Sunday, 29 October 2017

A Note To My Scientific Self...

Because it's fiction, right?
So I decided I wanted to write crime.

Now, I have a scientific background and that means I value accuracy. All right, it’s tempered by the fiction half of my brain which, by definition, is fuelled on making things up. I’ve never been one to let the facts get in the way of a good plot and you won’t have to look far in my books to find an example, but there’s a balance to be struck. For example, I made up a series of caves along a stretch of coastline in Majorca, but it was limestone and caves are found elsewhere on the island — just not the bit where I wanted them.

Crime fiction — specifically, police procedural crime fiction — is posing me problems. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the past few weeks reading up on procedure. There are some fabulously informative documents out there — I thoroughly recommend the Murder Investigation Manual and the Guidance on Major Incident Room Standardised Administrative Procedures, (both available online). These and many other documents will give you chapter and verse on exactly how an investigation proceeds.

If you spend time reading them, you’ll learn one thing — that much of the work in policing is dull, time-consuming and anything but glamorous. If I’m true to life and have a cast of dozens in our investigation, each of whom might play a tiny part and each of whom requires to be introduced as a character, at briefing meetings, I’m going to end up confusing my reader. If I allow a realistic timescale for the analysis of forensic evidence, I’m going to leave my investigators and readers twiddling their thumbs (or looking through reams of evidence which proves totally irrelevant).

Large-scale, heavily-staffed, drawn-out investigations don’t lend themselves to gripping fiction. So what does a writer do?

The answer, of course, is compromise. We have to acknowledge that we’re writing fiction, not true crime. Reduce the cast of thousands to a core handful. Show only the detective work which leads forwards, rather than along blind alley after blind alley. And assume the all forensic tests are going to be rushed through as a matter of urgency.

I’m not sure this sits easily with me, as yet, and there’s no question that the rigours of a crime novel are less comfortable than those of contemporary romance — it’s as if I’ve been writing free verse and suddenly find myself having to write sonnets. But I shall persist…

1 comment:

  1. One thing I've come to realize is essential in crime stories is give the main character some quirk(s) or other to make them distinguishable. Whether a wrinkled coat and an old foreign car, a glass of milk, orchids and seclusion, a set of knitting needles and the tendency to make comparisons, or something else equally bizarre. I'm sure you'll cook your characters until they're good and well-done.