Writing True Crime: Dialogue

Dialogue is tricky in a True Crime work, but there are steadfast rules you must adhere to.

This post is nice and succinct.

A thing that I see very often in early drafts of true crime manuscripts is dialogue, which can be problematic at times.

First, we can make it easy. If you have historical records of conversations, then you are good to go. Write on! If conversations are verified and accurate, you can feel free to use them in your work. They will certainly add an element to your work.

However, and the big one, if they are not historical, but imagined, you need to know the consequences.

If you write imagined dialogue in a true crime work, it is no longer fiction. Once you introduce one element of fiction into a work of non-fiction, it ceases to be non-fiction. It is now historical fiction.

The rules are rigid, but they exist for a reason.

Once you have added even one imagined element into a work of non-fiction, you have, essentially, changed your work on a fundamental level.

A work of non-fiction must be that – non-fiction. Everything in it must be verifiable fact, and you must have the sources to back that up.

That helps readers by letting them know they can trust the material. Everything in a work of non-fiction should be sourced and verified. And once that’s done, as a reader, I know I can trust what I’m reading. Sure, there will be times when source material is in question, but as long as it’s verifiable and reputably sourced, and you’ve treated it responsibly, you have done your duties.

However, once you introduce any imagined element – like dialogue or any other detail that may be logical but not verified – you have turned your manuscript into fiction.

Authors tell me that dialogue draws readers into a story more and makes them feel more a part of the work. I understand that. But if you create that dialogue based on how you think the conversation would have gone, you have added something that cannot be verified.

Not only can this be misleading in the story you are trying to tell, you are also tricking your readers into thinking something is fact when it is not.

True Crime is a balance of fact and structure. The facts come from your research. But the area you have the most power in is structure. You place things in an order that helps build tension and rise to the climax of your story. That’s how you make it work.

Adding anything to a story that you cannot verify is turning your story into something different.

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