Monday 27 May 2019
The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Writing Crime Scenes
THE TRIALS OF A CRIME WRITER: WRITING CRIME SCENES
I've covered this in a video on my Authortube channel (video found here) but I thought it would be good to have a different piece that covered it here on my blog. The video is about 10 months old, and since then I have changed the way I do things a little. I talked last week about switching genres (found here) and while I have moved somewhat away from writing crime novels, I don't plan to keep it that way. I also know that I have done a ton of research and picked the brains of police officers close to me to allow me to give as up to date advice, and also stories as possible.
So, how do you go about writing crime scenes and what should you expect to do when researching them? While not everyone has a family member linked to the police of their area, there is a lot that you can find out online. I say online because while I do have, and have used, a number of research books, they can be outdated pretty quickly and online information can be edited to keep it current. So here are my tips for what to do when setting out your first crime scene.
#1 - KNOW YOUR AREA
This should be obvious, but it might not be so is worth mentioning. If you plan to set your crime in the area you're from, this is obviously an easy enough step. But if you're in the UK and plan to have it in the US, then you're going to have to do a whole load of research to know both the area, the staff and the terminology that goes with it. There is some cross-over, but not as much as you might expect. And don't rely on shows like CSI or Prime Suspect to get you through it. You need to be doing research from actual sites and people who've worked in these areas. As always with this, I recommend groups like the one I'm in on Facebook that have a number of professionals who are also writers, and are always happy to answer questions.
#2 - KNOW YOUR CRIME
If you're wanting to write a bloody crime scene, then you need to know how to go about making the crime match the scene. It may sound obvious, but you'd be amazed at how people forget that not all deaths present with massive blood loss. If you're looking for lots of blood, then gunshots and knives are usually your chosen method of death.
#3 - KNOW YOUR TERMS
This ties into the first point. In the UK we generally have Scene of Crime Officers (often referred to as SOCO) but there has been some influence from across the pond and there are some areas that will refer to these as CSI - Crime Scene Investigators. Yet in the US, it's never going to be a SOCO because that's never been a term they use.
#4 - PROTOCOL MATTERS
By this I mean things like who calls who, whether the M.E or pathologist will be called before the SOCO or CSI. Who's in charge of making those calls? Who responds to the scene first? Who makes the call that this is an active crime scene? And how do they preserve that evidence. In the UK, you'll probably have seen the white tents that go up over an exposed scene to preserve both the evidence and also the dignity of the person killed. This is all important stuff to have in mind when writing your crime scene.
AND FINALLY, #5 - THERE'S AN ORDER TO BE FOLLOWED
By this I simply mean that along with protocol, there's a method to the madness of a crime scene. If the pathologist has cleared the body for removal, then things like the SOCO start to collect evidence from off the body start to happen. There's an order to be respected and it's because of things like this that allows for the chain of evidence to be kept in place. You can't have someone moving the body before the pathologist has been because that damages evidence. Same as having a detective walk the scene without carefully considering the path they take and what they touch. It's all about making sure that your perpetrator doesn't get let off on a technicality and you get to end the day with a case solved.
So those are my five tips when it comes to writing crime scenes. As I said, there is never too much research when it comes to things like this. You'll pick things up along the way that make sense to you and will, eventually, get to a point where it feels more natural and you're able to see the next step clearly without needing to research it all first.
So go forth, kill characters and catch the criminals!
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