Friday, March 08, 2013

Authentic Interrogations in Fiction

3 Ways to Make the World of an Interrogator Ring True
by Martin Ott

As a former US Army interrogator, I have explored the subject of the interrogator in numerous short stories and poems. My biggest challenge was in creating the world and the main character Norman Kross for my debut literary suspense novel TheInterrogator’s Notebook published by Story Merchant Books in February of this year.

Here are 3 tips to keep in mind if you’d like to create the character of an interrogator or an interrogation scene in one of your stories.

#1. Research Meticulously

If verisimilitude is important in fiction, it is even more important in a story about truth-telling. In the many drafts I wrote of The Interrogator’s Notebook, I made sure to keep an eye on recent news stories related to interrogation to ensure that my references and character backstory did not feel dated. I read no fewer than 20 books that I kept on a shelf by my computer and used sticky notes to mark key sections. Even after completing the novel, the research wasn’t over as my copy editor challenged me to dig even deeper to make sure that the information I provided was correct.

#2. Make Your Interrogators Real People

Whether it’s a character in TV shows such as Homeland or 24, or the protagonist in a John Le Carré novel, we are interested not just in what takes place in interrogations, but the private lives of those people under intense pressure to gather intelligence. We want to see their strengths and foibles, and the impact of having power over others. Often, a great counterbalance is to create some weakness or powerlessness in the lives of these interrogators in order to raise the conflict in the story. In The Interrogator’s Notebook, my protagonist Norman Kross was a master interrogator expert at seeing the truth, except when it came to understanding the truth about his relationships with his own family and friends.

#3 Provide an Interrogation that No One Has Seen Before

With the popularity of police dramas and military thrillers, we have all witnessed dozens, if not hundreds, of mock interrogations involving a myriad of techniques. So how do we make our scenes stand out from what has come before? In The Interrogator’s Notebook, I decided to have the antagonist George Stark, an actor, only agree to be interrogated while playing the role of another person. This was not a one-sided relationships, and the interrogations provided a game that both parties were playing with increasing stakes. Dialogue is also important— don’t forget that it needs to be realistic and relevant to the plot.

About the Author

Martin Ott is a former U.S. Army interrogator, blogger and author of the novel The Interrogator’s Notebook, Story Merchant Books, and three books of poetry.


Nicole said...

Your dedication to authenticity is impressive and valuable to the reader, especially considering you had high level experience in this field. Good for you. And thank you for your service. So much.

Henya said...

Good post. Helpful!

Ottpops said...

Glad you both liked it!