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Writing Investigation (Criminal)
Investigation is a key-stone to most mystery titles. They're rather formulaic; Meaning that they all follow the same sort of pattern. To begin, let's overview the pattern:
- Event or Crime
- Collecting Evidence for Analysis
- Interviewing Witnesses
- Receiving Results of Evidence Analysis
Now, you can change the pattern; But it's real, real tricky. For my own mystery, Eternity Concepts, the reader becomes the investigator, for example, the origin event is unknown--and actually becomes the conclusion. All the evidence and clues? Are the rest of the story. Every sentence spoken, all the "filler"? Isn't filler. Everything is there for a grand reason and purpose, all aimed toward getting the reader to the end. Even so; Because there is no official "investigator", the story is designed to be read twice--once for the reader to come to the conclusion, and the second for the reader to actually see and notice the clues. Like a lot of investigations, things that are clues may not seem like clues. . .until the mystery is concluded. All the same? The clues are there; The reader can solve the mystery--even before the end. It's much harder, of course, because most characters are unaware of the mystery--and the only way for a reader to know if their suspect is the right one? Is to reach the conclusion.
However, I don't recommend taking such an unusual/advanced method at first; This was something I planned and worked toward for years before hand--and I also read thousands of books dealing with the genre. That's right--not manga, not comics, not TV, not movies--novels. Reading a few of these will teach most readers that mysteries do not have to follow the formula--but many do. Crime mysteries do this the most, but it makes sense; In these, the investigation is often conducted by an authority force, who follow a set method and pattern to handling all their cases. For these, breaking formula wouldn't work so well--but it's not to say it can't be done.
For now, I'm going to assume this is your first mystery story, and that it's centered around a crime--like a murder. For these, we often have a few situations we need to be aware of.
DNA testing, for example, wasn't invented until the 1980's; This means any crime or case set in a period prior to 1980 absolutely cannot use DNA testing if it wants to be realistic.
For this reason, if you want to set a murder-mystery in 18th century England? You can't have the investigation running DNA testing. However, you still can use forensics--which Sherlock Holmes is credited as being some of the first novels to introduce this idea (Prior to it, it was "The butler did it!" type endings, and in real life investigations--and novels--forensics didn't play a huge role as they began to after these novels began to gain attention.)
Realism in mysteries is an unspoken but important role; Readers of mysteries, after all, often want to be able to try to solve the crime on their own--and characters who do unrealistic things ring false, causing the reader to suspect them--or you of poor writing.
If you're worried about using Sherlock Holmes to this end--don't worry; Today, scholars believe Holmes was inspired by a real life professor that the writer knew--who could look at the details of someone and ascertain valuable information as a result; One example given was when a woman came to the professor, and he was instantly able to tell where she lived. . .based on the mud on her shoes, the current weather conditions, and so on.
In every crime, the police begin collecting their suspect pool; From this, they will interview most everyone--persons with alibi's that can be verified will be dropped from the pool.
Suspects who offer information without being threatened or asking for a lawyer will be taken as more truthful than those who "lawyer up" or give up information under duress; Information gained this way is subject to more scrutiny, at first, to it's truthfulness than the information freely given by a suspect.
Suspects with past criminal history also tend to get favored as a potential prime suspect; Especially if their criminal history is the same kind, or begins to escalate in type and magnitude as time goes on (This is actually called a pattern of escalation by psychologists.)
Suspects with mental illness tend to be treated the same as any other; They do not, on average, receive increased suspicion due to illness.
Suspects who are members of hate groups, or cults, tend to receive a lot of focus, depending on the group, crime, and if they have any past criminal history.
Suspects who cry--especially female--often cause investigators to take their claims with a little more seriousness and sympathy.
It's important to remember; Witnesses can and do lie, and sometimes go quickly from witness to suspect, depending on what they say.
Witnesses with mental illness, first off, tend to get discounted; The reason for this is that the ultimate purpose to the investigation is not to just catch the criminal--but try them in court and get a conviction. This means witness testimony coming from a witness like this can easily be attacked in the court of law by the defense--and actually get dismissed from a case entirely as evidence. In the end, witnesses with mental health issues are listen to by police--but will not, and cannot, be the sole witness--not without hardcore, factual evidence.
Witnesses who cry tend to appear more truthful, depending on the situation.
