Today, when your keystrokes guide your protagonists through the perils that go hand-in-hand with saving the day, pause for just a moment and consider the lives of real-life officers. Do your characters measure up to a human officer’s abilities? Have you over-written the character? Are they mindless superheroes like the one in the photo above? Have you given them human emotions? Is the danger level realistic? Are they believable?
Think about what you’ve seen on this site for the past few years—cordite, uniforms, handcuffs, Miranda, Glocks, SIG Sauers, edged weapons, defensive tactics, etc. Where do I get my ideas? Well … mostly from the mistakes I see in those books I read (smelling cordite, thumbing off safeties when there aren’t any, etc.).
I read a lot. A whole lot. Book after book after book, including tons of books written by readers of this blog. Just this past weekend I was pouring over the pages of a wonderfully written book when suddenly a paragraph stopped me dead in my tracks. So I backed up to re-read the last few lines to make certain that what I’d read was actually on the page and not my mind playing tricks on my tired eyes.
Nope, there it was as plain as day. One of the most impossible, unbelievable ways to kill ever written (I won’t go into detail because the book is very new). Then, to make matters even worse, the scene was followed by a few more paragraphs containing incorrect information about the weapons and materials involved in the goofy slaying. Not even close to realism.
Now I have a problem. I really liked this author’s voice. It was fresh, new, and exciting. However, I doubt that I’ll have the courage to pick up another book written by this particular author. Why? Because he/she didn’t bother to check facts. The author didn’t even make an effort to use common sense. I wondered if they’d ever seen a real-life cop.
One of the best thriller writers of our time, Lee Child, writes some pretty over the top action, but he does so in a way that makes us believe every word, even though some of it probably couldn’t happen in real life.
I once asked Lee how much research he conducts before writing his books. His answer … “Better to ask if I do any research before I write the last word! I don’t do any general research. I depend on things I have already read or seen or internalized, maybe years before. I ask people about specific details … like I asked you what a rural police chief might have in his trunk. But in terms of large themes I think it’s difficult to research too close to the time of writing … research is like an iceberg – 90% of it needs to be discarded, and it’s hard to do that without perspective.”
So how does Lee make all that wacky action work? He uses common sense. Well, that and more talent in his little finger than I have in my dreams.
So yeah … common sense.
Please don’t write mindless supercops.