You don’t have to look far if you are in the mood to watch a cop show on television or a hard-boiled adventure flick. Police procedurals are everywhere, and even though the name implies that the show should lean on the boring side, it looks like the sheer amount of them are not going away anytime soon.
But why? Why are police procedurals (and by extension regular cop dramas and mysteries) so popular, especially on the small screen? It’s no secret that mystery is my favorite genre so maybe I can provide some insight.
First and foremost, your audience can PLAY ALONG. Mysteries are like a roller coaster rides in that everyone jumps on the same starting point and everyone has the same ending point, but the audience is down to “enjoy the ride”. The more pretzel loops and corkscrew turns (as written by twists and red herrings) are completely up to you, but that is what makes it fun for the writer. As for the audience, there is a subconscious sense of justice when they witness your protagonist haul away the suspect to jail. It is as almost they were “deputized” and did their part for justice.
Police procedurals are what I like to call “The Great Sandbox” for writers. I can’t think of a formula (Crime—Witness—Apprehend Suspect—Interrogate Suspect—Make Arrest) and character archetypes (Broken Veteran Cop, Wide-eyed Rookie Cop, Overworked Police Captain, Ignored Spouse of cop) that are so well-worn like the police procedural genre.
It kind of reminds me when I had a big toy box when I was a kid. My parents didn’t buy many new toys often, so when it was play time, I had to make up new games with the toys I had. My silver toy Ferrari was just a car but one week it was a racing machine, the week after that it flew and shot lasers out of his canon. There was no changing the shape of the car (after all it was made out of diecast metal) but I got to bend the rules in order to make playtime fresh.This subgenre is no different. A broken cop who is corrupt and sold secrets for cash, is a lot different than the broken cop who buries himself in his work because his/her spouse died. You get to play with the classic permutations and computations of character traits and relationships while all the while there is a crime that needs to be solved in the background.
Look, humans are by nature curious animals. We know this. There is going to be a need for fictional sleuths for a long time. If you have some extra time between projects, why not banging out a mystery short story? If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy keeping your skills sharp, and if you are a first timer you’ll enjoy the change of pace…