Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hollywood vs. Reality

Most of us have watched, or are regular fans of shows such as CSI,Criminal Minds, and Law & Order, to name a few.  We witness them solve crime over the course of an hour.  But can we trust everything we see and put it to work in our books?  

It's so vitally important that as writers we get our facts straight.  If we don't, we may lose our readers for good.  I'm reading a non-fiction book called The Criminal Mind by Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.  She makes reference to a certain published writer who didn't bother to check their facts.  Not only was she turned off from reading what she started, she would never read another of their books.  And, as I'm sure you're filling in right now, this author's lack of fact-checking didn't make for good publicity in the longterm.  And even though, I found myself cringing in empathy for this writer, at the same time it drove home the importance of presenting the facts.

Below are some contrasts between Hollywood and real life.  I know there are a lot more, and I hope this opens up a discussion.  Please note, in this post Hollywood refers to not only television and movies, but also to published written works.

In Hollywood:
Full toxicology panels come back within hours
In real life:
This process, dependent on how backed up a lab is, can take anywhere from a few days to a full week.  As a side note, smaller communities send forensic evidence to a larger centre for further analysis.

In Hollywood:
A lead detective or CSI will touch a potentially key piece of evidence with their bare hands.
In real life:
CSIs or Detectives would never risk tainting a crime scene.  Gloves are worn and any experienced officer would never touch anything at the crime scene, or associated with the crime, with his bare hands.  Next time you watch one of these investigative shows, keep an eye out for this.  It’s interesting how many times it actually happens.

In Hollywood:
The lead detective has a gut feeling, based on relatively nothing at all.
In real life:
“Gut feelings” are pulled from years of experience, and founded on evidence, and do not result from magical moments of divine insight.

In Hollywood:
The lead detective or investigator pictures what happened, fabricating “what could have happened” in their minds.
In real life:
Hypotheses are drawn from evidence, based on facts, not imagination.

In Hollywood:
Criminal psychologists go to the crime scene and take an active part in the investigation.
In real life:
Criminal psychologists never visit the crime scene.  What they do is study the facts in a case, who the victim was, where they were last seen, details of the scene and other such details and build a profile.

In Hollywood:

To catch the criminal you have to think like one.
In real life:
If that were the case, psychologists would solve all cases by their magical ability to figure people out and make them say what they don't want to.