We were watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Kevin and I were sitting there, pointing out all the things that would never really happen.
Like, Stabler pulls up at a crime scene he just happens to drive by. He’s not dressed for work, and he doesn’t show identification at the scene but he takes control and the uniforms defer to him? Then he starts touching the body with his bare hands.
Uh, yeah. This’ll be a slam dunk at trial.
There were other things as well in the episode. Conclusions drawn from minimal information, violations of procedure, disclosure of what would have been considered confidential information people could have been sued – and cases could have been dismissed – over.
I don’t mean to pick on this show in particular, because as far as formulaic TV goes I tend to like it when I do watch it. But I was thinking about some of the criticisms I’ve seen leveled at books for mistakes far less critical to plot and storyline than this. It goes to the heart of what I’ve harped on a zillion times from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves To Death - what is written is assumed to have more serious intent than what is spoken. We consider written sources referenced to carry more weight than words spoken in an interview. What is spoken can be more easily retracted.
Or, in this case, what is on TV can be blamed on the confines of the medium. We expect our shows in 48 minutes with commercials interspersed and we need to have just the right dramatic build-up in the opening of the show. In this case, Stabler lifts a sheet over the victim’s face and his daughter screams, because she got out of the van and approached the crime scene. Now she’s been traumatized. Oooohhhh, drama. Cue the show intro.
That’s where it started, but my brain works like the looping rollercoasters, so it isn’t long before my thoughts have shifted from TV shows that cheat a bit on procedure to the fact that, despite the pressures on crime fiction authors to ‘get it right’, most books aren’t very realistic.
Seriously. Think about it. When it gets into narrative, it’s all so damn relevant. Characters are thinking about the setting. Or they’re thinking about the case and how witnesses/suspects reacted in questioning. Or their impressions of their new co-worker. Or some deeper meaning behind the case.
But the reality is, if you were to track the train of thought for the average human being at any point in time, it would go something like this:
Didn’t like the way she looked when she heard her son was dead. Didn’t seem to bug her. Sure seemed more pissed with the interruption to her breakfast than the fact that her firstborn had kicked the bucket. And by God, the smell in that house. Phew! What is she, like a human gas factory, just lets ‘em rip and keeps the doors and windows shut so the air quality won’t improve. Lowering the resale value of the place. Fuck, if I had to live with a cow like that I think I'd top myself. Some things really are worse than death. Can’t say that to Tiffany though. She’d be all serious and asking if I needed counseling and maybe tell the boss she doesn’t think I can handle it anymore. Like to show her just what I can handle, he he, what I’m capable of. I could make her eyes roll into the back of her head any night of the week. Been a while, and Tiffany sure would beat a hand job. I’d take the hand job over that cow of a mother, though. Jesus, what the fuck’s the problem with the traffic today?
Part of the reason I got thinking about this was I was arguing with evilkev. Our arguments are always brilliant, because I’ve discovered that if I jump up and down like a two-year-old he’ll laugh and when he laughs he can’t stay mad and argue with me seriously. And if you actually listen to how a lot of people talk, the conversation is all over the place, much like people’s thoughts, and arguments are especially bad for it.
It’s a rare thing that you can write an argument where relevant information can actually be put across in the dialogue and it works, because most heated arguments become irrational quickly.
All of this has me thinking about the fact that with some things we expect accuracy and precision, and with others we actually expect a complete lack of realism. If you read enough of the lists you’ll see that some people expect the body to drop in chapter one, others like to get to know the characters first so they have a reason to care about the investigation. Some expect the cop protagonist’s personal life to never intersect with the case, others think anything unrelated to the case shouldn’t be included in the story.
The moral of the story is, you can’t please everybody.
But we all have our own little bugbears. So, what are your pet peeves? The things you can’t stand?
One of my grievances is with things that are over-hyped. Kevin Wignall’s just done a post about that over at Contemporary Nomad.
I’m sure that, once started, I could come up with a long list. But I have a suggestion. If you’d like to chat about how real is too real or how fake is too fake, why not head over to Crimespace pull up a stool, order a pint and chat. Everyone is welcome – reader, writer, even reviewers. And I think that the group dialogue aspect over there could be a lot of fun.
And there's a video over there, of the Bearded Wonder Boy.
Certainly beats the heck out of just talking to me. I mean, unless you just want to talk to me. Then that’s fine. Talk away.
My bookmark is in The Hackman Blues by Ken Bruen. “Sip it… okay… nice and slow.” I’m laughing my ass off reading this book (and if you've read it you might get that quote). Brilliant.