Have you come to the point in your story where a murder takes place? Do you know the tricks of writing the perfect murder scene? There are many aspects of a murder scene to take into consideration while killing off one of your characters. You must put in the time to do the research and craft your sentences and paragraphs to fit the scene.
While you are probably writing fiction, there are some facts you must give attention to. Below are some articles that will get you headed in the right direction when it comes to killing off your bad guy. There is also a short vlog on crafting the perfect murder scene. I hope you enjoy and use what you learn to sell more books😉
How to commit the perfect murder to paper: Author David Thomas reveals the secrets of writing a best-selling thriller
1 Study the masters…
Before you even try to write a thriller, take a good look at how other people have done it. Read every book you can get your hands on, but watch great TV series and movies, too. The Accident Man was hugely influenced by the way the writers of 24 kept multiple storylines running simultaneously, each with its own cliffhanger, so there was always someone, somewhere, in desperate trouble. 24 was relentless, it never for one moment let you relax. And you always wanted more.
2 …but don’t overdose on them
I devoured Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books. I tried to imitate his terse, punchy, bone-dry style. The result was garbage. Then I realised that Lee writes the way he does because that’s how he naturally expresses himself. So I went back to the way I write naturally, and it made a huge difference. Your book will work best if it’s told in your voice.
3 Structure, structure, structure…
Property is all about location, thrillers are all about structure. Everything has to fit together with the precision of a Swiss watch, powered by a coiled spring. Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of The Jackal is a masterpiece of construction. I once drew a chart on a couple of sheets of A2 paper that consisted of a scene-by-scene analysis of Jackal, showing which characters appeared when, and how Forsyth balanced character development, plot and action over the course of the book. It really helped me understand the structural skeleton beneath the flesh and blood of the words.
4 Show, don’t tell
Always make your point through action and dialogue, rather than exposition. At the beginning of The Accident Man I had a few paragraphs explaining that Sam Carver was an assassin who created fatal ‘accidents’. An American publisher said: ‘Nice idea, but it would be much better if we could see him do it.’ So I wrote a new opening scene in which he killed a people trafficker by sabotaging his helicopter using a miniature spanner, a hacksaw and two blobs of Blu-Tack. So we saw Carver at work. Better.
Some thrillers are whodunits: the hero arrests the bad guy. Some are action thrillers: the hero kills the bad guy. Either way, you’re going to be thinking of new ways to kill people and cool weapons to kill them with
5 It’s the people, stupid
Stieg Larsson thought his Millennium Trilogy was all about the sexism and corruption at the rotten heart of Swedish society. But the millions who devoured The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo couldn’t care less about that. They just fell in love with an emaciated, autistic computer genius called Lisbeth Salander. It’s the characters in a book – and that means the villains, lovers and supporting cast, too – that make it work. So if you ever think, ‘I’ve got a great idea for a thriller,’ make sure you’ve got great characters for it too.
6 Grab them by the throat and their minds will follow
If you don’t grab your readers’ attention in the opening chapter, they’ll find another book. Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity has one of the all-time great opening sequences: a man, fished from the Mediterranean, unaware of who or what he really is, unknowingly possessed of all the deadly skills of a CIA assassin. The men from Hollywood threw away 90 per cent of what Ludlum wrote in the Bourne trilogy. But they kept that opening and it gave them a billion-dollar franchise.
7 Think like a killer
Some thrillers are whodunits: the hero arrests the bad guy. Some are action thrillers: the hero kills the bad guy. Either way, you’re going to be thinking of new ways to kill people and cool weapons to kill them with. So clip grisly news stories. Read books about real killers. Go on the gun-nut channels on YouTube. And read books by Patricia Cornwell and Jonathan Hayes. They’re professional forensic pathologists. Dead bodies are, quite literally, their business.
8 Count the bullets in the gun
If you want your readers to believe your story, get the details right. Either write about what you know, or do your research properly. Don’t have your hero firing 15 bullets from a Walther PPK if it can only hold nine. And speaking of James Bond’s favourite gun, Ian Fleming pulled off a brilliant trick when he created 007. The idea of a cool, sophisticated, lady-killing assassin, touring the world On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, bumping off bad guys who wanted to rule the world was as much a fantasy as Harry Potter playing Quidditch. But because the details were so brilliantly observed – Bond’s cars, his Sea Island cotton shirts, the exotic locations – it all felt completely real.
