Research baseline: Look for authenticity

“No doubt you have the power here to talk about why…”

“That’s not as bad as the Ramero brothers…”

“Do you want to write an apology to her family?”

“What I have here in my hand is the result of our investigation. It shows you had an active part in…”


Real words from a practicing homicide detective. I heard them this week at Derek Pacifico’s Homicide School for Writers.


Tucked on the bookshelves at home is the classic The Gentle Art of Interviewing and Interrogation, Robert F. Royal and Steven R. Schutt. (Prentice-Hall, 1976)  This book explains how and why. That is good background information for a writer. However, spending three days with a professional who thinks and uses the phrases on a regular basis and has the ability to form his sentences and questions to the specific incident he is investigating is an entirely vivid, dramatic and unforgettably dynamic experience.


Being in the presence of a working homicide detective—watching him move, listening to his phrasing, watching his facial expressions—helped me get a sense of how a detective appears. This was important to me because I have two scripts right now that involve detectives.


What is important about this type of research for any writer is to closely observe people who have some aspect of your character.  Get a good feel for how he or she operates. How does he walk down a narrow hallway? How does she move through a large, empty room? Does he talk while he eats lunch? Does she handle her tools—chisel, automatic, notebook—with ease or hesitantly?


Research interviews are really just a more advanced form of taking notes in a café. Instead of looking for an interesting subject, you choose the subject targeted to your character’s role in order to learn more about the way he or she moves through life.


And just like any other research you may only use 10% or so of what you know in the actual story.


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