How to Write a Crime Scene

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Crime fiction and detective related narratives have been a staple in our society as far back as the 19th century. Much credit should be awarded to the father of Gothic horror, Edgar Allan Poe. Much of what audiences and readers ascertain through modern day crime fiction and television hasn’t changed in how the author and creator use the most basic and fundamental techniques in creating successful crime scenes.

It is important that any writer aspiring to create the psychological thriller, detective series, or crime novel have within their writing arsenal some of the following methodologies.

Research and Foundation

Get real in your fiction by first understanding the terminology surrounding crime, death, police investigation, and medical facts.

Many published crime writers tend to include in their acknowledgments, a person or people, with one or all of these backgrounds who assisted them during the research and/or draft of the novel. Perhaps it is the local sheriff’s department or precinct, a crime lab technician or medical examiner, maybe even a local mortician who might allow an author to spend a shift observing and discussing the aspects surrounding death and criminal investigating.  

Also, know the setting either having personally been there, or through extensive research including terrain, locale, or common staples which signify a connection for the reader to where the crime scene is taking place. Those descriptions of place and setting should be vivid and believable.

Action Opening

Capture the reader’s attention in the opening scene or lines with a shocking and/or vivid, grotesque action sequence.

Using heavy description and utilizing the five senses in description will immediately pull the reader into the scene and the mindset of the characters involved. A good way of generating these can be making a list of each of the senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound) and writing down every word or phrase that comes to mind and relates to the setting, character, and action in the scene.

Believable/Relatable Characters

Create one or two strong, central characters in the story. These essential characters typically contain and facilitate the action and conflict between a hero figure and the villain they seek (or assisting police in the search based on a personal injustice.) Whether it be the villain murdering, kidnapping, or maiming secondary supporting characters, or the hero/detective solving the crimes and getting closer to the perpetrator, the reader will form a connection and become invested in the person(s) involved in both sides of the crime. Strong, complex character creation is vital to building an effective crime scene. Using personal experiences, or those of everyday people (reading newspapers, survival stories, other crime fiction, etc.) is a great way to finding portals the reader can connect through to the characters.

Overall, it is important to remember that a writer can obtain any or all of these techniques; but, if they are never practiced or used consistently they will never fully develop into the strong literary skills of a seasoned fictional crime writer.  

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