There is not much that turns a reader of crime fiction off more than when the writer gets it wrong. Readers might forgive a writer whose characters seem larger than life or who act in a way that is not consistent with how real people would act in a similar situation. However, if the writer has Detective Bourg manipulate the slide on his revolver or kill a man instantaneously with a shot to the heart, eyebrows could be raised and books could be put down. Readers expect us to get it right—and they should. If they are going to spend their hard-earned dollars supporting our writing careers, we owe it to them to do the proper research and ensure that what we write is factually fictitious. If we don’t, we could appear lazy and could lose some readers—and without readers, we writers are nothing.
The same can be said for crime movies and television shows. I am sure my wife gets a little miffed when she is trying to enjoy our favorite crime show and I start yelling at the TV because they got it wrong. On one occasion, I predicted the ending of the episode about ten minutes into it, but told her it had better not happen that way, because the coroner would have known almost immediately that the wounds were made post mortem. When I was proven correct toward the end, that one mistake ruined the rest of the show for me—and for her, because I spent what little time was left of the show explaining why it was not believable. If you are married to a cop, you know exactly what I am talking about and you have probably uttered the same words my wife has uttered a number of times, “Baby, it’s just a movie.” (It may be just a movie or just a book, but with a little effort they could have gotten it right and greatly improved the quality of their product.)
Of course, cops are not the only ones to blame for this type of criticism. My buddy, Damian Ourso, has a friend named Joey who works with air conditioners. He said Joey does the same thing when he watches movies where someone is crawling through the a/c vents. Joey explains how it would not bear their weight, how no vents he has ever seen were that clean, etc. Damian is a former US Marine and he calls foul on movies that get life in the military wrong, as well. I imagine folks in every profession have read books or watched movies related to their profession and were equally frustrated when the authors or producers got it wrong.
While I obviously cannot address the inaccuracies with regard to other professions, I can certainly speak with some authority on numerous law enforcement and self-defense subjects. Through this blog called RIGHTING CRIME FICTION, I will make every effort to offer monthly posts that I hope will help writers get those aspects of their stories right for their readers. Some of the information will be fact-based (when you fire a revolver, it does not automatically eject the spent shell casing) and some will be opinion-based (if I were processing a murder scene, I would do xyz), but all information will be based upon twenty-four years—and counting—of law enforcement experience and training.
I, myself, began writing crime fiction several years ago and although I knew how to solve real crimes, I did not know the first thing about writing fiction. In my first attempt at a novel, I made every rookie mistake imaginable—and I probably invented a few new ones. Since that initial effort, a number of mystery writers and editors have selflessly taken the time out of their busy schedules to help teach me the elements of writing fiction and I will forever be in their debt. This blog is my attempt to pay their kindness forward and do my small part to help support the crime writing community.