For authenticity, I am wondering how much police procedure should be shown, and/or how much is desired or necessary? Given that dialogue and scene imply --- must one get deeply into ballistic and DNA results, for example? Feedback appreciated!

Cheers,
A

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I think you have to ask yourself how much your plot will hinge upon the investigation itself. For me, the most interesting aspect of any story is the human element, the conflict between the investigator and the killer--the thrill of the chase. But a part of this 'chase' is the investigation and the clues left behind. Readers like to play along too.

Personally, as a reader, I like a certain amount of detail to show the credibility of the investigator, the daunting task of the hunt, and/or the cleverness of the villain. But too much of it (like an overabundance of ballistics results, for example) can make your pace suffer. There has to be a balance. I'd say if the forensics and police procedural information significantly moves the investigation along, then it must be included. But you can be brief on the results and stick to the dialogue or facts that push the plot forward. I usually take more time at the initial crime scene, establishing the details and the evidence. Then I follow the case through logically with results of the CSI techs being summarized, for example. The main focus is generally through the eyes of the initial investigator.

I've read books in which an author learned something new as research and regurgitated it (ad nauseum) in the narratives. As a reader, I found myself skimming pages after awhile, which I hate to do when the book is good. So I think you have to use your own judgement on how much detail to put into your story and make sure the pace still flows well.

For research purposes, I've taken online classes on forensics and started a small library of books for reference. I really do love forensics and writing about crime scenes allows me to incorporate that aspect into my work.

As always, I will qualify my reply as one opinion. And I hate 'rules'. So trust your instincts on how to tell the story you want to tell and have fun doing it.
Jordan, I think you've hit on something key here: I think you have to ask yourself how much your plot will hinge upon the investigation itself. For me, the most interesting aspect of any story is the human element, the conflict between the investigator and the killer--the thrill of the chase. But a part of this 'chase' is the investigation and the clues left behind. Readers like to play along too. >>

I do of course want the work to be character-driven and believable. Thanks!

Cheers,
A
The recent movie Zodiac was a great example of a character driven case that utilized key parts of the investigation to move the pace along, but the story was mainly about the two people most addicted to the investigation--the cop and the cartoonist. Excellent movie.
Like Goldilocks I want it 'just right'. Not too much, not too little.

The 'TOO LITTLE' scenario:

"The vic was shot with a gun."

"What sort of gun Sarge?"

"One of those shiny guns that shoots little round things out of the long hollow thing that points at you."

"Bullets? Out of the barrel?"

"That's the one. One of those sort of guns."

"But what SORT of bullets?"

"Hard ones that kill you when they hit you."

The 'TOO MUCH' Scenario:

"The vic was shot with a.44 Magnum with a semi-automatic hollowpoint wadcutter bullet with a weight of 180 grains and a velocity of 1610 feet per second."

"Is that right, Sarge? Hit him with some force to do that damage, right?"

"Assuming the gun and shooter are at rest, the force on the bullet is equal to that on the gun-shooter. This is due to the law of conservation of momentum. Consider a system where the gun and shooter have a combined mass M and the bullet has a mass m. When the gun is fired, the two systems move away from one another with new velocities V and v respectively. But the law of conservation of momentum states that their momenta must be equal: MV=mv . Since force equals the change in momentum and the initial momenta are zero, the force on the bullet must therefore be the same as the force on the gun/shooter."

"Yeah...whatever Sarge. Shall we go and get donuts?"
LOL Great example, Donna. And between the two, I'd love to read your first version more...over donuts and coffee. Hilarious.
Donna, too funny! Point taken. Thanks! --- Cheers, A

The 'TOO LITTLE' scenario:
"The vic was shot with a gun."
"What sort of gun Sarge?"
"One of those shiny guns that shoots little round things out of the long hollow thing that points at you."
"Bullets? Out of the barrel?"
"That's the one. One of those sort of guns."
"But what SORT of bullets?"
"Hard ones that kill you when they hit you.">>
Donna so stole this from my last book!
I think that you should only go into as much detail as you're willing to research. In Sean Cherover's post on the Outfit, he discusses this topic in more detail.

The danger with going into more detail is that if you get it wrong, people will notice. I have heard so many times about readers who toss a book because it has technical errors.
Evil Kev,

I always research as necessary - I shudder at the thought of making a mistake in public, has to be believable!. And I do like to keep things simple in the first place. Thanks for the link too! Good resource.

Cheers,
A
Far be it from me to dispute the advice of Evil Kev, but there is something on the side to consider:

Readability.

I'm guessing what you're really asking is, how do you make it authentic without bogging it down in technical detail, or is it necessary to have the detail to give off authenticity. But I'm guessing that's really what you're wondering, so I could be wrong.

Last year at Harrogate on the panel on research, Simon Kernick told a story about getting kicked for an error on a gun in one of his books. He's British, though. What do they know about guns? (I'm joking... kind of. I mean, Zoe Sharp knows guns, but in general Americans have more experience with guns.)

The one thing stated by all panelists, however, was they did a lot of research and ended up using little of it in the manuscript, but what it did was give them confidence with what they were using. I guess, for me, you include as much as is necessary for that story. Will the DNA testing and ballistics be pertinent to solving the crime? Or will it boil down to eye witnesses, tracking victim history to come up with suspects and then eliminating them through other means? There are always readers who love the detail, and always readers who're bored by it. So I think the first order of business is to establish how much is necessary for the story you're trying to tell. In one manuscript the detail might be critical. In another it might be almost irrelevant.

My reader rule is if it starts sounding like a textbook I'm done. My writer rule is enough for what they're doing and leads established or dismissed to make sense.

So I don't quite go with only using as much detail as you're willing to research. I agree with that as well, but I lean on using only as much detail as is necessary to tell the story without bogging it down.
Good point, Sandra. One of the areas my cop tech advisors point out is how fast everyone thinks they can get DNA results back. TV has it coming back very quickly, but point in fact is that most labs are backed up and some locales for an author's book may not have a lab capable of doing this type of testing except at a state level. There's a balancing game between the public's perception of reality and what a detective's job really is--and that's a whole 'nother topic.
Too much detail can definitely get you into trouble--very good point. I also toss aside books if the author doesn't bother to do research at all. I can't tell you how many times I've not finished a book because an author had no appreciation for crime scene protocol (having non-essential personnel tromping all over the crime scene for example) or no basic understanding of jurisdictional boundaries and/or resources between feds and locals. It really is a balancing game. I also have had a technical advisor or two working on each book--mostly law enforcement types. They really help add color and can tell you when you're facts are lame.

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