Witnesses who refuse to cooperate tend to become suspects; Often, most witnesses do cooperate, which is why a refusal is seen as an indication of having something to hide, or guilt. In cases like this, a witness may be told not to leave town, and kept under surveillance (This also applies to suspects.)
Witnesses who offer up more information, in a more calm manner, are often viewed as more truthful than a witness who has to be convinced they should recount whatever they saw to begin with. The exception to this is when the witness believes that recounting what they saw can lead to their own death.
The Red Herring
The Red Herring is a term for a suspect who looks and seems like the guilty party. . .but actually isn't. These are a corner stone to most mysteries; A lot of TV shows and movies make ample use of them. Rest assured; The first suspect is never the one who did it--no matter how much it may seem that way.
The reason for this plot device is to extend the time it takes to solve the mystery; In many cases, the mystery has a very simplistic answer. For example, a man turns up dead, he's married, but has a social rival who's always been openly threatening the man. Police always look at the spouse, first, but when the wife gives a tearful statement--and points to this social rival without an alibi, the focus turns to him and gathering evidence to prove he was the killer.
. . .30 minuets pass before some evidence surfaces proving the social rival could not have possibly committed the crime. In some cases, this can be extended when the idea is purposed that this man used a proxy--another person to commit the crime, usually paid to do so. Still; The police then tend to investigate the Red Herring's bank statements--which show, of course, a large payout to someone. This is eventually explained as a mundane event; Buying a car, a home, so on.
It's at this point in the investigation that the police will re-investigate whomever pointed them in the direction of the red herring; The wife. The investigation very quickly finds either her alibi is a lie, or a large chunk of funds missing from her bank account and wired to an "offshore account" (Offshore accounts, basically, are untraceable.) In the end? The wife did it.
The fact is, these red herrings are sort of a requirement for crime mystery; Unless you want to write a short story, you need other suspects to look just as, or more, suspicious than the criminal--simply to eat up time. Otherwise, your story could be just a few paragraphs.
Suspicion is harder to create than you might suspect; You need to often create unlikeable characters who both the reader, and investigators, want to believe is the culprit.
You can still create suspicion around a likable character, but this hinges on some elements. The character still must be, in the end, less suspicious than your red herring--and being likable is a way to archive this, unless it's the herring you're writing for. This takes some lead up, however, and can require a great deal of subtle details; Nervousness, sweating, an unwillingness to make eye contact, drawing the body inward as they speak in terms of body language. . .or even being entirely too calm. It's always helpful, of course, to have the investigator privately note this behavior later, as many readers may not see it for what it is.
Even without this behavior, there's something called instinct, and it's used a lot in investigation. For whatever reason, an officer just has a gut feeling--an instinct--that something is suspicious. These do not always need justification; Nor do they always have to be correct.
Most everything can be evidence; Foot prints, strands of hair, and so on. Depending on the time period, it's heavily suggested you research forensic methods for this time. In today's world, you would be astounded at the amount of things they can use to link a suspect to a crime. For example, a peeping tom was once apprehended because the man pressed his face and lips to the window of the home he was peeking into. Lip prints turn out to be just as unique as your finger prints. . .and they were used to convict him.
However, people in earlier period didn't have access to the same testing we do today; The same evidence does exist, just not the same means of testing it--or any means. With some ingenuity on the part of the investigator, however, things like the above are discovered and used.
There is no Perfect Crime
There is always one small piece of evidence somewhere; No criminal cleans up after themselves perfectly.
That tends to happen, when people are in a hurry. . .and criminals typically are. Imagine yourself on days when you're in a rush, and trying to make sure you don't forget something?
. . .You always forget something.
It works the same way with crime.
This formula is tried, true, and often used; You can rework it, but it's nearly impossible to escape--and, no, setting it on a fictional world will not fly, not with criminal investigation; Readers who read this material are not looking for science fiction--but an intriguing, realistic case, and one they have chances at solving themselves. Please, as an avid reader, do not randomly create a culprit at the end, who was unknown to the reader the entire time; It just serves to piss off readers of the genre, and won't create a name for yourself in it.
If you're still having trouble, I highly recommend reading mystery novels yourself; Watching movies, TV, and such, also, can be a benefit--but it's helpful to see how diverse mystery can be. And since you're writing it?
It helps to read it.