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Working on a screenplay or story with crashes, arson and fires or other physical accident events, and want some reality infused in the writing? If you have a fire or accident related question or two, we will gladly provide answers at no charge. In addition to being a court qualified fire and accident expert, Mr. Williams is a novelist ("Burning of the Devil", available at amazon.com), and is also available for hire as a technical advisor on these areas of expertise for larger productions. 

Let's Get Real

Writers are wise to write what they know, but how many writers have killed someone with a 9mm pistol, or set fire to a church, or faked a car crash? Not many, one would guess. Considering all the crime novels, TV shows, and movies out there, this is a very good thing. Yet writers must tackle these and other difficult subjects all the time - hopefully after doing some research.

Unfortunately though, there are far too many books, TV show plots and movies which simply don't get their facts straight, with situations forcefully contrived to fit the crime details. This is sloppy, lazy writing. The sad part is that it isn't even necessary. It is possible to get it accurate and make it interesting and exciting. All you need to do is ask someone who knows.

What do the following words have in common?:

Arson, murder, extortion, fraud, kinky sex, lies, accidents, corruption, incompetence, deception, strippers, strip clubs, bias, irresponsibility, death, trauma, serious injury, destruction, crashes, fires, nudity, tragedy, grief, revenge, vice, greed, adultery, total loss, pain, the legal system, wealth, juvenile delinquents, sexual fetishes, movie stars, celebrities, crime, blood, terror.

These subjects make great fodder for creative writing, yes? But no, that's not the answer. The answer is that this is a list of just a few components of real life cases investigated by Jeff Williams in his career over the past three+ decades. As you can see, fire and crash investigation is not a dry subject. The circumstances of many of these real cases are far more interesting than plots (which too often have no basis in fact at all) dreamed up by some of today's writers. If the real McCoy is so dramatic, what's the point in making anything up?

If you're a writer, you owe it to yourself to get your facts straight, to describe procedures and/or techniques properly and use them cleverly in the plot. In doing so you will demonstrate that you have done your research, and that you are clearly interested in getting it right. Your work will have legitimacy, and - more important - believability. 

There Are Real Life Fires - and Then There's Hollywood

The quest for realism on TV and movies has led many screenwriters and producers to re-enact crimes in detail.

Since the crimes themselves are not always that interesting due to poorly written stories in general, some directors use creative license in their methods to spice things up; for instance, there are a lot of exploding cars - especially in bigger budget productions - but real life auto explosions are very rare, not always as dramatic, and very difficult to accomplish 'accidentally'. 

In the vast majority of films and TV dramas, 'arson' fires are typically handled with all the grace of a rhino on barbituates, with very little adherence to reality. The field of fire investigation is apparently one where few scriptwriters dare to venture since so few understand it. And when they do, the result is nearly always a blindfolded stumble into the dark side and a frustrating embarrassment to any viewer with fire investigation experience.

Evidence is typically contrived to fit the plot, buzz words used in fire investigation are indiscriminately and erroneously tossed about with an air of authority, and fire investigation techniques are largely ignored or mis-represented. With this preface, we now turn our attention to the best known diva of distortion, the TV crime series 'CSI'.

'CSI' ventured occasionally into the arson field, with consistently incredible results. This show deserved a critical appraisal since it was originally touted to be more reality-based, and as a result many people assumed the show was an accurate portrayal of 'forensics'. It's not. But it's hot.

The bottom line, though, is that it's still Hollywood, so why do we even expect accuracy at all? Well, how about something merely reasonable, then? Their writers make the big bucks, so a little research might be expected. Right?


When it came to depicting fire investigation, 'CSI' was about as accurate as vote counting in Florida elections. In the following three stories, nearly every aspect of fire investigation was wrong. Nearly every piece of fire-related dialogue was wrong. The writers clearly needed a fire consultant. The sad irony here is that real life fire investigations are far more interesting than anything these writers made up.