Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Deciding How To Commit Murder

By Chester Campbell

Early in the process of writing my latest book, 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 Bump ‘Em Off, Eh? blog yesterday, Ben Small mentioned several methods of dispatching people who needed killing. I wound up using different methods for each murder 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.

In yesterday’s blog, Ben 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 (www.leelofland.com/wordpress).

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.

15 comments:

Lee Lofland said...

Hi Guys. Thanks for mentioning my blog. I'm pleased you're finding it helpful. I also wanted to tell you that I, like my good friend Doug Lyle, am available to answer your questions, so feel free to write me any time. My email address is lee@leelofland.com

In addition to my blog, you might find my book, Police Procedure and Investigation, A Guide For Writers, helpful. It's in the new Writers Digest Howdunit series. In fact, Doug Lyle has a new book on forensics in that same series.

Beth Terrell said...
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Beth Terrell said...

Lee, I have both your Police Procedure and Investigation AND Dr. Lyle's book on forensics, as well as the one on poisons.

In my opinion, they are an indispensable set of books for any writer of mysteries.

Beth

Lee Lofland said...

Beth - Thanks for the kind words.

Chester Campbell said...

Thanks for your comments, Lee. I've picked up a lot of useful ideas from your blog. I'll have to check out the book. Of course, a lot of specifics have to be checked out with the jurisdiction, but you give us an idea of what questions we need to ask.

Ben Small said...

Wow! You folks are coming up with great ideas for expanding my library. I'm going to go through my collection and add any of these I don't already have. I've got Dr. Lyle's MURDER AND MAYHEM and also THE FORESNSIC CASEBOOK by N.E. Genge. Some more on poisons, however, are THE POISONER'S HANDBOOK, by Maxwell Hutchkinson, SILENT DEATH, by Uncle Festus, and ASSORTED NASTIES, by David Harber. THE POOR MAN'S JAMES BOND, by Kurt Saxon has some good dirty tricks, and for gunshots, GUNSHOT WOUNDS, by Di Maio is excellent.

And thank you Lee for the offer. I will definitely take you up on it.

Ben Small said...
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Ben Small said...

Okay, I just ordered Dr. Lyle's Howdunit book, too and Lee's book. I discovered I had Dr. Lyle's Dummies book after all. I also discovered I've got two copies of Platt's book, CRIME SCENE, THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FORENSIC SCIENCE. Well, anyway, I musta agreed with Platt if I've got two copies of his book, huh? :<)

Chester or Beth, if either of you want the extra - or anybody else coming to Nashville Killers - I'll bring it with me.

Another good source of info can be found in Jeff Deaver's first Kathryn Dance novel, THE SLEEPING DOLL. You'll recall Dance is the kenesics expert introduced in the Lincoln Rhyme novel which preceded THE SLEEPING DOLL. Dance interrogates folks and can tell when they're hiding stuff or lying. Deaver lists the bibliography he used, and I bought them. Some of these books are written for scientists and are quite complex, but they're a gold mine of "tells" that may be useful to a mystery or thriller writer who wants to add deception to his plotting. I'd list them, but there are about ten and the list would take up a lot of space. Better to look it over in Deaver's book and make your own decisions.

Lee Lofland said...

Ben - There's a short piece about kinesics on my blog. You might want to check it out. I also teach kinesics in some of the workshops I present at writers conferences.

By the way, Jeff Deaver wrote a nice blurb for my book.

Ben Small said...

Lee -- I will do that. It's a subject that interests me. I spent thirty years as a litigator and developed instincts of my own on the subject, but now that I've retired, I'm learning a science has grown up around the subject.

Jeff's a great guy. I had a long dinner with him in L.A. two years ago.

Lee Lofland said...

It's a fascinating subject. Funny thing, I was using the technique long before it had a name.

Yes, Jeff is great. He's a brilliant writer. We stay in touch.

Pat Browning said...

OOPS!
Chester, I got carried away and gave Ben credit for mentioning Dr.Lyle's book FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES. I don't know whether it was a slip of the keyboard or a simple brain spasm. Anyway, thanks to both you and Ben for the useful topics.
Pat Browning

Beth Terrell said...

I've been interested in kinesics and microexpressions ever since I heard of them. I'd love to take a class somewhere, or a workshop.

Lee, could we wheedle you into coming to Killer Nashville and doing our session on kinesics? It's August 15-17 in Nashville. Here's the link, if you're interested: http://www.killernashville.com.

Beth

Lee Lofland said...

Beth - Thanks for asking. Are you talking about 2009 or 2010? If so, then maybe so. I'll have to check.

I'm totally booked for the rest of 2008, most of 2009, and some of 2010.

Beth Terrell said...

Lee, I was talking about 2008, but we'll take you when we can get you. It's always the third weekend in August.