I. Rewriting the narrative into a realistic narrative
A typical shift for police officers involves patrolling the streets, reacting to calls for service and crime reports, stopping and searching citizens, pursuing and arresting suspects. It is a Sunday night shift, John and David from the Union City Police Department are performing their patrol duties, and not much is going on (Van Maanen, 1988). By midnight, it gets so quiet that they decide to go to David’s place for a while just to get out of the car.
They have a couple of beers and sit around talking about family. Police work involves a substantial downtime, which can make the job boring, adversely impacting their performance, contributing to stress and turnover (Ashby & Tompson, 2015). Consequently, they engage in non-work activities to reduce their boredom. After an hour, they get a call to take a family disturbance at the projects (Van Maanen, 1988). Before they respond to it, they are informed that another officer is addressing the issue. Thus, they decide to continue with their patrol duties. John gets tired and a little drowsy and considers asking David to drop him off at home instead of slogging it out on an uneventful night. The long night shifts are also marred by sleep and fatigue, which can deteriorate law enforcement officers’ performance.
Afterward, they receive a call from dispatch as they were driving around with no particular place to go. It was about a car that refused to stop, and the signs indicated that a chase was in progress (Van Maanen, 1988). The chase turns the boring night shift into an interesting one. John says that “The chase is real police work. It is action and symbolic enactment of one’s basic war-on-crime mythology, involving search, pursuit, and capture or the cops’ holy trinity (Van Maanen, 1988, p.110).” He adds that “Unlike the dull, aimless patrol and endless public order work, the chase is extraordinary excitement. It is an acid test of one’s courage and commitment (Van Maanen, 1988, p.110).” The nature of the crime determines how the police engage in a pursuit. Car thieves are a danger to society and need to be stopped. For this reason, police officers turn their lights and sirens on when chasing such suspects. John and David are informed that the suspect was a young, black male driving a Mercedes 450SL convertible, dark brown or maroon, and believed to be stolen (Van Maanen, 1988). They are also informed that the other units have lost the car, and the chase is no longer hot. High-speed police chases are dangerous; suspects driving vehicles, passengers, police, or bystanders get injured or lose their lives. The suspect loses control of the Mercedes. The car bounces off another packed on the narrow street and jumps the curb, slamming into a tree.
The accident ends the car chase, but the young suspect is still on the run. It is not easy for suspects to outrun the police because law enforcement officers are properly trained to pursue suspects. They pursue suspects in large numbers, use communication devices for coordination, have weapons and guns, and have dogs to assist in the search. Most of the Union City Police Department’s on-duty personnel and the K-9 (canine) unit joins the search, are fully involved, and are thoroughly enjoying it (Van Maanen, 1988). Police are everywhere, cheerful, and radio babbling. However, poor coordination undermines their efforts in chasing the suspect; they start receiving conflicting information on the pursuit’s progress. For example, the K-9 officer reports a good track, officer Pinefield reports that the suspect is under a house, David reports that the suspect is on the library’s roof and asks for the police chopper to be sent, while another officer reports spotting the suspect running across the Interstate (Van Maanen, 1988).
Law enforcement officers are marred by misconduct and racial bias. As the police search for the suspect and other stories developing, a veteran cop, Blotter, finds a middle-aged black man watching the commotion about a block away. Blotter prides himself on being a rough, tough professional who can recognize a villain when he sees one. Blotter knocks down the man, chokes, and sits on him (Van Maanen, 1988). Meanwhile, the suspect is nowhere to be seen, and the police are pondering on their next move. They receive a call that the battalion chief’s car has been taken and driven away by an unknown party. They tie it into the suspect, and the chase is on again. They find the car the next morning dumped near a motel. A suspect stealing and using a police chief’s vehicle to escape demonstrates the officers’ poor tactics and coordination. Their shift ends without a suspect, closure, or justice. Although the police are frustrated and embarrassed, they somehow respect the car thief for beating all the armed officers and a dog (Van Maanen, 1988).
