Creating Crime and Mystery
Sue Raines

Research - Be Your Own Detective

Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information on it.
                    - Samuel Johnson

For the purpose of this article, the operative word is FICTION in your crime or mystery story. We are creating a cloak-and-dagger world to amuse the reader and not delving into writing true crime in this article as it is a different type of story.

When to Research?
Some authors choose to write a complete story highlighting areas that need research to develop, and leave this until last. Others research from day one and create a working plan even before they type a word into their computers. Much from both styles may suffer alterations when correcting the first draft, and you will have your own system. I personally go with creating a forward plan even if I make radical changes along the way each of which may result in more research being needed.

Begin by doing subtle research.  Mix and match sights, sounds, bits of conversation, and details of places you know well. Walk around a familiar area and take notes as if you were a stranger seeing it for the first time. Sit quietly in a cafe or park and notice the people around you. They could be characters for your next story. Reading the newspapers, other authors’ stories and television items can all feed your lively imagination.

Each of your characters, major and minor have a background. Create an individual background for each from your research, create strong or weak characters and make them interesting. They will react according to their background and be influenced by the past your research has created, but these details will only in part be fed to your reader as the need arises. For example a ‘person of interest’ in a series of serial killings with a religious theme may jump to the top of the list when it is mentioned he was known as a priest many years ago in a country town. You have provided for this in your research for the story and have the necessary background ready to reveal for this character, but to your reader this is a bombshell and they are immediately interested to know more. How much more you tell them is relevant, they do not need to know this character from day one in the Seminary, the fact that he has been a man of the cloth may be sufficient or are there one or two incidents in his past worth bringing forward, decoying the reader towards or away from specific clues.

Blood Sweat and Tears
Blood and body fluids can tell an investigator a great deal about a crime. Analysis can help prove the identity of the victim or single out the Killer. In 1901 blood groups were identified by Karl Landsteiner, a Viennese scientist.

  •  Group O: The most common.
  •  Group A: The next most common.
  •  Group B: Less common.
  •  Group AB: Not very common.

By a simple test, blood can be identified by Group and related to a known individual. Forensic scientists for the past two decades have had access to DNA ‘fingerprinting’ of blood and body fluids, this provides an almost foolproof probability factor when analysis and comparison is carried out. This evidence is widely accepted by courts and has been the basis for a large number of convictions in all types of crime.

Just as everybody is an individual, so every individual has his own unique genetic code. This code is carried by DNA molecules in every cell of your body. A very tiny sample is sufficient to produce a result.

It is said every criminal leaves something of himself at the scene of a crime. It is believed that four out of five people are secretors; Their body fluids, sweat, saliva, semen all contain antibodies which readily identify their blood types. In such cases sweat on clothes examined under a microscope can be matched with samples taken from a victim. Advances in DNA technique continue rapidly and are accepted world wide.

How Much is too Much?
Technical jargon, gory death details, or a dry monologue on local history or architecture - unless tied in with the story - are boring. Sure it forms part of your research, but no matter how well equipped you may be to cite the deeper side, it might be better to leave well alone. A hint of knowledge like good seasoning is enough to flavour your tale, too much and the reader will turn off.

One good example of this is the morgue. To most it is a place of mystery and death. We all know it is full of dead bodies, how much more do we need to know? If your story requires more, there are good web-sites and all city morgues have a public relations section to assist you in obtaining further details as part of your story’s research, but usually your reader does not need a detailed forensic analysis.

All writers will research, research, research their topic; be it a means of murder, weapons from an ancient war club to a high power rifle or a bow and arrow, a exotic location, beating an electronic alarm system into the Art Gallery or how to forge bank notes, a mystic Roman curse causing the members of a family to die before turning 30.

These are the type of details you may collect but need not pass on in full to your reader. This knowledge assists you in the writing of a well rounded story.  With facts in your armoury you will be confident and your reader will find the story believable, suspending their own belief willingly to reach the climax all the time wanting to know more, but being mindful that this is still FICTION.

A word of warning
Many a writer has become so immersed in the research treadmill, that they have abandoned the story. Knowledge is fascinating and research addictive, do not allow it to become your excuse to stop writing.

Keep feeding your lively imagination to benefit your writing until we meet again to Create more Crime and Mystery.

This article is the sole property of the author. It is produced here with the author's permission.  The unauthorized use or reprinting of an article is illegal, and will be prosecuted at the discretion of the author.


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About the Writer:

Sue Raines is a freelance writer and playwright. Having turned her talents to crime and mystery writing Sue has found a niche in teaching the genre. Other works include articles, book reviews and short stories published in magazines and anthologies. A member of Partners in Crime Sydney, she is also an avid reader of crime and mystery fiction.