Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday's Focus: Writing A Crime Scene in a Story

Just recently, I read a mystery story by a new author, new to me and one only recently published. I was both horrified and amused by some of the descriptions of two different crime scenes in the book. Horrified because they indicated the author had not done research into police procedure and investigation, and amused because they were so wrong.

I don't write mysteries as a rule, but my husband and I spent four years in our county's Sheriff's Department as Deputies, and we learned from Academy education and real life experience what constitutes real police procedure and investigation. So I'm going to share some of that experience, in terms of what mystery/crime writers should and should not do.

**To begin with, very few police officers and sheriffs today carry revolvers. True, they are lightweight and fire easily. But revolvers only hold six bullets, as compared to fifteen or more in semi-automatic weapons, like Glocks or Barettas. Semi-automatic weapons have clips rather than single bullets, like revolvers.  Revolvers do NOT eject spent cartridges automatically, they have to be ejected by hand by rolling the cylinder, and then reloaded. If an officer is in a situation where the "bad guy" is shooting back, he certainly doesn't want to be able to only fire six shots, and then take the time to reload his weapon by manually inserting six bullets, one at a time.

** Handguns aren't carried with their 'safeties' on, and they always have a round in the chamber. An officer's gun is always carried at the ready-to-fire position. So please don't have your hero, if he is a law-enforcement officer, approaching a bad guy or a situation at the same time he is getting his safety off or racking a round into the chamber of his weapon. Simply not realistic.

** One of the things I found amusing about this story was one scene where the detective could "smell the cordite" in the room. Sorry, but unless your story takes place in the 1930s and early 1940s, this isn't possible. Cordite hasn't been used in handguns since WW II.

** As I learned in the Sheriff's Academy, officers are not told to "shoot to kill", as most people think even when not reading a mystery story. They are trained to aim at the center mass of the target, especially if it is to save a human life, their own or someone else's.

** Officers do not shoot at knees, arms, or legs to wound. If an officer must use his weapon to stop a suspect, as I said above, he aims for the center mass.

** Please do not have your investigating officer announce to one and all at the scene that the bullet wounds came from such-and-such a gun! They cannot do that just by looking at the wound. It takes the medical examiner or forensic team to determine what kind of weapon was used, and then usually only if they can find the spent cartridge.

And finally...please do not have the FBI "coming in and taking over the case." They don't do that! The FBI can be called in to assist the local agencies involved in a case, but only if they are requested by those authorities.

Obviously, this is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, when it comes to procedure and investigation of a crime. But if you, as the author, are writing a mystery story, and you have one or more crime scenes where police detectives or Sheriffs are involved, DO YOUR RESEARCH! Find out what you are writing about, and how to write it, before you begin writing! It will be a much more fun experience in writing, and certainly a more enjoyable reading experience.

Now...having said that...of course we as fiction writers are allowed to twist and turn reality. But that reality must still be logical, it must have enough truth in it to allow the reader to accept it and get past the facts of the matter. So before you go with your twists and turns, learn the factual basics of law enforcement procedures and incorporate them into your story. Don't stretch unbelievability to the point where the reader simply doesn't accept it.

One final thought: the majority of police officers spend their entire career of 25 or 30 years in active duty, and never once have the need to put their weapons and fire.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.