I. Analysis of Impressionistic narrative
The following traits characterize Van Maanen’s impressionistic narrative; first, the author leaves the themes and narration ambiguous. Ambiguity forces the readers to read between the lines, extract meaning from the text, and draw their conclusions (Matz, 2001). For example, Van Maanen uses police officers’ non-work activities to create ambiguity. He describes the Sunday night shift as so quiet, and not much was going on (Van Maanen, 1988). The officers go to David’s place for a while to get out of the car, have a couple of beers, and sit around talking about family. The non-work activities allow the readers to conclude that patrol shifts are long and boring. Engage in non-work activities is useful for reducing boredom. Moreover, Van Maanen reveals that John gets tired and a little drowsy (Van Maanen, 1988). He considers asking David to drop him off at home instead of slogging it out on an uneventful night. The readers conclude that the long night shifts are also marred by sleep and fatigue, which can deteriorate law enforcement officers’ performance.
Second, the author uses a personal point-of-view to describe and create a fleeting image of the events (Matz, 2001). In this story, the narrator, John, gives his account of the event. He begins the story by stating that it was a Sunday night shift, working at Northend, in Charlie Three, with a good friend named David Sea (Van Maanen, 1988). The use of a personal perspective allows the readers to determine John’s attitude about police work (Matz, 2001). John claims that the chase is real police work. It is action and symbolic enactment of one’s basic war-on-crime mythology, involving search, pursuit, and capture or the cops’ holy trinity. Unlike the dull, aimless patrol and endless public order work, the chase is extraordinary excitement. It is an acid test of one’s courage and commitment (Van Maanen, 1988). It also enables the readers to determine the police officers’ preparedness and expertise. John reveals that David was relaxed and steady during the pursuit while he was anxious, scared, and lost his speech power. He was also slightly fearful of guns despite his training and familiarity (Van Maanen, 1988).
The third aspect of impressionistic writing used by the author is an emotional landscape. This is a desire to paint the character’s emotional and sensory background (Matz, 2001). They achieve this by evoking the sounds, feelings, and smells that the characters experience. For example, when chasing the suspect, John states that “David once told me that good cops look relaxed when the tension is on, while bad cops always show the strain (Van Maanen, 1988, p.110).” Instead of saying that David is relaxed, the author describes him; he is cool, with one hand steady on the wheel and the other fitting across the instrument panel attending to the lights, siren, and radio. Van Maanen introduces a veteran but still eager cop known affectionately to his colleagues as “Blotter (Van Maanen, 1988, p.113).” He proceeds to explain why his colleagues gave him the nickname, “He’s so big he blots out the sun (Van Maanen, 1988, p.113).”
I. Pros and Cons of both Writing Styles
In realistic writing, the writer seeks to be impartial when relaying an individual’s facts or events (Anjaria, 2006). The benefit of objectivity is that it represents a person or event as it actually happened. However, being objective can be boring, limits the information relayed to the readers, and can discourage them from reading the text. For these reasons, the readers may not get the intended message. Impressionistic writing uses the characters’ subjective point-of-view (Matz, 2001). The advantage of subjectivity is that it dramatizes a story giving the readers more information, making the story more interesting, and encouraging them to read. The drawback of this technique is that it may mislead the readers. The readers may confuse the dramatized events with actual occurrences (Matz, 2001). Moreover, the author’s bias may hinder him from effectively relaying the information or convincing the readers.
Realistic writing represents reality by portraying daily experiences as they occur in life (Anjaria, 2006). Anjaria (2006) argues that it depicts earthly things or familiar people, places, and stories. I used a real-life setting in my realistic story. The story is set in Union City, involving police officers from Union City Police Department. The readers may not be from this city but it includes recognizable landmarks or places they can relate it. Second, I had to base the characters on real people. For example, the police officers are John and David while the suspect is an unnamed, young, black man. Readers are likely to connect with the characters when they are based on real people. Third, I had to show interactions between the characters. Actions speak louder than words and this is true even in writing. When the officers get bored, they went to David’s place, had a couple of beers, and talked about family. The story sounds more real when characters interact and have conversations. Fourth, I had to show that the characters have friends. Giving the characters friends makes the story feel more authentic. In the story, there is a veteran but still eager cop known affectionately to his colleagues as “Blotter.” His colleagues gave him the nickname because he is so big.
Anjaria, U. (2006). Satire, literary realism and the Indian State. Economic and Political Weekly, 41(46), 4795-4800.
Matz, J. (2001). Literary Impressionism and Modernist Aesthetics. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press.
Van Maanen, J. (1988). Tales of the Field: On Writing Ethnography. Chicago; University of Chicago Press.