MOPI, the Management of Police Information (2010) may seem like unusual reading for an author but within its 190 pages is a simple idea that I believe is worth having in mind when thinking about outlining any story. At its heart Police information needs to be factually correct and useful for investigation and evidence. It needs to answer as many of the basic questions as it can…
The basic questions
The best description of the basic questions is found in Kipling’s Six Honest Serving Men:
I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
When collecting information it is essential to think of what, where, when, who and how. The why is generally something to be found by investigation (if you’re a policeman!). It could of course be the motivation behind a whole story.
The Police (in the UK at least) like to organise information showing the connections between four things: Persons (People), Objects, Locations and Events. These map onto five of the six basic questions as follows:
- Persons: Who
- Objects: Can be Who but more likely to be What
- Locations: Where
- Events: What, When and How
Writers also care about these things though their list may have different names. It is interesting looking at software for writers as to how many tools offer these in templates as part of the story plotting process. A writer thinks of:
- Characters and Events – eg the story is about a young man who falls in love on holiday before going to University
- Locations – the holiday was in Spain, the University is Bristol
Often tools don’t dwell on objects yet these can be great for showing us what characters are like or helping us visualise a location. In the above example we could have:
- The photograph from the beach when they realised they were in love
- The postcard he never sent
- The mobile phone he lost with his loved one’s number
Next time you’re plotting a story, don’t forget to use all of your POLE!