Sunday, January 6, 2013

This Week's Practice Exercise


Detective Work


Prepared by: Charles Hightower
Posted on: 6 January 2013

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Exercise: In 400 words, provide a scene where you introduce us to a detective of your own invention. You might show the detective at a crime scene, interrogating a suspect, or interviewing a witness. Your goal is to build a character we'll want to follow into intrigue or danger. Be sure to show, rather than tell us about the character.

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Many of us have read our share of detective novels. You'll often find a few among the bestsellers for any given year. In a great many book series, television shows, and movies, a detective with ordinary human frailties struggles to bring a culprit to justice.

Lieutenant Colombo is a quirky, likable fellow that criminals often underestimate. Special Agent Pendergast seems a throwback to the 19th century. Alex Cross is a psychologist, always trying to outthink his quarry. Lucas Davenport is a bare-knuckled brawler, sometimes willing to overstep the law. Brenda Leigh Johnson is skilled in trapping murderers in a web of their own lies. Each has a different style and manner of conducting business.

Your detective might be a law officer, a private investigator, or even a citizen who is swept into the role. You might demonstrate how he or she interacts with peers, clients, suspects, or witnesses. Their behavior in return may provide insight into how the character is perceived, and therefore guides us in our initial perception.

What might we glean from dress, manner, grooming, and dialogue? What clues might indicate his or her motivations? Does the character appear to be lawful, sleazy, or somewhere in-between?

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Exercise: In 400 words, provide a scene where you introduce us to a detective of your own invention. You might show the detective at a crime scene, interrogating a suspect, or interviewing a witness. Your goal is to build a character we'll want to follow into intrigue or danger. Be sure to show, rather than tell us about the character.

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In your critique, tell the author whether a believable character of interest has been crafted, and explain why you feel that way. Would you want to continue reading about the character and the investigation? What could be done to strengthen the writing or to improve the reading experience?



These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writing Workshop.

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