For most writers, their experience with emergency services, EMS, Police, Fire, Air Medical, Dispatch, and Disasters, is based on what they see on TV—the news, and dramas, and in feature films. Then, when it comes time to write an EMS, Police, or Fire scene, they use what they have seen in TV and movies. The problem is, a lot of what TV and movies portrays on the screen, is not what really happens.
It’s entertaining, and fast paced. Even when your brain says, “Hey, wait a minute…” when it recognizes something that is not right on the screen, the show quickly moves onto the next scene and we often just let that inconsistency go.
But readers are different. When they come to a point in the story that doesn’t make sense, they stop reading. They ponder, and wonder why the writer got a fact so wrong. They may decide to continue reading, or they may decide that the writer doesn’t know what they are talking about, and put the book down. We don’t want that!
What do the inaccuracies in TV and movies have to do with your writing? A lot! You need to be accurate in your writing about the things that are factual. If you want to change the fact, then you need to have a very good reason or have created a unique world where the ‘facts’ are different.
In this column, I’ll talk about the things TV and movies get wrong in Police and Medical Procedurals.
On TV and in movies people survive numerous gunshots, walk away from explosions, have three, four, five doctors trying to save a life, and we accept that. (Well, some of us do!) It seems we are willing to accept anything on TV or a movie without asking if what just happened is possible. Perhaps we watch TV or go a movie for a sixty or ninety-minute escape, don’t get overly involved in the characters, enjoy the ride and walk away—and that’s fine.
A novel by contrast, takes more of a reader’s time, more of their energy, and a really good novel hits their emotions—hard.
So, does anyone care if you get things wrong?
Readers do! They will challenge your errors. Medical and law enforcement personnel will hang with a story that feels real to them. Readers not in a police or medical profession select a medical or police procedural because they want to know what it’s really like.
You need to be as accurate as possible. The internet is a valuable resource. But that’s not enough. For a medical or crime novel, you need to interview professionals in the genre you are writing. Talk to an emergency department physician or registered nurse. Talk to the cops in your area. It’s my experience that cops and paramedics LOVE to tell stories about their job. You might be amazed at how much information you get, and a lifelong source of new material.
One thing to keep in mind when writing a crime based story is that you need to talk to cops from the area your novel is set. Interviewing a Calgary Police officer will not help if your novel is set in New Orleans, or Billings, Montana. Police terminology, weapons and tactics do differ from city to city, province to province, and state to state.
Medicine is more universal, especially in Canada and the U.S. Though you do have to be aware of differences in health care funding between Canada and the U.S.
So, the final comment is: As a writer, you need to be accurate!
Don’t ever skimp on your research.
If you are writing police or medical procedurals, here’s where you can check your facts.
“First Aid 4 Writers”
Weekly tips by Dwayne Clayden on EMS, Police, Fire, Medical, Air Medical and Disaster procedures and scenes.
Check out, the “Live” show, 4th Thursday of the month.
Find both at DwayneClayden.com