in foster care.
Other instances show a basic misunderstanding of how criminal procedure works. Investigating
Or the FBI is called in to deal with a purely local matter, and our earnest law enforcement officer is relegated to the background of the investigation while the “pros” take over.
A lot of this is common sense. People, even private citizens who don’t have a professional standard to uphold, respect the privacy of other people’s business. They may respond to a police detective’s request to share information, but very seldom will they talk willingly and at length with someone who has just shown up and is asking questions.
Writers have access to resources which can help. The afore-mentioned Lee Lofland has written Police Procedure & Investigation (Writers Digest Books) an excellent resource for authors. I use it frequently, and I know there are other valuable reference works out there.
What do you use?