Police Procedural: Complete Fiction Guide

Posted on Aug 19, 2023

Avatar Of P.j Mcnulty

Written by P.J McNulty

Home > Blog > Book Marketing, Fiction > Police Procedural: Complete Fiction Guide

What is the definition of a police procedural story?

A police procedural is a subgenre of detective and crime fiction that places emphasis on the accurate portrayal of the procedures, techniques, and culture of law enforcement agencies.

This genre often features police officers or detectives as the main characters and focuses on their professional lives rather than personal or emotional experiences.

How did the police procedural genre develop in the world of fiction?

The police procedural genre emerged in the mid-twentieth century, influenced by the changing social attitude towards law enforcement and the growing public interest in the inner workings of police departments.

Authors like Ed McBain and Lawrence Treat pioneered this genre, their works marking a departure from the traditional detective narratives to more realistic portrayals of police work.

Why should you take the time to study police procedurals?

This article aims to serve as a comprehensive guide to understanding the police procedural genre.

It is intended to equip writers and authors such as yourself with knowledge about the genre’s history, defining elements, development, and techniques to write compelling police procedural narratives.

Does the police procedural genre reflect real world policing?

The evolution of police procedures and technology has had a profound impact on the police procedural genre.

From fingerprinting and DNA analysis to modern digital forensics, the genre has mirrored advancements in policing, offering a gritty and realistic view of law enforcement.

It has also reflected changes in police-community relations, government policies, and social attitudes toward crime and law enforcement.

Notable police procedural authors and books

Here is a list of key authors and their works that shaped the police procedural genre:

  1. Ed McBain – “Cop Hater”
  2. Lawrence Treat – “V as in Victim”
  3. Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – “Martin Beck” series
  4. Elizabeth Linington – “Greenmask!”
  5. John Ball – “In the Heat of the Night”
  6. Reginald Hill – “Dalziel and Pascoe” series
  7. P.D. James – “Adam Dalgliesh” series
  8. Michael Connelly – “Harry Bosch” series
  9. Ian Rankin – “Inspector Rebus” series
  10. Henning Mankell – “Wallander” series

What are the typical plot points and themes of police procedural stories?

Police procedurals typically revolve around the investigation of a crime, usually a murder, from the point when the crime is discovered until the perpetrator is caught.

The narrative follows a structured plot with attention to detail, adhering to actual police work.

Themes often explore the nature of law and order, the struggle for justice, moral dilemmas, and the personal lives of police officers, albeit with less emphasis than their professional duties.

What are the essential elements to create a convincing work of police procedural fiction?

Here is a list of key elements that define the police procedural genre:

  1. Detailed and accurate representation of police work
  2. Focus on a team of detectives or police officers rather than a single detective
  3. Incorporation of actual investigative methods and technologies
  4. Use of precise legal and police terminology
  5. Realistic dialogues and interactions within the police department
  6. Stories often set in a single city or region
  7. Inclusion of subplots about characters’ personal lives, though less prominently than in other genres
  8. Recurring characters across different stories in a series
  9. Pacing that reflects real-life investigations, which can be methodical and time-consuming
  10. A resolution that centers around the solving of the crime, often through police work and legal procedures, rather than through chance or a twist in the plot.

How do authors conduct accurate research for their police procedural story?

To write a compelling police procedural, thorough research is paramount.

Understanding the actual procedures law enforcement follows during investigations will lend credibility to your story.

This includes knowledge about police hierarchy, interview techniques, crime scene investigation methods, forensics, legal procedures, and the way law enforcement interacts with other entities like the media, the public, and other government agencies.

How to craft convincing characters for a police procedural tale

The characters in your police procedural, particularly the police officers and detectives, should be portrayed realistically.

They are professionals dedicated to their jobs, but they are also human beings with their own flaws, personal lives, and individual quirks.

While the primary focus is on their professional lives, glimpses into their personal lives can add depth to their characters and make them more relatable to readers.

Should authors use police jargon in their procedural story?

 Incorporating realistic police procedure and terminology is crucial in a police procedural.

Using correct jargon not only demonstrates your knowledge of the subject but also adds to the story’s authenticity.

However, the use of jargon should be balanced so as not to confuse readers unfamiliar with the terminology.

How to strike a balance between detail and pace in your narrative

While detailed police procedures are a hallmark of this genre, maintaining a narrative pace that keeps readers engaged is equally important.

Balancing technical detail with action can be challenging.

One technique is to use procedures as a way to reveal character traits or to advance the plot, thereby integrating them seamlessly into the narrative without slowing down the pace.

Has the police procedural genre updated in modern times?

The modern police procedural has evolved to reflect the changes in society and law enforcement.

Some current trends include a greater focus on technology and forensics, reflecting advancements in real-world crime-solving methods.

There has also been a shift towards more diverse characters, both in terms of ethnicity and gender, and addressing contemporary social issues.

What are some significant contemporary police procedural books?

Here is a list of contemporary authors and works that reflect the modern police procedural:

  1. Tana French – “Dublin Murder Squad” series
  2. Louise Penny – “Chief Inspector Armand Gamache” series
  3. Jo Nesbø – “Harry Hole” series
  4. Peter Robinson – “Inspector Alan Banks” series
  5. Arnaldur Indriðason – “Inspector Erlendur” series
  6. Kathy Reichs – “Temperance Brennan” series
  7. Mark Billingham – “Tom Thorne” series

How visual media has impacted police procedural fiction

The influence of television and film on the police procedural genre cannot be overstated.

Shows like “Law & Order,” “CSI,” and “The Wire” have shaped reader expectations and brought the genre to a broader audience.

They’ve also influenced the genre’s development, introducing more diverse characters and settings and pushing boundaries in terms of narrative style and content.

Are you ready to write your own police procedural?

As we’ve explored, the police procedural genre offers a rich and rewarding avenue for writers.

Its emphasis on detail, realism, and methodical investigative processes, coupled with the human elements of the characters involved, offers plenty of scope for engaging and thoughtful narratives.

So why not channel your inner detective and begin crafting your own police procedural?

With careful research, attention to detail, and a focus on realistic character portrayals, you can create a compelling narrative that offers readers an insightful glimpse into the world of law enforcement.

Disclosure: Some of the links above may contain affiliate partnerships, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Self-Publishing School may earn a commission if you click through to make a purchase.
Liked this post? Share it with friends!

Interested in working with us?

Book a free strategy call with our expert team!