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Verisimilitude: Cops, Crooks, & Fictional Lawyers: Just the Facts, Ma’am

Writers: if you are not a cop, a lawyer, or a librarian (to name only 3 professions that appear a lot in fiction), please do your homework. There are lots of cops, lawyers, and librarians who would be happy as clams to advise you on whether or not your character meets the verisimilitude test.
1) An NPR Saturday Edition (8/25/12) interview “For Writers, The School Of Hard Cops” with Crime Writers Consultation made me wonder if real police officers “learn” how to be cops from TV cops the way some ordinary folks think one can learn court civil and criminal procedure from watching TV
2) While wandering the Multnomah Central Library shelves one cold, rainy afternoon not long ago, I came across this book: “Just the facts, ma’am : a writer’s guide to investigators and investigation techniques,” by Greg Fallis, Writer’s Digest Books, c1998.
It reminded me of all those badly written, edited, and researched books I gave up on the first time I read sentences like:  He was a sophomore in law school.” (Note: You don’t call second year law students “sophomores.”  You might call some of them sophomoric, but that is another subject entirely.)
3) Readers in search of a good story forgive many things, but, please, if you create a fictional lawyer and if you are not a lawyer or don’t otherwise work in the legal profession, please ask a friend who does work in the profession to proof-read your manuscript before you self-publish or before you send it to a publishing house, many of which have neither the time nor the expertise to edit your book properly.
(I could also mention all those TV shows with unbelievable lawyers, judges, and their baffling law book collections.  See, e.g. “Law Librarian to the Stars,” by Nancy L. Strohmeyer, 9 Legal Reference Services Quarterly, 7 – 9 (1991))
4) Most successful writers know to do their research before creating “real life” characters who will resonate with readers.  Readers don’t expect perfection, but we do expect writers to get the basic facts straight, especially if you’re writing something other than fantasy, farce, or very light fiction. I’m willing to suspend disbelief, but not my need to respect the writer.
Bad editing, typos, appalling grammar and syntax on the first page can put one completely off an otherwise promising tale – so does a Failure to Research put off a reader.  If the writer can’t take the time to try to get a few simple facts right, why should I bother reading the story at all?
5) If you’re a writer and you need a lawyer to help with your book, ask one!  Or, ask a law student or law professor.  Or, ask a law librarian.  Or, join a local writers’ group.  You don’t need to give up including a lawyer-characters in your book.
The Law and Fiction website might be another place to start.
Sisters in Crime is another and it has national and state chapters.
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