Guest Post: Writing True Crime verses Fictional Murder Mysteries

Writing True Crime vs Fictional Murder Mysteries by Bill Powers

I have been writing in one form or another for decades and with the exception of two creative writing classes, it has all been non-fiction. Police officers live in a real-life world where they must always document their work with precision and accuracy because it will be minutely scrutinized by defense attorneys, judges and juries. .

I don’t have a huge comparison sample of fiction to non-fiction, but I will say that I like writing both, but for differing reasons. 

Non-Fiction writing means telling “the truth and nothing but the truth so help me God”. The script has been written and the facts can’t be changed. The writing is more akin to storytelling than creative writing. You can develop your characters, but you can’t create new ones to help the story flow. Similarly, the crime scenes and other locations in the story already exist. You can describe the scenario as it presented at the time of the crime(s) in great and vivid detail, but you can’t re-invent them. 

Truth and accuracy in writing True Crime is vital and it originates by sifting through police reports, court documents, and trial transcripts and conducting interviews. You can’t, or shouldn’t create revisionist history by altering facts or changing the scenarios or timing of events to create a better read. The same is true about adding hypothetical scenarios. Hypotheticals work well in fiction, but not when used to contaminate a story or attempt to rewrite history. The story isn’t “what could have happened”, it is “what happened”

 Honestly, when I see that kind of writing in a story, I walk away from it and don’t return. Those storylines are great for fiction writers, but non-fiction is only about the truth.

Part of my thought process is undoubtedly the result of fifty years of investigating and reporting on crimes. If we stray or massage the truth we will get crushed by a good defense attorney and a disbelieving jury and lose the case. 

This book is different than most others because I was present and participating from the beginning through the end of the case, so my narrative is pure and accurate to a fault. I believe it is an exceptional educational book for teachers and students studying to be police officers, lawyers, forensic and fire sciences, as well as sociology and psychology students.

Writing fiction is certainly something I have considered. As you might suspect, throughout my career I have amassed an abundance of factual story lines and met my share of characters. Together, they could serve as both a base to work from or as a way of twisting, turning, and moving the plot along. Moreover, anyone that spends a significant part of their career in the business of death investigation always has a case or two that eats away at them because they remain unsolved. Scripting the story with a fictional approach would be a great way to close a few of them out. A few keystrokes and a bit of disrespect for the truth could bring about a gratifying finality.

About Bill Powers:

​Bill Powers has been active in the Massachusetts law enforcement community since he joined the Massachusetts State Police in 1974. Over time he rose through the ranks and was promoted to the rank of Detective Lieutenant. He commanded the State Police Detective Units (SPDU) in both Middlesex and Suffolk Counties, where he had direct oversight and involvement in more than one hundred homicides. His State Police career came full circle when he was named Commandant of the Recruit Training Academy. He retired as the director of the Media Relations Section. Following his retirement, Bill was appointed as an Assistant Professor in the graduate program for forensic sciences at the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM). For the next seven years he lectured on criminal investigation and expert testimony to the graduate students. In addition, he produced training seminars for police investigators covering a wide variety of topics. Following his tenure at the BUSM he returned to the law enforcement profession as the Director of Public Safety at Wentworth Institute in Boston. Bill earned an undergraduate degree from Northeastern University with a major in Criminal Justice and a Juris Doctorate degree from the New England School of Law.

He resides South of Boston with his wife Jane. Their two daughters and their families live nearby. He has been blessed with five remarkable grandchildren who sparkle like bright stars in the night sky.
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