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Realistic Fiction

September 4, 2012

One of the things I have come to realize with writing fiction, is that fact that the lines of reality tend to be blurred. Considering most of my previous experience with writing has been research and reports it can be a bit difficult to shift into a made up world.  Part of my writing schedule is filled by research. Lately, this has been about research concerning law enforcement. I picked up the book Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers which breaks down the different aspects of law enforcement. The book is filled with information concerning the make up of a police department, the various roles each type of officer completes, crimes and the way they are categorized, examples of the different types of paperwork officers use as well as some feedback from real officers concerning their television and literary counterparts. (Side note, I would definitely recommend this book, for those looking to expand their knowledge on the different aspects of police procedure.)  I am not finished with the book yet (mainly I have been jumping around the sections as I search for the information I need/want,) but I have just finished the section concerning the sensationalized accounts of police procedures. The book, sums this portion  up in a few short pages, discussing some of the key differences between the fictionalized officers and their real life counterparts, and how frustrating it can be for the real officers when they are forced to deal with the public.

This has made me start to question which approach would be best when it comes to writing. I personally find the fictionalized accounts interesting and exciting but I am just as readily intrigued by the realities of the job. I know I am not the norm, I know that there is a reason these shows and novels make such a splash and gain followers. It wouldn’t make for good television for a detective to be shown doing paperwork for half the show, or waiting on lab evidence which could take weeks, but at the same time it paints a false picture of the lives of the men and women in uniform. One fear, if you take the time to write things true to life, is losing the reader, if you bog them down with mundane details and force them to wait, they may just as easily set your book down never to pick it up again. On the other hand, when it comes to fiction, there has to be a plausibility to it, when writing (depending on the genre) there needs to be an aspect of realistic fiction. Through the surge in police dramas, the public has been skewed in their perception of  how a case is actually worked. The techniques and breaks in the case that happen week after week have started to cause damage to the way real people see real cases.

As a new writer my question then becomes, would it be better to continue the sensationalism or would it be better to stick to the realities of the job? Have readers become too wrapped up in the perceived methods of police procedure, that anything else would be seen as a waste of time? Where are we to draw the line on realistic fiction?

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3 Comments
  1. Mhm … I think I know what you mean (I hope I understood you correctly).

    I have read most of Donna Leon’s novels – I don’t know whether you know them, they are set in Venice and the protagonist is Commisario Guido Brunetti.
    Leon is very realistic in her novels. Brunetti is shown a lot at the table, shifting papers around, signing this and that, having a bit of trouble with his boss – and a remarkably large part of each novel show Brunetti at home, with his two children Chiara and Raffaele and his wife Paola.

    I love these parts of the novels most, to be honest – especially because sometimes the book ends in frustration because although Brunetti KNOWS how is guilty, the murderer (for example) won’ be prosecuted, because he is too mighty / his connections are too good / etc.

    If you do not know these novels – go and read one! They are excellent, deal with various topics and are really well-written I love them. Andy they are very successful. 😉

    • That is on mark, thank you for responding. I will have to look into those books.

      • They are really good! The books have always “Comissario Brunetti’s first/second … cause” as undertitle, but you can read them in any order; it’s just that the frame narrative changes a bit, if someone is killed, for example.

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