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Police procedure vs. surprise. Which is more important? (1 Viewer)

ironpony

Senior Member
For my script, which is a crime thriller, I have two says of telling the story. One is to have surprise twists and turns, but if I do that, I cannot show some of the police procedures as how things are done, but maybe that's worth it for the surprises, to be surprises.

Or I could show the procedures, which are interesting to, but if I do then you do not get the surprises. I was wondering, which seems more important, or more interesting for an audience, if anyone has any input on that?

Thank you very much! I really appreciate it!
 

robertn51

Friends of WF
...Or I could show the procedures, which are interesting to, but if I do then you do not get the surprises. I was wondering, which seems more important, or more interesting for an audience, if anyone has any input on that?

I'm puzzled this has gone unanswered these couple days

I just moments ago finished reading Craig Johnson's new novel, Daughters of the Morning Star.

It's a police procedural, countrified. Less lab, less "murder book"; more people talking, bumping into past and present, attitudes, native people, reservation politics, myths. Set in Wyoming, Montana. A missing child, and vile threats to her superstar sister, etc. Enter the out-of-jurisdiction sheriff, as a favor. (It's on the reservation, one, in another state, for another.)

I bring it up because it's screamingly fresh in mind, still moving me. Just like just about every one of the other 17 of his has affected me.

(But, none like the very first book, still shaking me today when I still pull up its brutally beautiful final scene and the epilogue I didn't read because I didn't know it was there because I could read no further, because I could truly read no further, closing the book early in appreciative shock.) Made me think hard about the concept of revenge, The Cold Dish. And about Johnson, and his well read and articulate sheriff.

Anyway.

Speaking as someone who reads and enjoys crime fiction...

A procedural need not be without surprise. Just because we have scientific frameworks for gathering evidence to discover the truth doesn't mean the truth comes from the framework without surprise.

The clinical truth itself might be a surprise. (Should be, actually, for the genre to work.)

People lie; evidence lies. People -- witnesses, victims, criminals -- go missing for both casual and causal reasons; as does evidence. The initial story upon which the framework begins its churn may or may not be the actual true thing that happened, leading the investigators (and reader) astray. The framework might be misapplied, as in profiling or corner-cutting by relying upon the "usual suspects". There might be internal, political, pressures upon the investigators to do less than thorough work. And there's a crap-ton of cases left open, unsolved: the procedural framework can and does fail. Often.

All of those are interesting places to hide surprises.

I like procedurals with surprises because formal procedures, while intricate and sometimes interesting, are actually constraints upon the characters' behavior.

And don't the best stories arise from their constraints?
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Okay thanks, that's good advice! Thanks!

One example I have trouble deciding on between procedure vs. surprise, is my climax. I could write it so that it's a surprise, by telling it from the villains point of view for the climax at the start, and a SWAT team comes in to bust them by surprise, to the reader. Or I could show the SWAT team gaining entrances to building to provide cover, and all that, etc.

But which would be better in a crime thriller do you think?
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
That is a flash foward. It all depends on context. Though I think Robert gave you excellent advice. By this I mean surprise is more important and he gave you some examples of how the police procedural works by surprise and imo no intimate knowledge necessarily of the police institutions procedures. You research the procedures too much! Surprising the audience is best as he said. Being too much of an expert of the police's criminal investigations needs painstakingly careful research which is why surprise should be more important that knowledge of what the police would do at any given moment. That is what I understood by Robert's post. It might be a different interpretation. But I agree the genre might have to depend more on surprise than reality. By reality I mean you plot according to things that happen because of a character's actions being spontaneous. As if it weren't really a police's real interpretation of reality going by day by day routines.
 

robertn51

Friends of WF
One example I have trouble deciding on between procedure vs. surprise, is my climax. I could write it so that it's a surprise, by telling it from the villains point of view for the climax at the start, and a SWAT team comes in to bust them by surprise, to the reader. Or I could show the SWAT team gaining entrances to building to provide cover, and all that, etc.

But which would be better in a crime thriller do you think?

Might there be a false dichotomy here?

There's no conflict, no exclusionary imperative, between procedural and surprise.

So maybe our language needs a tweak?

Here's maybe a place to start:
"... the defining element of a police procedural is the attempt to accurately depict the profession of law enforcement, including such police-related topics as forensic science, autopsies, gathering evidence, search warrants, interrogation and adherence to legal restrictions and procedure..." -- Wikipedia

Following a SWAT crew into a situation doesn't really fit in that sense of "procedural." I mean, it might, but that depends upon what we've been doing up to that point. There's a long causal legal chain that ends with the need for Special Weapons And Tactics.

However, leaving the "procedural" angle aside, by the original question we are deciding whether to focus the text upon the suspense of the SWAT approach to the assault or to focus the text upon the surprise experienced by the assault's target.

