November 20, 2017
- STORY SCIENCE: Serology
Dan asked a great question about blood on clothing, and whether modern Forensic Science could determine how long the droplet of blood had been there. Terri quickly found a link on chemistryviews.org that revealed researchers have developed a laser-based technology, called Raman Spectroscopy, that can determine Time Since Deposit (TSD) if the blood stain is less than two years old. This is a pretty exciting and promising technology. The most important passage in this article is in paragraph four, "At the moment, crime scene investigators have no single validated approach to determine when a blood stain might have been deposited."
I would take that to mean it will be possible to use in Court in the very near future. The term Forensic Science literally means Science applied to Law. So while the technology is here (or nearly here), we have to wait for the Courts/Attorneys to argue its acceptance into law. This is what delays its admissibility in Court.
So if you want to include Raman Spectroscopy into your own story, your investigators should realize that this cutting edge technology can point them in the right direction, but it will be a hard fought battle in Court to prove the science behind it admissible.
This study of TSD has been pursued for a while now. I found this article from 2011 about TSD on WritersForensicsBlog.com, which is another site you should definitely bookmark for all things CSI-writing related!
As I suggested to Dan in the Q&A: Whenever you find a particular research area you want to delve into, especially emerging sciences, don't be afraid to send an email to the scientists behind these discoveries. Many people in science are happy to share knowledge when someone outside of the science community shows an interest...especially when it may end up in a book!
- STORY SCIENCE: Serology Part II
As I was researching Dan's question, I also discovered other emerging serology techniques that will soon help crack whodunnit cases wide open. Researchers at the University at Albany have, in addition to determining TSD, been able to determine the approximate age of the blood's originator using the alkaline phosphatase (ALP) as a marker. These researchers are working on creating a real-time CSI kit that will one day provide approximate suspect age, and even gender, without the need for a Crime Lab!
I also discovered that researchers at the Department of Pharmacy and Forensic Science at King's College London have used machine learning via artificial neural networks to crunch DNA data (I am WAY oversimplifying here), to improve age estimations of DNA originators. These researchers have been able to estimate the age of a person, based on their DNA sample, to within a 3.8 year accuracy!
- STORYTELLING TECHNIQUES: LINING UP YOUR CLUES
Heather posted a comment about the troubles of lining up and following the clues within her story. Here’s what I had to say:
We all obviously understand that the goal of your investigator (likely your protagonist) is to find the truth of the matter: what exactly occurred (determine the crimes), who was responsible (who to arrest and prosecute), why it happened (motive), etc.
HOW a Detective goes about that is by forming a timeline of what happened, based on the totality of the knowledge at hand. This means every interview, every piece of evidence discovered and analyzed, the data dumps from cell phone search warrants, the time stamp on video surveillance, -all of it- is plotted on a giant time line. I mean this literally.
We have a "war-room" (a conference room with a lockable door) in our Detective Bureau that we use during active homicide investigations, where a time-line is drawn on a white-board. (There is also a task-list that shows what task each detective has been assigned and whether it's been completed.) As new facts are discovered, they are plotted on the timeline board for everyone working the case to see at a glance. Obviously, this dry-erase board drawing isn't the formal document - all of that is done via the written word in dozens or even hundreds of reports and a Crime Analyst will likely create a formal visualization of the timeline as a document. But you get the idea.
That timeline often starts with the first 9-1-1 call that notified us of the crime. My goal, as a Detective, is to fill that timeline in. By doing so, it will paint the full picture of the crime and not only point to who is responsible, it will also show alibi factors for other suspects/conspirators/accessories/witnesses at a glance. It will also help us spot inconsistencies in stories quickly.
I'd suggest Authors try working this process BACKWARD. Since you're the omnicient storyteller (sorry, Pantsers...this may be tough if you can't stand planning out your stories), I'd start with creating the entire timeline of the events leading up to the crime, the commission of the crime, and then what happens after the crime in chronological order. This is all reference material for you to use as you create the story. Your story, most likely, won't start at the beginning of your Omnicient Timeline. It will probably start with the inciting incident of either the commission of the crime, or the discovery of the crime. From there, your story will be about the order in which the earlier bits of the timeline are discovered by the Detective.
Does the Coroner/ME provide a time of death window? Plot it on the time-line. When was the victim last seen alive? Plot it. When was the last phone call made by the victim? Plot it. When was the last ATM/Credit Card use by the victim? Plot it. Sooner or later, the window of unknowns on the timeline starts to narrow...allowing your Detectives to gain some insight into where the case is heading.
Obviously, take this advice with a grain of salt...being as I have not been in your chair as the author (tip of the hat in respect, BTW). However, I hope some explanation of how real investigations happen may help you form your own way of having characters discover the clues/events in your own story.
I hope this helps,
- WRITING TOOLS: Scrivener 3*
My favorite writing software got a long awaited update today! I know many of you already use Scrivener to compile your research, characters, scenes, and drafts. Today, Literature & Latte released Scrivener 3!* The look is still very much what you are used to seeing in Scrivener 2, but updated with more modern appearance, and they have added some great new functionality. Best of all, if you are upgrading from Scrivener 2, you will get a $20 discount (making Scrivener 3 only $25.) As always, L&L still offers a 30-day trial of Scrivener...and that's an actual 30-days of use, not thirty calendar days.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you purchased Scrivener 2 through Apple's Mac App Store (instead of the Literature & Latte website), you need to send a copy of your App Store proof of purchase to: email@example.com If you are even considering upgrading to Scrivener 3 and you bought v2 from the App Store, send your discount request in NOW. They are sending out Discount Codes in the order they are received. I sent my receipt in early (yesterday, before the v3 release today) and I received my discount code mid-afternoon today. I forwarded the email I received from iTunes when I purchased v2 back in 2015. If you are better at clearing out your inbox than I am, you may have to request a copy of your receipt from Apple by going to: https://support.apple.com/contact
- WRITING TOOLS: Free Training for Scrivener 3*
Gwen Hernandez at ScrivenerClasses.com offers online courses for learning Scrivener. She just created a FREE mini course for those of us upgrading from Scrivener 2 to Scrivener 3. It's called Jump into Scrivener 3: Your transition guide for Mac. Even if you just want to see a few videos on what the new version looks like, it's worth checking out. You don't need to provide any info to view the mini course.