Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Sometimes Book Research Isn't Enough

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Sometimes Book Research Isn't Enough

If there's one thing I've learnt from my years as a crime writer, it's that research is the key to all the wonders of the book world. You need to know exactly how certain things work and sometimes there comes a time when looking a subject up online or reading about it in a book just isn't precise enough for you to find the words to convey what you mean and leave no doubt in the reader's mind. So, sometimes you have to think outside the box and do a little practical research.

Now, before you get worried, I'm not suggesting that you commit a crime of any kind to check and see how it would work. Nor do I suggest kidnapping someone to play out your nefarious plot. Yes, there are some things that you will just have to use the internet and books to find out about - like murder, rape and other inhumane crimes. What I'm talking about is when you get to the point in the book where you plan to have someone escape from capture, or link the killer via some kind of forensic evidence or other such plot device.

I know it's pretty hard to work out forensic evidence transfer and there are other options which I'll cover shortly, but for the moment I'll focus on the rescue from capture because I can speak from personal experience. When you have your character tied up and trying to look for a way to flee you can find that some hands on experience will work best. You can look at how the criminal mastermind would tie them up, get a friend to do the same to you and work out what is possible to do from that situation whilst bound. You can do the same with breaking the bonds of a zip-tie - it is possible, but it does take some know how and it's not something that easily explained so may require you delving into your own little practice session.

You also have to be careful to be clear how your character knows this stuff. If you've got a teenager who has never come into contact with zip ties in that way before, then it's unlikely that they'll be able to break them apart in minutes and escape. The same can be said for anything with a lock such as handcuffs. Sure if they're the crappy ones from the Pound store then it's likely that they'll be easy to get out of, but you still need to have some experience with how easy, and how obvious it would be to the captor. After all, why would they be using something that is obviously easy to escape from?

Now, back to the forensic evidence that provides the very clue that will link your perpetrator to the victim and the crime. Whether it's something like a stray hair, or a fingerprint lifted from what was thought to have been a wiped down surface, or even DNA from a drop of blood. Whatever you choose to be the smoking gun, the procedure needed to link it back to your criminal may not be as straight-forward as you think. After all, while there are some centralised DNA databases, there isn't just one for everything, and not everyone will have their fingerprints/DNA/etc on file. While the internet is handy for those little facts that you need, sometimes you need to be sure that what you're writing is correct and that's when your next piece of research comes into play. Real life experience.

Wait, I don't mean you, I mean people who work in the field. I know that there are numerous associations you can join once you've been traditionally published (and some for Indie authors as well) that will give you live access to people in your chosen field to help you with those pesky titbits of information that will make your story all the more credible. After all, it may not be obvious to the average reader, but it will be to those who have some knowledge of the inner workings of the forensics lab. For me, not having access to those sites, I have used real people who have worked in real labs and had real experience with similar cases. I have been lucky to have been able to track down sources through people I've met online. It's not just what evidence you will need to solve your case, but also how you get a sample to compare the two. For that you will usually need a warrant of some kind and depending on how things work in your own country (as it will vary from town to town, state to state and country to country) will depend on how much information you need to be able to get one of those lovely pieces of papers that will allow you to take blood, samples or fingerprints to compare to the ones you have.

Basically, try to branch out. Not everything can be found online, and not all options are available to all writers. A lot of the writer's guilds for crime writers I've come across have excellent resources, but unless you're traditionally published or making x amount of sales a month/year, you won't be allowed full membership and access to their information. Make connections in the writing community and you'll find yourself with real life people to compare information with, and that's the easiest way to solve a riddle that isn't covered in reference books.

Follow Joey on Facebook or here on her blog to be kept up to date with the latest news regarding Joey and her books.

No comments:

Post a Comment