Jun 19, 2012

Crime - Truth and Fiction Exercise

My favourite crime show!
My writing centre (QWC) and the talented Meg Vann hosted another amazing writer's workshop - Research for Crime Fiction. This one was made even more special by the setting - The Queensland Police Headquarters, which hosts the Qld Police Museum. What a perfect place to study crime research!

All writers went along with a brief outline of the crime novel they would like to work on. My crime fiction is Warracknabeal Kids
In the summer of 1939, a freak fire tore through the Warracknabeal Racetrack, destroying the decrepit clubhouse, but nothing else. This was suspicious enough, as the insurance payout would fund a much needed rebuild. When the town scallywag, 13yr old Harry Conner, finds a dead body in the burnt-out ruins, there's no doubt this is foul play. But the body disappears and no one believes him, not even his father, the local sergeant. Harry is on his own solving this case and he's wondering if it has anything to do with his own mother's disappearance two years ago. Perhaps his father knows more than he's saying. Meanwhile, across Victoria, the state is experiencing the worst bush fires it has ever seen.

My story was inspired by learning the clubhouse really did burn down in 1939 and the circumstances were suspicious (locals said the insurance payout was the most luck that track had ever seen). I decided to add a body and a town full of quirky characters. Real life provides plenty of prompts for murder mysteries, just watch the news or read the papers. But if a real crime inspires you, how can you go about using it for a novel without offending people involved?

One exercise we tried was to mix up events, characters and locations from different eras and crimes. We walked around the Police Museum taking note of the crimes and artifacts that interested us. This is something you could try using online resources for your news articles. Here's the steps we took and my responses:
  1. Choose one person (victim, investigator, witness, etc) and record three details about that person: Eileen O'Donnell was one of the first women officers in Queensland, joining the force in 1931. She was good at catching bag snatchers. Women could not make arrests, but mostly did typing or chaperoning male officers when they arrested young women.
  2. Choose one setting and record three details (from a different source): A vet surgery was the setting for Brisbane's notorious cat-lady murder. Found inside was the body and blood samples from two people, one belonging to the victim. Smell of ammonia and cat urine. Smooth linoleum floors. Very violent struggle.
  3. Choose one incident/event: 1977 string of rapes and murders. Victim found in apartment by boyfriend. He had been at night classes at local TAFE before discovering the body.
The next step is to change any names (people and locations) and mix the elements together for a story idea. This is what I came up with:

   'Step back love, don't want to taint the crime scene.' Officer Robert Hacker put an arm out in front of officer Joyce Malloy, as if protecting her from stepping into traffic. 
   He'd already warned her several times on the way to this scene that it might be brutal and she could wait in the car if her stomach wasn't up to it.
   Joyce let out a 'humph' and stepped around Hacker's arm. She'd been on the force since 31. Her and Louise the first women officers in Queensland. Five years. Hacker had not yet served six months and he was giving her orders. 
   In her time on the force she'd seen robberies, assaults, wife-beatings, but, as she peered into the doorway of the veterinarian's office, she acknowledged she'd never seen anything this bad. Through the stench of feces and urine wafted ammonia, and in crates cats howled for release.
   Joyce stepped over the dead woman's extended arm, taking care not to tread in the glossy dark blood spread across the otherwise dull linoleum. 
   Another one dead. Women in men's professions. This one a vet, the last a lawyer. The knife used to rip the life from the deceased left by the body, just as the report had said about the previous victim.
   'Woah, you're a bit keen there Joyce.' Robert stomped in and for a moment almost lost his balance, slipping in the menacing fluid.
   He looked down, up at Joyce, back down, then threw up over the body.

Think you'll give this a try? It's a worthwhile exercise, you never know what you'll end up with!

32 comments:

  1. Your story sounds great. And the writing exercises sound good, too.

    Shelly
    http://secondhandshoesnovel.blogspot.com/

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  2. I love Castle too! I think the exercise you came up with to create story from real life is amazing. Love what you came up with.

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  3. It's great the way you've woven all those elements into that piece of writing but leaving enough unsaid to make us want to read more. I love the ending!

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  4. Very interesting process to turn reality into fiction.

    mood

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  5. A process I never used, interesting to see different ways to go about it and yep like Castle here as well.

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  6. Hi Charmaine! That workshop sounds really interesting. I like your story.

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  7. This sounds like a great way in which to come up with new ideas/concepts for a WIP... the workshop must have been awesome.

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  8. Great reading. I love this concept and the last line. :)

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  9. You have so much courage to write a historical mystery. That's a lot of research. Great (and startling) info about woman officers not being able to make arrests. You listed some awesome details to work with.

    Thanks for following. I am too. :-)

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  10. PS. Just read your comment. If it's Ancient Egypt, remember that the Nile River actually flowed in a different place than it does now. Good luck with your story!

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  11. I did not know that! Wow, I really need to learn stuff :)

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  12. I'm a fiction writer wannabe. Unfortunately, I can't write it if it dictated itself right to my ears. LOL

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  13. This is very interesting! Thanks for sharing!

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  14. Oh, I love the story you came up with.

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  15. I like what you've come up with after the swap around... such a great exercise

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  16. Awesome excercise! Glad you shared!

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  17. I'd love to give this a try! And there are so many strange crime stories and facts out there to use - even our newspaper's weekly police log offers up plenty of fodder for fiction!

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  18. These are great tips! Technically I write crime novels, but I'm a bit scared of research. Need to work on that. You came up with a great story and the ending made me laugh!

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  19. Interesting exercise and story.

    I left an award for you on my blog. Trying to get to know more about my 15 newest followers. Stop by and check it out.

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  20. Bit late to the party Charming! Love this. Read right through it and will look at it again. D.

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