Okay, so the likelihood of you ever seeing that headline for real is pretty slim. But follow me down this rabbit trail and see if the headline doesn’t make some sense when we’re finished.
Let’s start with some background. I’m a writer. Maybe you are, too, or you’re a reader, which really makes you the flip side of the same coin. So we have that in common, either way. But I’m also a cop. I just went over nineteen years on the job. Truth be told, I almost exclusively fly a desk these days instead of pushing a cruiser (though never let anyone tell you that police executives don’t cruise dangerous waters. The dangers are distinctly different, that’s for sure, but they’re there). But in my day, I’ve work in patrol, shagging calls of all kinds, and never knowing what was coming next. I’ve been a detective, too, which is a job that is a little bit like you see on TV, but not much. I’ve also been a supervisor on dynamic scenes, such as standoffs with armed and barricaded subjects with hostages (which made being the SWAT commander an exciting job!), the immediate aftermath of shootings, robberies, death…you name it.
Why tell you all this? Same reason anyone lists their bonafides. So you know I’m for real.
Which is kind of funny to say, since in a minute we’re going to talk fiction…
So, what makes a good cop? What do you think? Is it courage? Intelligence? Compassion? Sure, all of the above are critical, but what I’m looking for here is even more necessary, more core to the skill set.
Is it persistence? Ah, yes. Now we’re getting closer.
Yep. A good cop needs a healthy, above average human dose of curiosity. In fact, that’s what tends to put all those other great qualities into play. A good cop needs to be curious about what’s going on in his neighborhood or district. When he sees something that “doesn’t look right”, he needs to investigate. Poke around. Ask questions.
Now before the civil libertarians among you start squawking about individual rights and blah, blah, hear me out. I’m not talking about anything more than checking things out. Investigating. Asking questions. Seeing if everything is all right. If it was your neighborhood, that’s what you’d want the cop doing, right? I would. And unless you’re a criminal up to no good, a brief, friendly contact with a police officer asking a few questions should be no big deal.
[Yes, I said friendly. That’s another trait a good cop needs. The ability to be sincerely friendly. He also has to have a hard ass switch he can flip on when it is occasionally necessary, but all of that is another blog entry].
Do you know how the majority of serial killers have been caught in the last forty or so years? DNA? Stellar detective work? The FBI? Clairvoyants? Luck? Well, while all of that may play a part, a lot of the cases are broken open because of a curious patrol cop. He saw something hinky in the alley and checked it out. He made a traffic stop and something didn’t look right, so he looked in the trunk. He talked to a guy who didn’t seem right, so he wrote a report about it that detectives later used to piece together the case.
Now, I am not saying that great detective work didn’t precede and follow this major break in the case. Not at all. But it was a curious cop on patrol who poked and prodded, who investigated, who wondered and asked questions that made the break in the case.
How does this tie into writing? How can you catch a serial killer (figuratively, of course)?
Now, I could end this post right here (I think I’m already over Bonnie’s suggested limit), but no one has ever accused me of being succinct. So let’s explore what that means, to be curious.
It can mean the start of the story, right? You might see the end of the story in your head, and then wonder what got those characters there. Or you might envision the beginning of the story and wonder where they are going. If you’re curious enough, you’ll write it to find out.
Being curious means getting to know your characters so that you can ask yourself, “I wonder what would happen if he suddenly lost his job?” or “I wonder what would happen if he found out he had cancer?” (Or you could imagine something good, I suppose, but that’s not nearly as fun). Or you might wonder why a certain character behaves a certain way. What brought her there? What really motivates her? If you’re curious enough to spend the time (persistence, anyone?) to find out, you might have a hell of a story there, or at least a subplot or a character arc. You may not like what you find out, but that’s the chance you take. What’s the alternative? Not to write it?
That would be like the cop who isn’t curious enough to check the trunk, and lets a serial killer drive away with a body in it, all wrapped up in a rug.
What else can you be curious about? How about a new way of approaching storytelling, or a twist in your genre? Someone once asked what would happen if a private detective were able to talk to the dead…and was curious enough to find out. And that’s a cool idea, no?
Truth be told, there’s no end to curiosity as a writer and what it will bring you. No, you won’t catch a real serial killer, but depending on what you write, and how curious you are, someone in one of your books might slap the cuffs on the next Hannibal Lecter.
You wanna find out?
Me, I’m kinda curious to see what happens.
Frank Zafiro is one of those writers that makes you sit up and take notice. You can find him all over the place - like in Spokane, Washington this weekend at Auntie's Bookstore for a book signing from 1 pm to 3 pm. Or online at http://www.frankzafiro.com/. Find him on Facebook. I know, I know, no Twitter, YET! but I'm working on him. He's hilarious and friendly and smart. Perfect combination. But don't get too excited ladies - he's married and his wife is a DOLL!
Want to get inside his head? Find him on Amazon. I did.
Thanks for coming by Frank, and if you're looking at his site - search out his blog. I'm visiting over there today, too. Yeah, we switched it up.
So hop on your dirt bike and rev on over to see me. I look forward to seeing you there!