Crime Writing…Using the “Stone Soup” Method

Donna R. Gore, LadyJustice,Crime Writing

It occurred to this writer that as crime victim advocate writers, we often don’t have much information to work with when trying to assist others -in an attempt to create public awareness. We may hear of a case that has been reported in the news with little information to offer because:

  •  “An ongoing investigation is underway” (May or may not be true);
  •  Law enforcement has a track record of mistakes that they don’t want revealed;
  •  Police protocol or a particular investigator’s style to be very “close to the vest” regarding information;
  •  The crime victim may have lead a life fraught with problems, making it difficult to “humanize the victim” and get past the dysfunction, abuse, addictions, what have you …
  •  There may be few intriguing details making it “less newsworthy”;
  •  There may be little to no knowledge of resources available due to the crime victim’s family being in a remote geographic location, poverty situation or not having the educational resources;
  •  Unreliable sources concerning the events of the case.

Under these circumstances, what can you do? Can you write about the facts of the case in a way that does justice, spurs interest …makes people “grow a conscience?” Can you make meal from a scrap of bread? Can you make something out of nothing?

Well… as a matter of fact, you can if you write holistically; if you can “paint a picture.” This is what Ladyjustice calls the “Stone Soup” method.

If you are a baby boomer like LJ, you may recall having read the classic children’s book, “Stone Soup.” For those who are unfamiliar with this award winning book by Marcia Brown, it is an “old tale re-told.” In French, the book is called, Une Drole de Soupe. [LJ – I can just picture Julia Child reading this book to preschoolers all over France!]

Donna Gore, ImaginePublicityAs the story goes, in 1947, three soldiers ascended on a French village. The soldiers were tired and hungry. They were returning from war and had not eaten in two days. They had nothing to offer the poor villagers …except their charm. At first when the villagers saw the soldiers coming, they were very protective of their resources and what little food they had…. They hid food under mattresses, and in barns. They hid buckets of milk in their wells, potatoes under the bed, and barley sacks in hay lofts. Meat was hung in their cellars, etc.
As the soldiers went door to door, they were unsuccessful at first. Excuses offered included:

  •  “Bad harvest”;
  •  “We have little food for ourselves”;
  •  “We gave our spare food to soldiers who came before you’;
  •  “We have to keep our grain for seed”;
  •  “We have a sick mother to care for”;
  •  “We have too many mouths to feed already etc.; etc.

The three French soldiers had had quite enough excuses!

They consulted… They schemed… Then they proclaimed, “We are three tired and hungry soldiers in a strange land who have asked for food. You have told us you have no food for us. Therefore, we will have to make stone soup!” The peasants stared in shock and curiosity. How is that possible, they asked?

“First, we’ll need a large iron pot… to fill with water to heat; Then some firewood… And now if you please, THREE ROUND STONES (as the peasants eyes grew wide!). Any good soup needs salt and pepper…. But oh if there were carrots it would be much better… (One woman returned with an apron full of carrots…) And then, cabbage would be so nice… BUT NO USE ASKING FOR WHAT WE DON’T HAVE… (A woman replied, “I think I could find a cabbage, somewhere.”)

“If only we had a bit of beef and potatoes, good enough for a rich man’s table… A rich man’s soup… ALL FROM A FEW STONES!!!” [LJ - You get the idea…] And then there was much drinking and dancing. It all began with the three little stones… And wouldn’t you know it, the soldiers were “so wise,” they were offered sleeping quarters in …the priest’s home, the baker’s home and the Mayor’s home too! The peasants gave them a warm send off saying, “We shall never go hungry, now that we know how to make soup from stones!” HAPPY ENDING….

As it relates to writing about crime, the real cases…. the real human beings…the real shattered lives…. As opposed to fairy tale stories, it is much the same for this writer.

You begin with a few basic facts, add detail (just like the salt and pepper) Then you look to enhance the “broth” to provide richness, you let your curiosity lead you to new areas of the case – background of the case. Who was the victim as a human being? What was his/her immediate environment like? Did the victim stand out in some way or was he “an average Joe”? Who were his friends? Did he have demons that may have contributed to his ultimate fate? What were the missteps, blatant errors, territorial issues, miscommunications or… was there just plain indifference? Who was/is carrying the ball now? Why do we need to know? Why is this case important? What organizations are involved? What lessons can we learn?

In other words, if you think you have a ‘typical “ho-hum” case in terms of engaging reader’s interest…. THINK AGAIN…and re-tool!

You probably have stone soup if you choose to make it so….

As the soldiers and villagers would say…. It takes a village and cooperation to make stone soup and to effectively write about a case!

To read/purchase “Stone Soup” by Marcia Brown, winner of the Randolph Caldecott Book Award published by Simon & Schuster [www.SimonSaysKids.com] Copyright 1947; re-print 1975 …For ages 4 to 94 years…. With lessons for adults and kids alike!
Or…go to Amazon.com 

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