Those words "suspense" and "surprise" ín there...

Surprise is unseen things, until revealed. No one sees them coming. Not the villains. Not the cops. Not the reader. Only the author knows.

Suspense is reader-known things not known by those characters with whom the reader is engaged.

Thrillers are not based upon surprise, they are based upon suspense.

A thriller runs on... Will the plan work? It has to. Will the bomb go off? It shouldn't. Will we get there in time? We must. And how, with all these mounting obstacles in the way?

All of that works for the procedural, too. But only when the procedures aren't giving the results we need and becomes another obstacle and there's that tempting "Dirty Harry" moment that might screw it all up. Or bring a breakthrough. Again, there's ongoing suspense. Suspense, that may or may not end with a surprise.

So let's simplify. It's not a procedural vs surprise question. Both can (and should) be in the mix. It's a matter of suspense, because it's a thriller.

Now. In the given question set-up, where is the MC? With the SWAT or the target?

Why are we suddenly looking at the MC?

Because that's were the reader is. And we are doing all of this for the reader.

If the MC is with the SWAT, the details of the approach and assault will be the best choice for the reader. Because it is a thriller and there are possible risks and the outcome of the assault, is likely (one hopes, being the climax) the levy of some seriously satisfying jurisprudence with or without prejudice.

If the MC is with the target, having the text render the surprise and chaos of the sudden assault would be best for the reader. Not because it might be a procedural, but because it is a surprise for the MC (and reader, hopefully) that changes the board and that new unknown is a new source of suspense.

So, the "best" answer depends upon the placement of the MC/reader. And then the question of procedural v surprise is neutral and maybe even ill-considered?
 
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ironpony

Senior Member
Oh well the MC is with the SWAT, but I wonder if even showing the SWAT set up of commandeering buildings is even necessary, even if the MC is in it. If it's not necessary or detrimental, should I cut it, even though the MC is with them?
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Try to surprise your readers as robert suggested. Robert, I think he researches too much the procedural side of his work. Hence this is the reason why he should always have less. He has been asking research questions on procedurals for over two years.
 

robertn51

Friends of WF
If it's not necessary or detrimental, should I cut it, even though the MC is with them?
That's always an issue with our writing, isn't it?

"Detrimental" needs a context to have any weight. Detrimental to what/whom? The story? The plot? The ability to market the piece? Our reader? Our ego?

We can approach a powerful answer by asking our reader. Because, in the end, they should have the final say, even if they do not yet exist.

And the other, the "necessary," also rests with the reader. Because, depending upon one's taste and relationship to the text, there's nearly always "unnecessary" words and information in every piece.

But let's take the words on face value. Yes. Delete.

Which sounds harsh. Who am I, right? I don't even do scripts, preferring descriptive narrative of characters' actions of stories and novels.

But we are curious. Always. And pull up some scripts of films we think might clarify the options the authors took.

These will be from StudioBinder, so the scripts are protected and load slowly. Patience.
(I'd link the image snippets I made to prevent live-linking and pawing through the scripts, but the board won't let me link to those images from Google Drive. I know others have done this, so there's something for me to learn?)

One was the screenplay for Ridley Scott/Dan O'Bannon's 1979 film, Alien.

I choose this first because I remember sitting in my car after seeing the film, sitting there in the night shaking and trying to remember leaving the theater and how to start the car, what to do. That. Ending. Talk about a brutal awesome climax, what?

So, if we read the script from 247- 250 .... Of course, my god, Save the Cat! (forgive me? that's okay. I kinda deserve it.)

But here we see only the essential details needed to motivate and move the main character into position to whoop-ass. Nothing "unnecessary".

The second script we look at is Martin Scorsese/William Monohan's The Departed.

I chose this because I love its interweaving plots and motivations and remember the climatic "special ops" assault scene upon bad guys in a building. Right up our alley, no?

If we read the script from 186 - 189 showing the approach to the building...
Key lines?
"... The COMMAND VAN and POLICE CARS pull up with lights off. A TACTICAL VAN disgorges TACTICAL OFFICERS who spread out through the dark.... "

That's all we read for direction. No meticulously detailed movements into the building. Just bulk action. Just the essential details needed to motivate and move the characters into position to whoop-ass. Nothing "unnecessary".

(N.B. When we watch the scene in the film, none of this is there, there's no in-the-building assault. There's Marty's usual approach: Bullets & Buckets O' Blood with Occasional Car outside the building. But that's all director choices. Which makes sense. At the very end of the flick the hungry rat doesn't even get to nibble the spilled croissants.)

Bottom line? Cut the unnecessary bits. And, remember: your final reader is going to be the Director, doing their special Director-ing Thingy. So don't cramp them with your fabulous prose; it's their vision, their movie, interpreting your characters, your story. If you get their way, you and your work are going to be toast.

Good writing!
 
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