Monday, February 16, 2009
Deciding how to commit murder
Early in the process of writing my last Greg McKenzie mystery, I decided on the title The Marathon Murders. At the time, I had no idea how many murders would occur or who all the victims would be. Since the story revolved around a man missing in 1914, I knew the identity of the first victim, but not how he died.
In his blog awhile back at Murderous Musings, Ben Small wrote “Bump ‘Em Off, Eh?” and mentioned several methods of dispatching people who needed killing. I wound up using different methods for each murder in the Marathon book but didn’t consciously plan it that way.
As a “seat of the pants” plotter, I let the story develop as I write. The characters move the plot as they do their own thing.
I didn’t get very far into the Marathon story until somebody was pulling a body out of a lake. Hmm, I thought. How did he die? At first it looked like a blow to the head. To be sure, I turned to the mystery writer’s favorite medical forensic guru, Dr. D. P. (Doug) Lyle. I emailed him with the situation my characters found and asked a few questions. He sent an answer and referred me to his website for more elaboration. All things considered, it turned out the guy had drowned.
Two more murders occurred in the book before Greg and Jill McKenzie could lay the case to rest, but based on the circumstances, they were pretty straightforward.
One of my blogging colleagues mentioned a book on poisons that provides plenty of fodder for writers trying to decide how to kill. I bought two of Dr. Lyle’s books, Forensics for Dummies and Murder and Mayhem. The latter is subtitled “A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers.” It is organized under three main headings: Doctors, Hospitals, Illnesses, and Injuries; Methods of Murder and Mayhem; and Tracking the Perp.
The good doctor has revised his website since I last visited. Now www.dplylemd.com has a section called The Writers Forensic Community where questions from authors and Doug Lyle’s answers are archived. He also has a section with articles of interest to writers written by himself and Lee Lofland, a former cop who has a blog called The Graveyard Shift that is a goldmine of police info.
The goal of all this, of course, is to make our fictional murders sound authentic. As Dr. Lyle says in one of his articles, “To write a good mystery that will keep the reader guessing to the end, you must plot the nearly perfect murder.” Deciding what makes it nearly perfect is the writer’s number one task.