This week in the WRITERSDETECTIVE Q&A forum on Facebook had some great questions and discussion that I wanted to expand upon:
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.
Not to induce any panic, but we are nearly halfway through NaNoWriMo! Even if you aren't participating in National Novel Writing Month, you are welcome to get your crime fiction writing questions answered in our WRITERSDETECTIVE Q&A group on Facebook. We had a record number of folks join us last week! Come join us if you haven't already.
November 5, 2017
I want to start by thanking those of you that offered such kind words of encouragement and understanding during my bereavement hiatus from the APB emails. I apologize for not replying to your emails...I was overwhelmed by how many thoughtful messages I received, but please know that I appreciate you greatly and that helped immensely. I have been overwhelmed by how kind, caring, and understanding my followers are. Thank you!!!
Now, I am happy to announce that I am ready to get back to our regularly scheduled programming...and just in time for NaNoWriMo! I hope the time change allowed you to sneak an extra hour of writing time in, even if you aren't participating in National Novel Writing Month.
Good luck hitting your NaNoWriMo word counts and remember that any questions you have can be posted in the WRITERSDETECTIVE Q&A group on Facebook...even if you aren't a NaNo'er. It's a very supportive group and I try to answer your questions as quickly as I can.
October 3, 2017
Thank you for continuing to open my emails, even though it's been awhile.
I buried my best friend today. He was only 46.
Last month, I lost my uncle.
A few weeks before that, my beloved 12-year old German Shepherd passed away peacefully with his head resting on my foot.
The month before that, my Mentor died in a car wreck.
Right now, I am grieving.
But I will get through this. I will be back to publishing my weekly APBs soon.
Thank you for your understanding and support. In the meantime, keep writing and do not hesitate to email me with any crime-writing questions you think I can help you with.
Write well and love one another,
June 17, 2017
First, thanks to those of you that offered your condolences regarding my mentor passing away. I really appreciate your kind thoughts. It's another reminder that whatever time we get is luck and we should all tell our loved ones how we feel...often.
I will be traveling through various parts of England and Scotland in the upcoming weeks. If you want to keep tabs on what I'm up to, follow me on Instagram: @writersdetctive (DISCLAIMER: It is entirely possible the photos will be nothing but the pubs, ales, and wee drams of whisky I find. So no promises that the photos will be any good. ;)
June 12, 2017
It's been a rough weekend. One of my mentors died in a car crash this weekend. He was incredibly sharp and an A-Type through-and-through. He always demanded the best work out of his detectives, but he also made sure we had fun on and off duty. I blame him for my love of Rum & Cokes. Regrettably, we lost touch after his retirement a few years ago. Rest in Peace.
If there is one writing-related thing I can share about this, its the way cops have a tendency to detach using an out-of-sight-out-of-mind coping mechanism. It's not that we don't care or that we aren't thinking about our former Brothers and Sisters in Blue; we just spend our emotional effort on those that we are working with (and watching the backs of) currently. We are also notoriously bad at acknowledging and dealing with negative emotions, other than to lock them away for another day.
It starts at the beginning. When a Recruit is fired from the Police Academy, the Academy Class does not get to say goodbye. The Recruit is called to the office and that's the last you see or hear of the Recruit. When the class comes back into the classroom after PT or a defensive tactics course, the fired Recruit's belongings are gone and his name placard has been removed from his seat and pinned upside down to the wall at the back of the classroom (along with the name placards of other former classmates.)
The lesson is clear: You're either in or out. The work still goes on.
That persists through the rest of a cop's career. There is a saying "SWAT-OR-NOT." Many officers will be part of a SWAT team at some point in their career. SWAT is for the young and motivated. Which means there are a ton of former-SWAT operators full of "When I was on the Team..." war stories. SWAT-or-NOT means if you aren't on the team now, you aren't SWAT anymore (so shut it.) In or out.
So when an officer retires from the Department, it can feel like going through an amicable divorce. Sure, we all say we'll still be friends and keep in touch...but only your closest friends will actually follow through. It's a weird and sad phenomena. So if your characters are "ex-cops" that have turned into a P.I., expect that they may be forgotten rather quickly no matter how awesome they were. In or out.
June 6, 2017
May 27, 2017
May 21, 2017
May 14, 2017
May 6, 2017
April 29, 2017
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