Are you writing a crime story?

Good call.

Detective, crime and police stories are always popular, and include some of the greatest novels, films and TV dramas. But if you don’t watch out for the traps, they can fall very flat.

When I started writing crime and police scripts and novels I received great feedback. They were well written, strongly structured, highly visual. But they didn’t sell.

A major trap with this genre is language. Audiences and readers need to believe in the lead characters, and criminals and police are often thinly developed, with predictable dialogue and character traits.

I found I needed to research my language with care. The way characters worked, the way they thought, all was reflected in the way they spoke. Not only did this research transform my writing, it was also great fun.

Police dialogue in particular turned out to be especially valuable. There were no books on police slang at the time, so I tapped my contacts in forces all over the country. The words and phrases they came up with were very un-PC (pun intended), scurrilous, funny, and remarkably revealing of the psychology of a policeman, or woman, working today.

So interesting, that I ended up getting commissioned to compile a short book on police slang for Abson Books. (Shameless plug: it makes a great low-budget Christmas stocking filler for any crime writer).

Language is an important route to authenticity in crime and police scripts. David Newman and Robert Benton researched Texan dialects so that each character had a distinct sound in Bonnie & Clyde. Scorsese and Pileggi’s mastery of New York Sicilian patois is essential to the success of Goodfellas.

The bottom line is that I never regret a single second I spend on research in this genre. Even if it doesn’t end up as a book on its own, it always ends up illuminating some little corner of my script, dialogue, action or characters.

Police Slang, by Charles Harris, was published in 2010 by Abson Books, price £2.50.

His next workshop for Euroscript will be the Selling Your Script Masterclass Weekend, January 28-29 2012.