Intriguing writing tip: how police reports teach narrative voice

Hey, all–

I’m a member of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and they put out this fab publication called Writer’s Chronicle. I bring this up because in a recent issue, there was a super-cool essay about how police reports can help earn the craft of writing. The piece is called “Inflection and the Narrative Voice: the LAPD Teaches Creative Writing,” written by fiction writer Ellen Collett.

I write crime fiction — specifically the books in my New Mexico series that star Albuquerque homicide detective Chris Gutierrez (State of Denial and the forthcoming 4th book, whose title is secret at the moment) — so Collett’s article was like an interrogation lamp shining on an aspect of craft I hadn’t considered.

For more info on the article, go to this short piece at Utne Mag. At the bottom there you’ll find a link to “Inflection and the Narrative Voice.” It’s a .pdf that Utne’s posting. Otherwise, you can’t really access the piece readily because you need to be a member of AWP to access certain materials from the magazine, like this piece.

Quote from the Utne piece:

But let me back up: Ellen’s essay—and an essay it is—reveals what she’s learned in her day job in crime analysis at the LAPD. Monday through Friday, Ellen reads incident reports, required of every officer for every event to which he responds. “Surprisingly,” she writes in both versions of her piece, “writing is the one constant in a cop’s daily life.” Not only that, standards are high at the force. The LAPD prefers action verbs and insists that officers avoid modifiers, which Ellen explains are “slippery and subjective.” Adjectives are also out, unless they “pertain to direction, color, or amount.” But even within these constraints, some writers are more compelling than others; so it is, Ellen demonstrates, with Officer Martinez, because, though he conforms to the rules, his “choices are idiosyncratic.” Where his partner, Officer Brown, “offers a fact, Martinez paints a picture,” she writes, and she goes on to show us how.–Dinah Lenney

Anyway, I love stuff like this. New views on craft. Happy writing! (and reading)

One thought on “Intriguing writing tip: how police reports teach narrative voice

  1. Very interesting, indeed. I imagine medical reports could do the same. Lord knows I see enough of them in my line of work as a trancriptionist!

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