The following is a guest blog from author Thonie Hevron. She talked with members of the Public Safety Writers Association that made the transition from working as a police officer to writing about cops.
The transition from law enforcement report writer to novelist is an evolution that required years for me. If you’re a cop and that’s your goal, have patience. It can be done.
Here are some comments I’ve culled from those authors who have been there.
Pete Klismet, Retired FBI Profiler, author of FBI DIARIES, PROFILES IN EVIL
I’ve read several books by former cops and FBI agents which were horrible because they were written completely in narrative, just like they used to write their reports. Writing those and books are completely different concepts. A book must have action and dialogue or it’s useless.
I had the good fortune of going to the University of Iowa’s writer’s workshop one summer. A two-week learning experience, but ‘action’ and ‘dialogue’ were the two main things I gained. And am hopefully getting better at it. But while most cops, etc., can write great Police reports, they cannot make the transition.
From Mike Black, Author of almost two dozen fiction and non-fiction books
Early on I was told that my fiction writing was too “report like.” I think the nature of a police report is recounting the facts (“Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”) and this can cause a tendency to use more “telling” rather than “showing.” Showing helps the reader vicariously experience the scene.
From Gloria Casale author of BIOTERROR, THE ESSENTIAL THREAT
I never wrote a police report – but I’ve written all kinds of reports in public health, medicine, nursing, and status reports on other subjects. One of the hardest things I had to learn was how to write in anything but ‘just the facts, ma’am’. For the longest time I couldn’t write a story (no matter how intricate the plot) in more than 40,000 words. I still have trouble getting a book over 75,000 words.
It took training, patience from my critique group and editors to get me there.
From George Cramer, host of blog GDCramer.com
Just like Mike and several others, my early writing was based upon decades of report writing. I told the story with a slam-bang-thank-you style. Like Gloria, my work was over and done before you knew it. My first novel was about 50,000 words. After a few years of classes, seminars, and critique groups, I rewrote it, over 100,000 words.
From John R, Schembra Author of the Vince Torelli series of books
I agree with Mike. It was hard to accept the concept that I could pretty much do anything I wanted with fiction, after 30 years of writing just factual stuff. Took a lot for the “show, don’t tell” concept to sink in! My first book, M.P. went through a LOT of editing!
Joseph B. Haggerty Sr., author of Ocean in the Desert, Contributor to the PSWA anthology: Felons, Flames and Ambulance Rides
One of our officers brought a report to the sergeant to sign. It was a death report, which is something we were required to do if the death was natural. In the narrative of the report the officer wrote that the body arrived at the morgue in good health. The sergeant looked at the officer and asked was the guy dead. The officer responded yes sir to which the sergeant yelled then how in the hell did he get to the morgue in good health.
The bottom line is the difference between “showing” and “telling.” These concepts are fluid as Mysti demonstrates in her examples. There is no right or wrong here. But, and it’s a big but: just the facts, ma’am is just that—the facts. Done well, this can make a case to convict a perpetrator. Done wrong, it can be cause for non-prosecution by the DA or dismissal by the court.
Fiction is made up. Show me how it happened through action and dialog, as Pete said. The key to this is editing, workshops to broaden knowledge, mentorships, and/or critique groups. In other words, just like learning to write reports, an author needs to learn to write prose.
And, the bad news is: it’s a work in progress. There’s always something new to learn.
Thonie Hevron is a law enforcement veteran. Retired, she uses her experience to write suspense novels based on the lives of the people behind the badge. Thonie blogs stories from law enforcement veterans to portray the police character accurately. Her two suspense/thrillers, By Force or Fear and Intent to Hold won awards in the Public Safety Writers Association Writers Contest in 2012 and 2014. The third book, called With Malice Aforethought won second place in unpublished novel category and expects it to be out in early 2017.