9 Always think of Option C
The fun part of thriller writing is getting your characters into dangerous situations and then getting them out again. An editor once gave me a great tip: put your protagonist in a situation where they have to choose between two options, A and B. Then write option C. In one of my books, Carver is on holiday in the Greek islands with a girl. They’re having lunch. The restaurant is attacked by gunmen. The girl is shot. Carver just escapes, after a frantic chase. He stops for a second to think. Should he go after the gunmen, or should he get the hell off the island? That’s options A and B. Then the phone rings. He takes the call. It’s the girl – the one who’s just been shot dead. And that’s Option C.
10 If you’re a man, ditch the dumb blondes and tough girls
You have a male lead, and chances are he’s going to want a girl. And she’s going to be sexy, sultry and splendidly beddable. That’s fine – being ravished by the hunky hero works for girls too. Just don’t make her a cliché. Very few men now dare write a ditsy, screaming blonde. But many dream up superchicks who are as tough and deadly as any man. Most women don’t see themselves that way. Strong, yes. Gorgeous, certainly. But intelligent, complex and vulnerable, too, if you don’t mind. And if you’re a woman, bin the bad guys and the goody-goodies. Men are more complicated than that.
…but finally, and most importantly
Forget the rules . . . except one. The first four, clunkingly tabloid words of The Da Vinci Code, ‘Renowned curator Jacques Saunier’ tell you that Dan Brown can’t write for toffee. There’s not a character in the book that’s close to being interesting and the ‘facts’ on which the whole thing depends have been debunked. Yet somehow it’s is completely unputdownable. So in the end, the only rule that really counts is: keep the reader reading.
10 Tips on How to Write Believable Crime and Murder Scenes
By: Garry Rodgers
I’ve been around the criminal investigation world for three decades—first as a homicide detective, then as a forensic coroner. I was also the trigger-man on Emergency Response or SWAT Teams and now, in “retirement,” I’m reinventing myself as a crime fiction writer. So I’ve got hands-on experience in life, death, and writing.
I’m also a voracious reader. Not just technical, forensic, and legal stuff but lots of crime fiction. I’m fortunate for on-the-street and in-the-morgue background to draw from, though it’s a curse when I read stuff that I know is improbable or just plain baloney.
I’m not here to knock other writers. Quite the contrary, I want to help fellow crime-fiction writers through my real-life experiences. And I’d like to assure aspiring writers that you don’t need to be an old cop or forensics wizard to write electrifying crime stories. I’ll bet that 99% of the best-selling crime writers never saw a dead body, let alone smelled one. But that doesn’t matter. The best don’t necessarily write what they know . . . but they all check what they write.
So I’ve compiled my top ten tips on writing believable crime stories.
1. Understand the mechanism of death.
Every human dies because the central nervous system gets unplugged. This happens in many ways, but primarily either the cardiopulmonary system stops, which tells the brain to shut down, or the brain stops, which tells the heart and lungs to give up.
In reality, this is harder to accomplish than it sounds, and it’s human nature not to check out without a fight. So people are actually hard to kill. A bullet to the head is effective, but stabbings, for instance, are time-consuming, difficult, and messy. Poisons are slow, strangling is tough, and folks just don’t stand there while being axed. So when you write the “perfect murder scene,” think about how realistically you kill your victim.
2. Understand time of death.
I’ve read (and seen on the screen) moments in which the coroner/pathologist declares the victim dead at a specific time, such as 10:05 pm. Uh . . . no—not unless someone was there with a stopwatch. Many mortis factors are considered when estimating time of death. Temperature is the biggie, followed by body mass.
A dead body will naturally adjust temperature (algor) to achieve equilibrium with its surroundings and will display time-telling factors, such as muscle stiffening (rigor), blood settling (livor), color (palor), and tissue breakdown (decomp). The presence of toxins also effects body changes. Cocaine amplifies the mortis process, while carbon monoxide retards it. Be careful in getting your forensic guru to commit on specific time.
3. Understand scene access.
Crime scenes are tightly secured. Absolutely no one goes in unless they’re necessary, and then they’ll wear complete personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid contaminating the scene or themselves. This business of a gumshoe detective in a trench coat, smoking a cigar and leaning over the body, doesn’t happen. Neither does a fifteen-year-old sleuth tagging along to help solve the case.
