Friday, May 6, 2016

Ten Things You Should Never Include in a Crime Novel

by Jean Henry Mead

I discovered an article in my files written by Andrea Campbell for The Writer magazine. It’s titled “10 Things Police Wish [Crime Writers] Would Omit" and I’m going to paraphrase here so as not to plagiarize:

Don’t have your cops always eating donuts. Most eat salads while on duty and they drink bottled water. They also work out to stay in shape, so if at least one of them mentions visiting a gym, it's realistic.

Policemen and veteran crime writers hate over-dramatization and not many real life detectives fight over a case. Crime writer Daryl W. Clemens is critical of plots where cops have a tug of war over a case that’s taken place on their jurisdiction border. They already have more work than they can handle.

Revolver silencers are another point of contention, according to crime writer Barbara D’Amato. She says, “Since the rotating cylinder is not closed, you can’t baffle the gasses” or muffle the sound.

Alcoholic policemen have been overdone and is another sore point for the police department. Former police officer and crime writer Robin Burcell wonder why so many fellow writers inject alcoholism into their plots.

Lone female detectives who search isolated areas without calling for backup is extremely foolhardy, according to writer Susan McBride. Make sure your woman detective alerts her partner or dispatcher of her plans and whereabouts.

Never tell a suspect to “Drop it, Pal,” because the gun could discharge when it’s dropped or tossed. Have the suspect place it on the ground and back away.

Never have police officers pointing their guns skyward, or what is referred to as “aiming at Jesus.” Police are trained to point a gun out and down, and directly ahead in preparation to discharge the weapon. Also, never have an officer jack a round into the gun’s chamber before entering a building. They always keep a round chambered, even in their holsters.

Don’t shatter a windshield. When hit by a bullet, there will be a small hole and spider web effect, even when hit several times.

Suspects are no longer called “perps,” unless your police department is located in New York, California, or a few other heavily populated areas. The term isn’t generally used anymore.

Police officers are burdened with lots of paperwork so make sure your cop does his or her share. According to Campbell, there’s “paperwork related to the Miranda warning before an interrogation; paperwork that police turn over to medical personnel at a hospital before interviewing a crime victim; and still more paperwork for requisitions and reports."

Readers of crime fiction are pretty savvy about police procedure. So do your research and don't depend on what you've seen in films and on TV. Sloppy research may result in readers passing up your next release in favor of writers who have done their homework.


Bill Kirton said...

Good advice as ever, Jean. Thankfully, we don't need the ones referring to police forearms over here (yet) but you're right about readers and their insistence on authenticity. Mind you, when I was researching my first ever police procedural, the local police were very helpful in briefing me about procedures and made it clear that authenticity would lead to weeks of door to door enquiries, murder teams of hundreds and certainly no DCI plus sidekick running the show and having hunches. And yet that's what many writers still offer (including me).

Jean Henry Mead said...

Thanks, Bill. I'm fascinated by the UK's police system, particularly Scotland Yard.

Jackie King said...

Great article, Jean. I really enjoyed learning these "never do" tips. Very helpful.