Even when we write about fantastical worlds, we still want that sense of realism and authenticity to our writing. For crime and mystery writers, getting those details right is even more important, as factual errors can hurt a book's (and an author's) credibility. To help with that, crime scene photographer and writer Harry Sarkisian is here to share a few tips on what writers commonly get wrong about law enforcement. Welcome Harry!
Harry began writing seriously in November of 2011. He has nine works in progress with one "Flying On The Ground" going back to the editor hopefully releasing by this summer. 2014 marks the ninth year of stepping over bodies in Los Angeles California as a crime scene photographer for the Los Angeles Police Department.
Take it away Harry...
Excuse me, but a human is behind that badge. I have been stepping over bodies and visiting celebrities in their freshly burglared homes for about nine years. I work as a crime scene photographer for the Los Angeles Police Department. To say that I have seen it all is redundant.
So here's the thing: People who write about crime without any people in it frosts over my will to continue reading. WHAT!? You heard me; stop writing as though anyone who carries a gun and a badge is devoid of personality. I work with FBI agents who have a better sense of humor over life and its lessons than the DMV-styled officious maunder that is today’s attempt at getting a reader behind the yellow tape. By the way, the LAPD invented that stuff to keep politicians and other ilk from trampling over evidence.
Top ten irritants you should avoid like an STD:
1. Officious sounding blather: Such as PIII Juarez led XA-21 mission ready as always. Really? Did he call for back-up from an E Car? No one gets this in context, add the commonality back in. Tell me about Juarez, the man or woman, not the robotic assignment.
2. Subordinates yelling about inequality, social injustice, man’s inhumanity to man. That never happens. Discussions about turf, passionate arguments about the integrity of a case are common. It is really rare that someone goes off on a superior officer or sounds like they are on a crusade.
3. Internal dialog that sounds like a parking meter. Just think that one over and do not do it.
4. Graphic descriptions that are nothing but goreporn. I have had it with spectacular descriptions all piled up in one page to gag out the reader or shock them into your version of reality. Have a reason for why the head came off the body before you type your next syllable.
5. Heartless commanders and others of ‘rank’. I've known a few who came off that way, only to find out later that they were watching out for me. There are assholes everywhere, make sure yours has motivation understood by the reader before you describe humanity out of the pooh pillar.
6. Writer without a clue. Get some knowledge.You can read works by ex-detectives and so on to get some idea. There are now countless blogs and posts by those of us in the field. Get your fill, then do your own writing.
7. Droning about cop exploits and skanky hookers and unshaven murderess. Tell a story. Detectives love stories; never met one who did not. They compare and contrast them all day, see how the evidence points to the most accurate one, then go over the whole mess all over again. Make sure your story flows as a proper narrative.
8. Stereotypical stoic cookie cutter bitter alcoholic investigators whose current girlfriend is a hooker he knew in high school. Detectives are interesting. They do things like cook, restore cars, write history, and many other things that I have never seen in a crime novel.
9. You know too much. Insider knowledge does not make up for lack of craft. You are reading this on the best website there is for new and aspiring novelists. Learn it all. If you are lucky enough to know someone like a lieutenant or higher remember they are politicians first to you and anyone else outside of their respective department. Get to know people in low places. That is where the real stories are.
10. Gristle, blood, counting body parts in trash cans. Hey man it’s a story first, middle, and last. You can scene set, but find a POV to show it, not tell it. Please, let us connect with the human being first before you start taking us into the world of your creation. Detectives have been single moms needing a solid job or fresh out of the military with no idea of what to do with their lives. It is true that all of us behind the thin blue line go into a mode when it is time, but we also have to go to the bathroom and find chow if we are stuck on a long crime scene. Never forget the heart that beats behind the badge.