Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mood VS Research #amwriting #amwritingparty

They are talking on my crime scene loop about ‘mood’ verses ‘research’.

The discussion started with someone asking why in cop shows, the officers always search a building in the dark, with flash lights. Why not turn on the house's actual lights. The poster asked whether this was actual law enforcement practice, or whether the writers of the show took poetic license in order to affect mood and tension.

The answer came back instantly that law enforcement always turns on the lights before searching a residence or building. To do otherwise could be a fatal mistake. One writer even posted that she’d gone to some kind of writers’ police academy and one of the instructors had addressed this misconception. He’d had them search the premises of a fake crime scene with flash lights and then after they were finished, he’d turned on the lights. There were dead bodies everywhere and the flash light beams had missed them.

I’m sure law enforcement types far and wide laugh about this or possibly rant about it, depending on their mood.

But the truth is, the writers are writing toward mood and tension, and if they’d followed the actual police/law enforcement search procedure, they would have gutted both.

Because let’s face it—it’s much scarier to watch your favorite characters searching a house or building in the dark, with skittering shadows all around them--even the thin, wavering beams of flashlight light aids in the tension and mood—then beneath the harsh, illuminating brilliance of fluorescent lights. For the writers, incorporating established search practices would have shredded the mood and suspense.

It would have totally destroyed the X-Files. (GRIN)

I mean those character practically LIVED in shadows and darkness.

At some point every writer runs into where to draw the line in their own work. If you’ve done the research, and you know that using a specific plot element in your book would never happen in ‘real’ law enforcement, do you still stick with that incorrect plot element anyway? If using the actual procedure is boring and suspenseless will you retain your authenticity and write it correctly anyway, regardless of  how the correct version impacts your book?

Or, do you write it the way it needs to be written for greatest impact on the reader, but try to mitigate the character’s choice. Do you make the character aware he is doing the wrong thing, but give him good reasons for doing it wrong. Do you motivate him so he has no choice, or believes he has no choice?

At what point should correct procedure be left for the ‘real’ law enforcement? And creative solutions be left for the writer?




  1. I just watched a show last week--I can't remember what show--and the main characters were using flashlights in a house. I wondered why they didn't turn on the flashlights. lol

    I've got to say that though it may have added atmosphere, it stopped my belief in the scene.

  2. I was at the Writers Police Academy this past Sept and must have missed that particular discussion... but if I'd had a dollar for every officer's eye roll or CSI-debunking comment, I would've been able to pay for my hotel room! (the WPA was freaking awesome, btw...)

  3. I believe the "lights out" discussion was during one of my presentations at a different event (not the Writers' Police Academy). I call that workshop "CS I Don't Think So." That's also the title of the last chapter in my book on police procedure.

    By the way, the 2011 Writers' Police Academy is scheduled for September 23-26, and the new program is extremely exciting. Registration opens in a few days with the launch of a brand new website (at the old address).

    We hope to see you there!

  4. Ooo - can't wait to see the schedule for 2011 WPA. Trish, it's well worth the money (especially the extras - the FATS training was unforgettable!)

  5. Edie,

    I used to laugh at the X-Files. I mean everything was carried out in the dark. My mom and dad used to hate it. Every time a shadow would skitter past Mulder or Scully- they'd turn to me and ask. "What was that? Did you see what that was. Why do they always have to do everything in the dark? Why don't they just turn the lights on?"

  6. Rebecca,

    I had several friends who went to the WPA this past fall. Now they are hooked for life. LOL I'd love to go next year, its on my short list of things I want to do.

    So are you writing suspense? Crime? Mystery?

  7. Hi Lee,

    Thanks for stopping by and clarifying when your "light out" discussion took place. I would have loved to have been there. LOL

    I've heard wonderful things about your WPA. It's on the short list of things I want to do next fall. But I hadn't realized you had written a book on police procedure. I'll have to track that down.

  8. I've got a few different genres in the works, but the one I'm so frustrated with (and the furthest along in the process) is an amateur sleuth mystery. However, I have some streaks of horror and love reading suspense... And I'm feeling a recent change of heart and interest... So I'm not sure which direction to go in! I'll let you know as soon as I find out.

