Writing My Crime Novel: Inspiration and Research, by Emma Tucker
I am now a few chapters into my novel – granted, a little behind schedule – but things are travelling well. I’m writing in the crime and horror genre and have zero personal experience in criminal investigations. So that presents me with the dilemma of not knowing what the hell I’m talking about. I’m not Kathy Reichs with a lifetime of forensic anthropology experience behind me (May I note that Kathy is an outstanding writer and if you have any interest in crime fiction whatsoever you must read her work).
So, what’s the solution? One option is to research criminal investigating, profiling and police work through speaking to sources or reading about it on the internet– which I have done a little of – or another option is to watch a lot of crime shows.
I chose the latter as I’d rather watch television than pore over endless forensic criminal documents – and let’s be honest – I’m going to watch TV anyway.
I know, I know. Television shows aren’t always the most accurate sources of information. So if you are in the business of solving crimes, I strongly discourage watching TV for the answers. I, however, am writing fiction, so I think it will serve that purpose quite nicely.
One particular show that I have relied on heavily for criminal profiling information is Criminal Minds. The characters in this show are part of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (known in real life – and in my book – as the Behavioral Science Unit). Each episode they are presented with a new case and are charged with capturing a serial killer on the loose! They use psychological profiling to figure out the killer’s motives and future plans and, ostensibly track down the culprit and arrest him. Hooray!
What’s interesting about Criminal Minds, though, is that it doesn’t always feel like “Hooray!” at the end of each episode. Sometimes it’s a cut and dry win, but other times they present an ambiguity to their villain which I find intriguing. Oftentimes, the villain would have suffered tremendous abuse which led them to their sadistic actions. Other times, the killer is afflicted with a mental illness where they are compelled to behave a certain way or sometimes – perhaps the most cruelly – they aren’t even aware of what they have done.
It’s very easy to segregate people into “good” and “bad” – but in reality this doesn’t hold true. People are shaped and molded by their personal experiences, their brain chemistries, genetics and environments and are complex, confusing creatures. I think it’s important to take this into account when writing – I hope to create characters with depth and a sense of authenticity and, in order to do so, one must consider carefully the different layers that make up a person.
Another show that I really enjoy is Bones – incidentally produced by Kathy Reichs (can she do no wrong?) – And an aspect of that show that has helped me in my writing is the relationships. The key relationship between Temperance (a forensic anthropologist) and Booth (an FBI agent) and the different roles they play in the investigation helps make it clear what belongs in what jurisdiction. I am looking forward to crafting the relationship between my two primary characters and finding out how each of their strengths and experiences play into solving the crime.
At least now I have an excuse when I’m being a couch potato – it’s strictly for research purposes, people!