Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Guest Post: Researching the Crime with Robin Cain

Today's guest blogger is Robin Pope, author of When Dreams Bleed, and she's discussing the nitty-gritty details that most crime authors have learned to love, those sometimes tiny references that make a work believable and 'real', found via one method--RESEARCH. ~ Cheryl Kaye Tardif

“Where in the world did you come up with this stuff?”

This is a question I’ve been asked more than once by people who’ve read my book, WHEN DREAMS BLEED. A brutalized body washed up on the shores of a lake in Washington and a gruesome suicide-by-firearm are just not the sort of things on which a ‘middle-aged, middle-America, law abiding woman’ like me would normally have any insights. So, where in the world do I – or any author of crime-based novels – come up with this stuff?

Research, research and more research.

Writing a crime story requires great attention to detail – particularly if the crime is a figment of the writer’s imagination. It’s not an easy undertaking to create motivation, details, plausible events and the ensuing investigation. An author must think like a criminal or a cop and be convincing enough to ensure that the reader will ‘believe’. Since most authors don’t have firsthand knowledge of crime, creating a crime scene (particularly in the case of a homicide) requires hours and hours of research.

Even though as it was mentioned here in a previous blog that crimes in real life, more often than not, lack real justification, readers still like to understand the rationale, what led the criminals to do what they did and how it all happened. Readers like to get into the minds of criminals. That’s what makes a good story. No one wants to hear that some guy buried a knife in his wife simply because she read the Sunday paper first or that someone killed their neighbor over a badly trimmed tree. Though this is the stuff of real life, the fact of the matter is that engaging stories need to be far more complex.

Want to know about blood spatter patterns? What kinds of bugs infest a body a few days after death? The fragments that are left behind by certain bullets? The criminal charges passed down in a certain city for negligent homicide? One doesn’t need a degree in forensic science or contacts in criminal law to ascertain these facts. All this information is within anyone’s reach as long as they have the time, inclination and research skills.

The internet has opened the doors to a wealth of information. With a few clicks of a mouse, a writer can pull up sample crime scene photos (http://www.crime-scene-photos.com/) or get information on how DNA typing is done (www.ornl.gov/hgmis/elsi/forensics.shtml). There are even sites out there that make searching easier. According to the info on its website, http://www.crimespider.com/ has ‘compiled the best crime/ law enforcement sites and categorized topics so one doesn’t have to sort through hundreds of sites to find the one that fits the bill’.

No, this ‘middle-aged, middle-America, law-abiding woman’ doesn’t have any first-hand knowledge about murder or suicide, but, like any good author, I’ve done my research. Every fact, event, character and motivation in WHEN DREAMS BLEED is a figment of my imagination, but they were all based on something I found somewhere during my research.

Now – all you authors who write stories on vampires – what I want to know is, “Where in the world did you come up with this stuff????”

© 2010 Robin Cain

Robin Cain lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband, daughter, three dogs, three horses and donkey. As a novelist and regular contributing writer for an online publication, she spends her days searching for the perfect words to amuse, enlighten and touch her readers. By reading her work, you’ve not only helped make her dreams come true, but others as well.

Robin Cain's website

Robin Cain's Blog


Eileen Schuh: said...

Awesome interview. Some of us are just as interested in the minds of writers as in the minds of criminals.

Robin's comments about researching ties in with my August blog where I posted some tantalizing news headlines. One way I research is by following news stories online. http://bit.ly9KPbWQ

Cheryl Tardif said...

I'm glad you enjoyed Robin's post, Eileen. I'll check out your post.

Thank you, Robin, for sharing this great information! I often get ideas for novel plots from news stories. Having access to so much info online makes research much easier. :-)

Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Robin Cain said...

Thanks so much for hosting me! I hope everyone enjoys -