Black and white photograph of Peter Falk as TV character, "Columbo". Columbo Technique for Writers.

How I Came Up With The Columbo Technique for Writers

“What are you doing?”

“As you see,” I replied to the police officer.

A line from the film, Lawrence of Arabia.
But, not being a screenwriter I suppose, he didn’t pick it up.

I had parked my car at a scenic location to listen to the radio. The patrolling officer was using the Columbo Technique to make sure I wasn’t up to ‘no-good’.

“Are you waiting for someone?”

“No. Is there someone coming?”

“No,” said the officer.

At this point I had flipped him, as , always being interested in police proceedings, I wanted the inside story. “Are you looking for someone?”

“No,” said the officer.

The policeman I met was not as fashionable as these officers from Milan.

“Shall I contact you if I do see someone?” (It was a fairly secluded area.)

“No,” said the officer, who then withdrew, perhaps feeling ‘out-Columbo’d’ himself.

Perhaps this was when I began to consider the Columbo Technique for Writers.

It would have been hard to cast me in the television series, Columbo. I have a terrible habit of conversing on too many subjects at once. Probing me with “open probes” as salesmen used to call them, would likely just cause more confusion. A Hi-Fi salesman whom I was consulting the other day asked me, “What exactly is your question?” You see, I had premised my query with so many facts.

From what I have read and observed, it seems that a lot of writers have trouble with sub-plots. The sub-plot is certainly necessary to add depth to the main story and provide greater satisfaction to the reader. I suppose sub-plots help to anchor the story in its own little world . They therefore help the story to resemble how we encounter events in our own lives. We don’t exist in a vacuum and our lives tend not to follow a linear plot.

Sub-plots, Characters and the Columbo Technique for Writers

In my case, I seem to write with sub-plots automatically. But this comes, you see, with the talent of starting at least a couple of conversations at once – the negative aspect of the skill!

So, if you do have trouble with sub-plots, what can you do? After all, including sub-plots is not something you should avoid unless you are writing for young children.

I suggest applying the Columbo Technique for Writers to your characters. Ask every question of them that you can possibly think of! Being observant is a neccessary aid to writing well. The Police use the Columbo technique to uncover that which is hidden from view.

You can use the Columbo Technique for Writers to discover the potential of your characters that may otherwise be hidden from view. In that potential you will find their world, in which parallel stories exist.

Image credit

  1. Theatrical poster for the film Lawrence of Arabia (1963) Incorporates artwork by Howard Terpning – Public Domain,
  2. Carabinieri In Milan, Italy. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas
  3. Columbo cartoon – Photo by Prawny at  –