That’s right! For a limited time only, I’m divulging the secrets to writing a successful police procedural for only ten—that’s right, ten!—easy installment payments (which we’ll discuss later)!
(Disclaimer: Although I’ve not written a true police procedural, I’ve had quite a few cops and detectives tumble in and out of my books. Besides, I’ve seen enough TV procedurals to qualify as an expert.)
Ready? Let's go!
Step #1) Pick Your Lead.
This is the biggest choice you’ll face as a writer: what gender to make your lead. Once you clear that hurdle, the rest of the book will flow naturally. It doesn’t truly matter if your lead detective is male or female because they’re going to share the same traits: hard-edged as granite, muscular, no-nonsense, tough-talking, swagger walking, alcohol-pounding, quip-dropping tough gals and guys. Note that it’s no longer politically correct to have your protagonist chain smoke, so don't even think about it.
Step #2) Pack Your Baggage.
Your protagonist needs baggage, HAS to have baggage. Lots and lots of emotional baggage, so much baggage, it’d put an airport baggage handler into traction. Said baggage may be due to a series of lousy, failed relationships (usually due to a combination of drink, infidelity, and the stress of being On The Job). Or maybe there's the unfortunate passing of a loved one. Maybe your hero has had too many bad encounters with cable guys and has snapped. It doesn't really matter as long as he or she is damaged as tornado debris.
Step #3) Choose Your Lead’s Police Partner.
Another simple step, really, because there can only be two choices. Your protagonist’s work partner is either a newbie, eager-to-please, green-around-the-ears rookie cop; or a slovenly, donut-eating, burned out cop just days away from retirement. There are no other choices. And it doesn’t matter because the partner’s doomed within the opening pages. He may as well wear a sign on his back reading “Dead Cop Walking.” For he will be shot early on, oh, yes he will. And prepare for your hero to raise his/her hands to the sky over the late partner’s corpse and scream, “Nooooooooo!” Bonus points if it takes place in the rain.
(Note: A lot of writers choose to have a man and woman, both from the hard-boiled school, as partners. Naturally while chasing the bad guy, they'll fall into bed. Should you choose to go down that path, it’s fine, but don’t forget to add a little Yin to Yang.)
Step #4) Position Your Police Captain (and Immediately Disrespect Him).
This is the guy in charge. Invariably, he's always bald, short-fused, sick and tired of your protagonist’s lone wolf ways, and one step away from a heart attack. His coloring tends to run stroke-red. It’s a must that your protagonist never shows the least amount of respect for the boss, treating him with cool disdain and quippy one-liners. And it’s important to remember your protagonist should only address the captain by his last name or a colorful nick-name.
Whether you choose to make your captain crooked is entirely up to you. It's a popular choice these days.
Step #5) Master the Maniacal Laugh.
Your good guys are in place. The stage is set. Now things get tricky.
Bad guys are tough to do on paper. The Maniacal Laugh is particularly tough to express in words.
“For you see, Trina, I’ve been killing ice-cream vendors because of a tragic bomb-pop incident in my childhood years. I despise sprinkles. Mwah-hah-hah-hahhhhhhh!”
See? Doesn’t exactly sing in the written word, does it?
But, like it or not, you’ve set yourself up to write a police procedural, and you need an incredibly unhinged villain, lest your tough-as-nails protagonist comes off appearing uncouth, particularly in these sensitive and politically correct times. Maniacal laughter is a must. Please do approach with caution, though, and strive for a modicum of subtlety.
Step #6) Uncomfortable Sex Locales.
I don’t know what it is about these tough cops and detectives, but as a general rule, beds aren’t their number one location to have sex (NOT make love; tough gals and guys don’t go in for that sissy stuff). No, like everything your tough protagonist does in life, there's a tendency to take the road less traveled, a rocky road indeed. The love/lust scenes play out in alleyways (again, cue the rain, thus making it even more uncomfortable), cars, against walls, any place sure to put a cramp in the reader’s leg.
Not sure why, really. I don’t make the rules.
Step #7) Make It Personal.
Your protagonist has to have a personal gripe against your bad guy. It’s nice to tie this into the hero's baggage (see Step #2). Maybe the current serial killer was the hero’s scoutmaster or paper-boy. This will involve the reader in an entirely new level, pulling them in by the lapels (but since Casual Friday is the current popular mode of wardrobe, I suppose lapels are rather dated). Be creative.
Ta-dahhhh! There you have it! Everything you need to know about writing a successful police procedural. Now all you need to do is go publish and make a kazillion dollars. It's that simple.
|A different sort of procedural...CLICKETY for mystery and larfs!|