Dwayne Clayden, emergency services

British Screenwriters Dial Down the Sensationalism in British Cop Shows

Canadian and U.S. screenwriters make it too easy to point out their errors in their portrayal of emergency services. Every show lists technical advisors, but it seems the advice of those advisors must be vetoed in favor of sensationalism and entertainment. That baffles me. After 40 years in emergency services I know that my career was exciting—without embellishing or creation of one of a kind rescues! Not every day is adrenalin fuelled, but over 40 years I have a bunch of edge-of-your-seat stories. Every paramedic and cop does!

British cops shows on the other hand, tend to leave the sensationalism alone—most of the time. What the screenwriters have done is create credible characters and bring out strong emotions in the viewer.

Over the past two years I have watched every episode of Happy Valley, Broadchurch, Scott and Bailey, Shetland, Line of Duty, and The Fall. In each series the character development is outstanding.

In Scott and Bailey we see two very different women struggle to keep crisis in their personal lives from impacting their professional lives—and sometimes failing. The viewer cheers for them, cries with them, (well, not me J), shouts at the TV (is that only me?) when they are about to do something stupid. As a viewer we are totally invested in those characters.

Broadchurch takes the viewer even deeper into the soul of the community. When you first meet Detective Inspector Alex Hardy, it is difficult to find any redeeming qualities. He’s an arsehole! Over the series that doesn’t change. Detective Constable Ellie Miller is the target of Hardy’s abuse and we feel for her—not as much as we do later in last episodes of the first season!

Broadchurch shows not only how the victim’s family is impacted, but how a whole community is damaged so bad it will never be the same. Don’t think you can stop at one episode, or even two. This show is set up for binge watching. If you have to take a break, do it in the middle of an episode!

In all these shows, the plot is secondary to the characters—and I like that. It doesn’t matter whether the plot is a murder, a kidnaping, or an armed robbery. The characters are what drive the story forward. The characters get into our hearts and create deep emotions.

As I’m editing my second crime thriller, I wonder if my characters are deep enough. Do my readers get emotionally involved? From the feedback from my first novel, I have achieved that to a small degree. My goal now is to follow the example of British screenwriters, and less so North American screenwriters. I’m dialing down the sensationalism (a bit; my novels are thrillers after all!) and I’m spending more time on character development.

Trust me on this. If you like great crime, action, thriller TV, check any or all of the shows I mentioned for your summer guilty pleasure binge watching.

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More about Dwayne Clayden  – visit his website


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