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Let's face it: people in law enforcement have the best stories to tell. Problem is, they are used to giving "Just the facts" as Joe Friday often reminded up. At this year's Public Safety Writers Conference in Vegas, I did a presentation to show how to turn those true stories into profitable fiction. I thought some of you might benefit from my notes.


Viewpoint character:
Although the true story is from the law enforcement viewpoint, sometimes a story is better told from another angle. The victim's viewpoint, the criminal's viewpoint, a secondary character (the ride-along, the partner, or, in my case, the office secretary).

1st or 3rd person:
Pick one. Try a story both ways.

Control the story:
This is why you are fictionalizing crime stories. There is no control over how things happen in real life, so work the facts of the story to be somewhat believable but with a conclusion of your choice.

Pull away from “the facts:”
The only time exact facts matter is when you are writing true crime. For fiction, keep the reader in mind and don't get so detailed that the reader gets lost. Dial the story back and just concentrate on the elements that make the investigation or crime unique.

Keep characters to a minimum:
Yes, it takes several departments to solve a crime. No, you don't have to mention all of them. With peripheral characters, just use titles instead of names: “My partner,” “The coroner,” “The I.D.Tech.” Maybe you want to tag a nickname on a character to make them stand out. But even the brass can go by “Captain,” or “Lieutenant.”

Change or add characters:
Don't be afraid to change the real people to more creative fictional characters. If you stick too close to what you see or feel about the real individuals, you will find yourself either censoring your writing or making enemies. If you need an extra character, or even need to eliminate one or two, just do it.

Use jargon:
Readers love police jargon. That's one of the reasons they read police procedurals. Just keep the jargon in check and make sure it's explained in the context of the story. Don't give dictionary explanations for the words.

Changing the ending:
Often the story is interesting, but not satisfying as a story. In that case, make the ending a twist, an observation of life, wrap the case or incident up in a way that's perhaps not true to the real story, but inventive.

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Comment by Jo A Fulkerson on April 17, 2014 at 7:57pm

One f my novels was based upon a story I read in the newspaper some time ago. I used this story as the basis in a screenwriting course I took, and the instructor told me that the story was not believable and would never happen. Guess that instructor didn't read the newspapers very much. Of course, my story ended up much differently than the actual story, but it just proves that true life stories can develop into quite interesting fictional novels.

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