    Lee -- any plans for a sequel to your first book, to address any new technologies since your first book was published? :)

  9. The Writers' Police Academy is a very unique event. Writers actually train at a real police/fire/ES academy. Here's a little about the 2011 event.

    2011 Writers’ Police Academy
    When: September 23–25, 2011
    Where: Jamestown, N.C. at the Public Safety Department (local police/fire/EMS academy) on the campus of Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC).

    Experience the most hands-on, interactive and educational experience writers can find to enhance their understanding of all aspects of law enforcement, forensics, firefighting, and EMS. This is real training at a real police, fire, and EMS training academy! GTCC instructors are all certified active-duty police academy instructors.

    2011 speakers include Keynote Speaker NY times bestselling author of espionage thrillers Christopher Reich; Special guest speaker author/forensic and clinical psychology expert Dr. Katherine Ramsland; Featured speakers include, bioterrorism expert Dr. Denene Lofland, author/former prosecutor/law professor Alafair Burke, author/ATF Special Agent Rich McMahan, computer and cyber-crimes expert Sgt. Josh Moulin; author/former police detective Lee Lofland.

    Registration for this one of a kind event opens in January. See more at (new website launching soon).

    By the way, there's an Amazon link to my book on my blog. Today' topic is Help! My DUMB BUTTON Is Stuck.

  10. Hey Rebecca,

    I was checking out your blog this morning, and it looks like you're smack in the middle of a *wake up call* it will be interesting to see how this shift in your mental/spiritual make-up effects both your life and your writing.

    Keep me posted on what direction your writing takes, and let me know if I can provide any assistance with anything, okay? Do have any CPs or writing buddies? It really hard to try to trudge the writing road on your own.

  11. Lee,

    I back tracked you to your website and found your blog. I've got you bookmarked now and will be checking in.

    I was so sorry to hear about what happened to your wife, I hope she is recovering well from her surgery?

    Your blog on what happened was very interesting though. Everyone assumes because Law Enforcement types have so much training and so much experience handling various crisis (as you even mentioned in your blog) that when a personal crisis hits, it would be handled with a cool head and rationality. We forget emotions get in the way. And when something personal hits, all that training and experience can fly out the window--at least for a little while.

    I hope you don't mind, but I am going to move what you wrote about the WPA up to today’s Blog and do a new post on it, with links to your website.

    Best wishes for to you and your wife, in getting through this recovery stage following her accident.

    Ps- I found your book too! And yep, I'll be ordering it.

  12. Rebecca. My original contract requires a follow-up edition. It also limits what I can write along those same lines for other publishers. But it was a very nice contract so I'm not complaining. However, my interests are in fiction, anyway. I have a thriller that I'm currently working on. The final rewrites are nearly done, and that's a good thing since my agent is practically beating me on the head to complete it. I also sold a kids book a while back. No pub date yet.

  13. Trish,

    I went to Lee's WPA. Not only did I learn so much but I had an awesome time!! Totally worth the time and the conference was one of the most inexpensive I know of.

  14. LOL Denise was the "quiet" one in my car who seemed to get all the attention during the FATS training. That's what I heard, at least. ;)

    Trish, thanks for the offer, I'll certainly take you up on it! I'm the chapter leader for our state writers group (SCWW) and I've already tried to back out... they're not letting me off so easily. :) It's just one of those phases, I think.

    Lee, I didn't realize you wrote fiction, too -- but that's great! I'll keep an eye out for your children's book... assuming it's "safe" for my pre-schooler, of course. :)

  15. Good luck with your thriller Lee,

    I'll hope to see it in Publisher's Marketplace's deals section. *g

  16. Denise,

    I followed your tweets last fall while you were at WPA. You guys sounded like you were having so much fun. I was more than a little jealous. lol

  17. Rebecca,

    I think chapter leader is a lifetime commitment. LOL Whether you intended it to be or not. So few people volunteer for these kinds of positions, the groups tend to hold onto the ones who do for dear life.

  18. I love those 'debunking' myths too, Trish. Off to check Lee's blog and the WPA site. :) Thanks, this will be helpful as I'm writing an espionage series atm.