Keeping Fiction “Real”: Where Do You Draw the Line?

(This post originally appeared in October 2013 on Writerspace

If there’s one thing that drives me nuts in movies and television shows, it’s a sloppy portrayal of police procedure. This isn’t helped by being married to a cop who snorts and mutters at every inaccuracy…if I miss something, he’s sure to point it out to me. So believe me when I say that writing about a cop heroine and having my husband as one of my beta readers has led to some “interesting” conversations…but very helpful ones as well.

On the one hand, I want to keep the police procedural aspect as accurate as I can, because who knows when someone with law enforcement connections will read one of my stories? Whether I’m there to witness it or not, I would rather not have my writing sneered at because of its errors. On the other hand, when you toss angels into a storyline, real isn’t always possible. The challenge, then, becomes about balancing reality against literary license.

Interestingly, it’s the little details that are most likely to draw criticism. A reader might be quite willing to suspend his/her disbelief when it comes to the presence of angels and the reality of heaven and hell, but get your heroine’s gun wrong (cops in Canada use pistols, not revolvers) or have her in the wrong clothes or footwear (a female detective can’t chase down a suspect in a tight skirt or high heels—despite what Hollywood thinks) and you run the risk of having your book pitched across the room. Or at least of losing your reader’s trust.

You don’t need to include mountains of details (the dreaded information dump) to prove that you’ve done your research, either. It’s enough to use the right terms when they’re called for—to know how your heroine would address her supervisor (titles vary between police forces), what kind of cell phone she would use (the secure kind, not an iPhone), that the mobile command post is a retrofitted RV, and so on.

By paying attention to these details in the Grigori Legacy series, I was able to reach a compromise with my husband regarding what was “right”, and to establish a baseline that tells readers I know what I’m talking about. But showing them that they can have faith in me, they’re willing to relax and suspend their disbelief, and to trust what I’m telling them…

Even the angel part. 😉

Now I’d like to know what you think. How “real” do you like your fiction to be? Do the details matter to you?




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