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If the Darren Wilson narrative were submitted to a writer’s workshop

Welcome to the Crime Critter’s Writerly Workshop, Mr. Ferguson. I’m assuming this is your first attempt at a police drama. So let’s just take a look at what you’ve done here and how we rated you:

Professionalism of Writing: 2

Setting: 2

Character Development: 1

Plot Credibility: 0

Dialogue: 2

Oh, now, don’t be discouraged by the scores. We’ve all been through it. Believe me. We’re all here to get better at our craft. Right, then, where to begin…

Okay, are you sure you want to call this the Grand Jury scene? Because grand juries aren’t where the tension usually is. They just decide if the case should go to a real trial. They certainly wouldn’t call the defendant to speak at a hearing of this kind, and if this—what’s his name, again—Prosecutor McCulloch did, he’d be slapped right out of a job.

And speaking of McCulloch, this character is a mess. You set him up as the protagonist, here, but he comes off as a mustache-twirling villain.

Do you really think the County would tolerate this McCulloch guy as prosecutor in the first place? I mean, he comes from a police family. His own father was killed by a black man in the line of duty.  And the more I read through, the less I like the guy. Nah, you’re making this McCulloch character too cartoony. Look here, you even have him selling T-shirts to support Wilson. He is supposed to be the prosecutor, right? I realize you want to generate at least a little sympathy from the reader for his struggle between his need for familial revenge and his duty, but that level of conflict of interest is probably illegal.

Okay, so let’s allow that the reader might be ignorant of procedure and accept that bringing in the defendant is legit. You really need to work on Mr. Wilson’s dialogue. Unless you have a lot of experience—like Stephen-King level of experience—you have to stick to the genre you’ve set up in the first two hundred pages. This is clearly supposed to be a police drama. You can’t go throwing in horror elements like demon possession or go all comic-book with the accused’s ability to Hulk-out. (Were you trying to tap the nerd market? They would have stopped reading on the first page, bud.)

So, here he’s saying he overheard the call about a possible robbery involving cigarillos. That sounds a bit comical for a tense piece, but okay. But there’s a consistency flaw here. In an earlier chapter, you have the Chief of Police announcing that Officer Wilson knew nothing about the robbery when he stopped Brown. Is Wilson supposed to be lying? Or the Chief supposed to be? Oh, you forgot about that. Yeah, a rookie mistake, especially on early drafts. Well, be sure to fix one of them—or decide if you want to cast Wilson as criminally dishonest.

You have him start a polite exchange with these guys walking down the street that suddenly out of no where gets into “fuck what you have to say” from a guy carrying stolen cigarillos. Then our hero sharp-eye Wilson here notices the cigarillos and puts two-and-two together (you really need to rewrite the police chief’s statement or this won’t work at all) and realizes he’s dealing with a criminal. But then it just gets weird.

Are you taking a left turn into the supernatural or are you setting up the character of Wilson as the antagonist by having him blatantly demonize his victim? It reads like the latter. No one’s gonna buy this polite, heroic public servant versus big scary black demon as reality. Trust me on this.

Sure, if I were to give benefit of the doubt here, we could go with mentally imbalanced for Wilson. Maybe he heard the fuck-you voice inside his head during the hallucination of the evil overpowering Mike wailing on him through the window.

You don’t mean for it to be a hallucination. That’s why you have him go on and on about the cigarillos—so the reader realizes that Brown is really, really, truly the bad guy here. Stealing or not, that’s a tough sell. He’s not armed. So you’re saying this whole pro-wrestler demon-beast imagery is meant to be accurate? You describe Wilson as a strapping 6’ 4″, 210 pounds. Who’s going to buy him as the poor “five-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan”?

I don’t see anywhere that this Mike kid was on PCP. The toxicology report has him clean. Oh, he may have used marijuana because of the picture on his socks? So you blame marijuana use for his infernal bull rush into officer Wilson’s bullets? Um, you might want to do some research on how drugs work.

Okay, so not a fear-induced hallucination. But even then it plays out all wrong. You have Mike hit with his right hand, but he has the box of cigarillos in his right hand too and you have Wilson claim it was a full-on semi-deflected punch. But no broken box or smashed cigarillos. Then, to get his hand free for a real attack you have Mike—who’s pummeling the armed Wilson inside the car—stop, turn around to his buddy and say, “Here, man, hold these”? When you have a life and death struggle going on, you don’t worry about a box, unless you have a grenade in it or something.

Overall, I don’t think this is going to fly. I mean, they don’t have photos of the body because the medical examiner’s camera ran out of batteries. That’s what you’re going with? As a writer, you can’t cheat details like that just because you don’t want to deal with them. It’s just lazy writing. Bite the bullet, do the research, and get all your bases realistically covered. That’s some pretty key evidence that doesn’t exist.  It ends up making the County Office look either hilariously incompetent or a trying for a laughably obvious cover-up. This is just a really weird place to inject comic relief.

You even have the interviewers from McCulloch’s office raise all kinds of unanswered questions. Any idiot taking the time to read the whole thing will see that this should go to trial. A simple solution for your text would be to set this at a trial and have the jury call him unequivocally innocent. See? You still get the tension, calling the defendant makes more sense, and all these unanswered questions would go to sowing reasonable doubt, which is all Wilson needs to be found not guilty. But as it is, unanswered questions at a grand jury hearing pretty much DEMAND a trial.

Oh, there’s twist? Excellent! Let’s hear it.

Huh. This is all a brilliant set-up by the prosecutor’s office so the feds will swoop in to challenge the legality of Missouri’s preposterously inadequate use-of-force law? That sounds too Deus ex machina to me. Besides, son, in order for a twist to be effective, it has to be believable, there has to be subtle evidence early on to justify the twist. As you have it here, there is not even the tiniest hint that the prosecutor’s office wants to see justice done—or that they’re even competent to pull something like that off.

Needs work, Mr. Ferguson. I’m not sure much can be salvaged from this draft. It needs a LOT of work.

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