As a retired cop, and as a writer, especially as a mystery writer, I’ve been privileged to be able to see the lives of some of my characters from both sides of the fence. One fun question I get to play with while I’m populating my stories is whether my fiction is going to mimic real life or do I get to write the real lives of my characters as though they mimic fiction.
There were many, many times when I was handling a call where my partner would turn to me and say “You know, even if we put this into a book, no one would believe it really happened.” I’ve found that to be true. For example, during a writing seminar, I had the opportunity to discuss my books with one of my readers. She was teasing me about what a vivid imagination I had when it came to one of the chapters in the first book of my Credo series. My protagonist, Alex Wolfe, had to go undercover as a prostitute and my reader refused to believe that all of the situations my character found herself in had actually happened to either me or to some of our undercover vice detectives. This is a perfect example where fiction mimics the eccentricities of real life.
On the other hand, I’ve had more than one of my police colleagues ask me whether I’ve ever heard of internal affairs because many of the antics of the detectives in my novels would obviously get a real officer fired. My answer always brings a knowing smile and a wistful nod of their head. For twenty years, I had to toe the line. Heck, I was a sergeant in Internal Affairs for part of my career. One of my great joys as a writer is allowing my characters to act like most officers wish they could act if they were living in a fictional world. It’s very difficult to have to be polite to jerks or to have to call a sweating, foul mouthed idiot sir or ma’am.
What I enjoy even more while I’m writing, is allowing Alex to get even with “superior” officers, i.e. sergeant’s, lieutenants and above, who are less than a credit to their profession. Being a cop on the street is a little stressful but it’s also a lot of fun. Being a cop who has to put up with idiots for bosses is a lot stressful, and no fun. I love allowing my characters to mouth off, or to act unprofessional or even downright juvenile at times. I consider it one of the perks of the writing profession.
So what do you think? Should fiction always mimic real life or should we allow our characters to be a little off the wall and perhaps a little unrealistic? I’d love to hear your opinions on the subject.