4. Get the terminology right.
I see writers get basic terms wrong, and it’s the little mistakes that seriously affect credibility. For example, calling a 9mm pistol a “revolver” or saying the body was “prone” on its back on the floor. So much is available through Internet searches or, better yet, having beta readers pick up on errors. Remember: check what you write.
5. Crime-lab results are not so quick.
Processing crime scene evidence is a cumbersome, frustrating, and time-consuming event. First of all, yours is not the only case the lab has, and it will sit in queue to get developed. You’ll probably get bumped to the back of the bus by more urgent files and it could be months before your DNA profile comes in. And, no, a phone call from the scene to your buddy in the lab is not going to speed things up. He’d probably get canned for playing favorites.
6. Don’t get creative with investigational aids.
Most writers fail to consider the multitude of resources used in criminal investigations. DNA is today’s darling, followed by AFIS (the Automated Fingerprint Identification System). Don’t just write in the usual things like forensic autopsies, toxicology, ballistic matching, and document examination. Expand your story by using informants, wiretaps, room bugs and wires, polygraphs, undercover operators, police agents, hypnosis memory enhancement, psychological profiling, computer analyzing, satellite surveillance, and one that’s a real bugger—entomology. Stay away from using psychics, though. I’ve never heard of a case in which psychic information was anything other than a wild goose chase. I think psychics are as toxic to a believable story as a “dream” ending.
7. Use the five senses.
The best page-turners happen when you connect with your reader’s senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. This seems to be the key to pulling off the show-over-tell thing. I keep a little sticky note on the bottom of my screen to remind me to make the most of the senses in each scene—it sure helps in editing.
Smell is the strongest link to emotional connection. It’s one thing to see gruesome photos of a gut-shot corpse, but once you’ve actually whiffed a maggot-crawling, gassing-off decomp, you’ll never forget it. Try writing out that sock-puking stench. Show the detective dumpstering his $500 leather jacket because the putrefaction permeated the calf-skin pores, and dry cleaning it just made it stink worse. True story—happened to me.
8. Craft believable dialog.
Be honest. Cops and crooks swear like sailors, and that’s the reality of the crime world. And some of the most foul-mouthed friends I have are females. One lady pathologist used to slip in some beauts while dictating and dissecting. Fortunately, her assistant was a good editor and covered her butt in reports.
There’s a balance, though. If every fourth word is four letters, it’ll get a little overpowering, but none at all is unrealistic. I read a prominent crime writer’s best seller on a recommendation. I picked up right away that something wasn’t quite right. Then I came to the part where a character had to use profanity—no way around it to be true to the character—and the author wrote it as ‘F@#*!’. I quit reading and I’m sure others did too.
9. Create compelling characters.
Something that’s as true as the fact that you’re going to flush the toilet before bedtime—the best cops and crooks have vibrant personalities. And they’re not entirely good or bad either. One of the Hell’s Angels I know should be a stand-up comedian, and a fellow coroner, who looks like frump-woman, is like travelling with Yoda. She has a terrible drinking problem, though, and sleeps with her incontinent ferret.
10. Understand the science of story.
I can’t stress this enough. There’s every much a science behind storytelling as there is in doing autopsies. Why readers stay up—and can’t put novel down—is that writers work words that release endorphins in the reader’s brain. One book that all writers, not just crime-writers, MUST read is Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. I promise you’ll never look at storytelling the same.
11. Bonus tip:
This gem is from Joseph Wambaugh. He’s the ex-LAPD guy who wrote The Choir Boys, The New Centurions, and The Onion Field, and invented the character Roscoe Rules, whom every cop loves . Wambaugh said, “The best crime stories are not about how cops work on cases. They’re about how cases work on cops.”
I hope these tips help you to be authentic in your “crime scenes.”
What bits have you seen on TV shows or movies, or have read in novels, that seem inaccurate or unbelievable to you? Got any specific questions?
Garry Rodgers is a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police homicide detective and forensic coroner. He also served as a sniper on British SAS-trained Emergency Response or SWAT teams and is a recognized firearms expert. He’s now an Amazon top ten10 best-selling crime writer and blogger.