Archive for the ‘Research’ Category
Writers are a curious bunch of folks who’d never let walls, doors, locks, or the word NO stop them from producing the best stories possible. These tellers of both tall and short tales go to great lengths to find fact, the perfect setting, and those wonderfully juicy tidbits of information that stimulate a reader’s senses.
With pen in hand and minds wide open, a writer will do whatever it takes to reach the last page of their work-in-progress, including hopping on a plane, train, car, or truck to travel to wherever details can be found. They walk, they talk, they telephone, they email, they read blogs and books, they ride with cops, attend court proceedings, and they attend awesome events such as the Writers’ Police Academy. Again, they do what it takes and they do it all in the name of research.
Many stories include prison and/or jail settings, as well as the residents and/or employees of each. So what do writers do? They meet with jail officials and arrange to tour their facility.
Sure, it can sometimes be a very steep, uphill battle to get a foot in the door to some places of incarceration. But where there’s a will…
Suppose, though, that you, a writer, find yourself incarcerated for a long, long time…like for life. What would you do? After all, your passion is the written word. You have so many stories to tell, especially the one that landed you behind bars.
How on earth would you obtain the information you need for your book(s)? There’s no internet. No modern library (if there’s anything more than a few tattered paperbacks stacked in what used to be a mop closet). You’d have very little, if any, contact with people on the outside. And, if your story involves law enforcement, forensics, etc., you can pretty much rule out the assistance of cops and CSI experts.
What would you do?
Well, one such writer reached out to me, via my publisher, a few days ago. He sent a three page letter, complete with a very nice, well-written one-page introduction that explained the reasons for his incarceration—murder. He went on to say that he’d been sentenced to life for killing a woman (a close associate of a well-known outlaw motorcycle club) during a heated argument. He also said he feels no ill will toward police. In short, he did what he did, but the circumstances haven’t stopped his desire to write.
Interestingly, this fellow, the convicted murderer, subscribes to Writer’s Digest Magazine, which is where he read an article I wrote (published in the September 2014 issue). Yes, WD is delivered to prisons.
My article is what prompted the lifer to write me with an unusual research request. A request that I’m strongly considering. A consideration that’s going against the very grain of my being. I’m thinking about helping out because the story could very well be a good one…a life-changer for someone out there.
There is a small problem, however, with delivering my information to this prisoner. You see, he has no idea where I live. In fact, the bio in my book on police procedure (a book he has in his possession and cites in his introductory letter to Writer’s Digest) states that we reside in Boston.
Therefore, when he wrote my publisher he was under the impression that I live somewhere in New England.
As many of you know, we’re frequent re-locators (and that’s putting it mildly), so imagine my surprise to see a return address that just happens to be that of a state prison that’s located very near where we live now. Very. Near.
I’m currently trying to come up with a means to give him the information he needs, but via an online source. He has family on the outside, you know.
Anyway, the point of this long-winded story with no real end is that writers should never settle for an “okay” book when overcoming small obstacles is all that stands in the way of producing a really great book.
What are some of those barriers?
- Too chicken to make contact with cops and/or other experts.
- Procrastination (I was too busy to attend the Writers’ Police Academy. Maybe next year. In some instances, next year may never arrive.)
- Fear of rejection. Puhleeze…rejections are a dime a dozen. Anyone can grab one of those. It’s the big fat YES that should be the goal. Settle for nothing less and don’t stop until you get a YES of your very own.
- Television (Please STOP using TV as a source of information!! Easy isn’t always best).
- Letting life run you, instead of you running your life.
I guess what I’m getting at is that if a murder who’s serving a life sentence in a pretty harsh prison is willing to go the extra mile for a scrap of important information, then why shouldn’t all writers at least make some sort of effort to “get it right?”
How about you? Do you go the extra mile for the details in your tales?
What about my situation? Would you respond to the inmate?
Police jargon and slang is truly a language of its own, and it’s a a body of words that can vary greatly from one area of the country to another.
If a writer’s goal is realism, I strongly urge the storyteller to do a little homework to avoid dialogue and terminology that doesn’t ring true, especially within a specific location or agency. A quick phone call to a police department’s public affairs office will normally provide you with the necessary information.
I’ve had the opportunity to speak with police officers all across the country about this very topic. Actually, my focus was on the use of three specific terms/words—Perp, Vic, and Juvie.
Here’s what I learned.
1) Perp – Not many police officers use the shortened form of the word perpetrator. Instead, they use the more common terms, suspect, actor, or ***hole. Listen to police scanners and you’ll rarely ever hear an officer say, “We apprehended the perp at 0100 hours.” Typically, it’s, “We apprehended the suspect at 0100 hours.”
Perp is generally a regional term.
FYI – the term perpetrator is NOT to be confused with the closely-sounding “percolator.” Confusing the two could prove to be quite embarrassing.
Yes, I once saw the perpetrator/percolator faux pas in a manuscript.
By the way, you’ll probably not hear the other, more colorful term “a**hole” used on the police radio. Well, it and other profanity are not supposed to be spoken on the radio, but when the adrenaline is high and the bullets are flying…
2) Vic – This is another one I’ve seen in books countless times. Again, not all cops use Vic when referring to the victim of a crime. Well, TV cops do, but not all real-life cops. Actually, some real-life cops refer to their police cars as a Vic, if they’re driving a Ford Crown Victoria.
To hear a fictional officer misuse the term can be a bit humorous. For example, “I really put the Vic to the test. Put my foot in it and drove it hard, up the mountain and back down. Didn’t let up for a minute. I finally backed off when it started to spit and sputter. Overall, it was a good ride.”
Yes, it’s probably a great idea to provide a lead-in so readers will know your hero is referring to a car, not the unfortunate murder victim from chapter three.
What word do cops use when referring to a victim? That’s an easy one—victim. Or…dead guy, DB (dead body), maggot snack, etc.
3) Juvie – This is a nickname given to a place of detention for juvenile offenders, or as a generic word for kids.
Again, not all members of law enforcement use this term.
Many simply say “juvenile” to describe those innocent little darlins’ who are always on their best behavior.