By Sherry who is melting in Northern Virginia (why is it an ice storm suddenly sounds appealing?!)
As some of you know I edit manuscripts in my spare time. The most recent manuscript I worked on was Grilled for Murder by our very own Edith Maxwell. It’s the second in her new Country Store Mysteries written under the name Maddie Day. I had a lot of comments on the way she had the police handle a crime scene. I thought they were too unprofessional, they mishandled the crime scene, and they took everything Edith’s protagonist Robbie said at face value.
Edith and I tossed ideas around until we came up with a solution that worked with her plot but wasn’t too farfetched. I told her I thought cozy readers were forgiving, that she isn’t writing a police procedural, and that the solution was authentic enough. Edith said authentic enough was going to be her new motto.
The whole process made me think about writing scenes where police are involved. In my writing I try to keep it to a minimum. I rely on two police officers to help out when I have questions. One of the police officers told me that I had most of it right in Tagged for Death except for when Sarah’s taken into a building that had potential for being a part of the crime scene. He didn’t think that was realistic. It made me change a scene in The Longest Yard Sale so after the body is discovered they talk outside the building instead of inside the building.
My conversation with Edith also made me think about describing dead bodies. Again, I try not to go into too much detail (for one reason I write cozies, and two, yuck) but I don’t want to be so far off the mark that I leave readers thinking, “no way.”
The same rule applies for legal matters. I’m not writing from a lawyer’s prospective but I want to be in the ballpark. My police contact in Bedford, Massachusetts told me that if you are arrested on a Friday afternoon in Bedford you’re stuck in jail until the judge can see you on Monday morning. And that you’d likely be eating McDonalds all weekend because they are too small a facility to have a cook. So depending on the circumstance, as a writer, you can make sure someone is locked up for a couple of days or out and about getting in trouble. Small details like that make a book realistic.
Barb recently blogged about the differences between her fictional clambake in her Maine Clambake Mystery series and the real clambake the series is based on over on Maine Crime Writers. It’s interesting that Barb wrote the first draft of her book before ever visiting the island. You can read her blog here: http://mainecrimewriters.com/barbs-posts/cabbage-island-whats-different-whats-the-same
All writers do a lot of research — lots and lots of research. But out of the mountain of amassed research, we have to pick out the bits that will make the manuscript shine without causing the reader to be buried in an avalanche of unnecessary details. My protagonist, Sarah Winston, eats a lot of fluffernutter sandwiches — I felt it was my duty to try them. In other words, we want to make sure the manuscript is authentic enough.
Readers: Is authentic enough a good enough standard for you?