Truth V Fiction- where does the writer draw the line?

There seems to be a fine line for the writer between the joy of making it all up and the more academic rewards of painstaking research. My novel is a crime thriller, and like most law-abiding citizens of GB my knowledge of police procedure and practice comes mainly from watching TV. Often American TV. And from reading many, many thrillers. Often American thrillers.

I finished the manuscript draft 4 before Christmas and it has been out to several readers, all with specific instructions as to what I wanted them to do. And now I’m taking some of the advice; if a character really doesn’t engage someone, then I will re-visit and improve it, if it’s just that they don’t like the name I’ve chosen for someone- tough.

So, last week I met up again with kind ex-police officer Andrew to get my feedback. It was generally very positive. He’d enjoyed it, found it easy to read and a page-turner. Great- just the kind of feedback I wanted.

Then we got to the technical stuff. Why on earth did I think dead people went to a morgue in GB? I know it’s a mortuary. I’d got a different kind of writer’s block- Atlantic crossover. It just seems to be ingrained; CSI has seeped its slick and impossibly speedy results into my brain- and it is blocking out good sense!

Annoying little Americanisms apart, I did have a real issue with one scene. Dan Hellier, protagonist, has broken into a recording studio (no warrant) and his colleague has been killed. Andrew said his Superintendent can’t ignore it until the case is solved- Dan must be suspended and have his warrant card taken off him. Hmm. For obvious reasons this cannot happen- Dan must finish the investigation. What to do? In the end, I re-wrote the scene and made his superintendent take the responsibility and leave him on the case via a bit of careful report writing to her superiors. I had to add a bit at the beginning to make her more maverick so that such a wrong decision would be more believable.

It was difficult. I could have ignored Andrew, of course. Lots of readers don’t care if their detective does something completely illegal (and four of my other readers didn’t say a word about it!). Where would we be if Rebus did everything by the book? But it’s a different matter if I make the senior officers less than scrupulous. If she lets that episode go, what else might she sanction? Well, later in the book, she sanctions a shooting, so I guess I have created an interesting character in her own right- ready for the next volume! In the end, pride made want to get a bit closer to a realistic resolution; I don’t want to look totally amateur when it hits the bookshelves!

I found going to an expert in the field invaluable, and I think the story is stronger for the re-write, even though you pedants out there will still argue that what happens is against the law. I claim poetic licence, and the need to tell a cracking good story outweighing the need to be accurate.

Just so that you don’t think I fly completely by the seat of my trousers, I found the book linked below to be very useful and I recommend it: