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.

16 comments:

L. Diane Wolfe said...

And that is why I could never write a mystery! My brain just doesn't think that way.

CSI might be a good source of creative ideas as well...

Hats off to you, Chester!

L. Diane Wolfe
www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com
www.spunkonastick.net
www.thecircleoffriends.net

L. Diane Wolfe said...

And that is why I could never write a mystery! My brain just doesn't think that way.

CSI might be a good source of creative ideas as well...

Hats off to you, Chester!

L. Diane Wolfe
www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com
www.spunkonastick.net
www.thecircleoffriends.net

L. Diane Wolfe said...

And that is why I could never write a mystery! My brain just doesn't think that way.

CSI might be a good source of creative ideas as well...

Hats off to you, Chester!

L. Diane Wolfe
www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com
www.spunkonastick.net
www.thecircleoffriends.net

L. Diane Wolfe said...

And that is why I could never write a mystery! My brain just doesn't think that way.

CSI might be a good source of creative ideas as well...

Hats off to you, Chester!

L. Diane Wolfe
www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com
www.spunkonastick.net
www.thecircleoffriends.net

L. Diane Wolfe said...

And that is why I could never write a mystery! My brain just doesn't think that way.

CSI might be a good source of creative ideas as well...

Hats off to you, Chester!

L. Diane Wolfe
www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com
www.spunkonastick.net
www.thecircleoffriends.net

L. Diane Wolfe said...

And that is why I could never write a mystery! My brain just doesn't think that way.

CSI might be a good source of creative ideas as well...

Hats off to you, Chester!

L. Diane Wolfe
www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com
www.spunkonastick.net
www.thecircleoffriends.net

L. Diane Wolfe said...

And that is why I could never write a mystery! My brain just doesn't think that way.

CSI might be a good source of creative ideas as well...

Hats off to you, Chester!

L. Diane Wolfe
www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com
www.spunkonastick.net
www.thecircleoffriends.net

L. Diane Wolfe said...

And that is why I could never write a mystery! My brain just doesn't think that way.

CSI might be a good source of creative ideas as well...

Hats off to you, Chester!

L. Diane Wolfe
www.circleoffriendsbooks.blogspot.com
www.spunkonastick.net
www.thecircleoffriends.net

Chester Campbell said...

Hey, Diane. Looks like you're stuttering, but I think it may be a Blogger glitch. I tried to save this post and it said something about duplication error.

Helen Ginger said...

Online resources are great. It's good to have books you can hold and thumb through, but the online sites can keep the information updated. Thanks for the links.

Ann Parker said...

Hi Chester!
I also have turned to the good dr (D.P. Lyle) and used another one of his books: Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers.
I shall have to get his Forensics book. :-)

Marvin D. Wilson said...

"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."

Me too. I am not a writer primarily in the mystery genre, but the same applies to that type of writing style in any fictional genre.

Chester Campbell said...

The thing that's fun about fiction is you can come up with a new idea, then go back and change the past to fit. Too bad we can't do that in real life.

Christina E. Rodriguez said...

I always figured the perfect murder would be to "gaslight" someone and drive them to kill themselves. Hardly original, but darned hard to pull off.

Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...

Chester,

Mark Phillips and I write mysteries together. We have different writing methods, which makes for some lively discussions. We start with an outline. One of us works hard to stick to the outline and the carefully crafted series of events. The other lets the characters run off in new directions. Luckily, fiction can be ammended to fit the new events.

I love The Graveyard Shift and Lee's Yahoo group. They are both great sources of info.

Thanks for a great post.

Charlotte

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