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Tuesday, July 20 2010

The detectives crawl on their hands and knees, swiping at the blood on the floor with cotton swabs. They carefully place the swabs in tubes to take back to the lab, where results will be returned in a few hours. Across town, the detective calls for backup, then rushes into the building without waiting.

At least that's how it goes in the world of television. Proper procedure and realistic timelines are thrown out the window in exchange for fast-paced action and nail-biting suspense.  Who wants to watch a detective stand around in the parking lot while his coworkers drive over? Who wants to root for an entire SWAT team when they storm a warehouse in pursuit of a single guy? I suddenly start to worry about the villain. Is he crafty enough to escape? Will he slip out unnoticed when surrounded by all those armed cops? But give me a lone hero, so focused on justice that he enters the building without caring for his own safety, and of course I'll be cheering for the good guy.

But that inaccurate version of police work creates a dilemma when writing fiction. Do I stick to the facts, bland as they may be? If I write a factual portrayal of police procedure,  will readers shake their heads, confused that my version doesn't match the TV version? If my detective has to wait weeks, or even months, for his DNA results, will people say, "That's not how it works on CSI."

In the end, I strike for a balance. I try to make my books as close to reality as possible, but when a scene simply doesn't work that way, I change the rules. And hope the reader doesn't mind. I try to provide valid reasons for why my heroine is acting foolishly. Why is she confronting the killer when they're all alone at night? Because she blurted out her accusations without meaning to. Or to stall for time because she knows help is on the way.

And sometimes you have to bend reality to make readers happy. People often mock how killers in books openly admit their crimes and provide their motivation instead of killing the amateur sleuth right off. How many episodes of Murder She Wrote have we seen where the killer holds Jessica Fletcher at gunpoint while admitting their guilt and answering any questions she still has? Sure, it's not real life, but without these explanations and the denouements that follow from the main character, the reader will feel cheated. They need to know all the details to feel satisfied with a book. So I'll just keep that killer talking, spilling all their secrets, until my heroine can overpower him and bring him to justice. Never mind what happens in the real world.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 03:35 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

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