The Writer as Watcher

Writing police procedurals as I do, I read a lot of police procedural fiction because I enjoy it. It’s not as if I want to imagine myself in the role of the first on scene investigator. Imagine the stress of that in real life? And the smell? The bossing people around. And the responsibility.

I know I don’t have the personality to be a cop. I once checked out becoming a private investigator. In California it means indenturing yourself to a seasoned detective for thousands of hours. I went as far as meeting a private detective in a bar. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and told me he had a gun in the waistband.  I could have the job but I’d have to move to Denver. No, that wasn’t going to happen.

As far as being a cop, I made a mistake turning up for my ride-along.  The civilian who had made the arrangements sneered at me and told me straight out, “You could never be a cop. You can’t follow orders.”  Okay. It hadn’t occurred to me to want to be a cop.

One of the components in being effective either as a private investigator or law enforcement is being able to ask hard questions.  That would be questions that make people cry, run away, or punch you on the nose. I’m not good at that. I’m not good at asking a hard question and then being silent while the pressure cooks.

What I am good at is observing from the corner. I’m a watcher, as I suspect all of us writers are.

Lie detection is fascinating to me.  The latest research I see states that trained observers are only slightly better at spotting the liars in these videos than the average person. I took the tests and discovered I am slightly better.

Writers are trained observers, I suspect. Ever since we discovered the joy—and the agony—of recording the human experience we’ve been watching. We take the observations one step further with the what if? question. The truly talented among us can play the “then what happened” game and devise a clever plot.

But the hard part will always be writing it down and getting that right.

Are you a watcher from the corner? Can you ask hard questions?

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