Enjoy her blog, “Mystery Fiction Requires Research? Really?”
Writing mystery fiction books is more difficult than it might appear. Only highly intelligent people can do it. Keeping all the clues straight requires an entire box of cue cards. Or a night’s worth of napkins from the pub. Or writing on the wall with washable markers. (Those were washable, right?) Not to mention quelling the temptation to reveal too much. Just enough to keep the reader guessing; not so little that they’re completely in the dark. And then comes the research!
There’s an old adage that says, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” Writers can’t get all the research right every time, can we? I mean, sometimes the situation cries out for a manipulation of the facts, at least in fiction.
However, the background information provided in a novel is often fascinating, if not entirely accurate to the last drop.
We are all familiar with the detective story, police officer or PI variety. Think of how much we’ve learned about processing a crime scene because we’ve read these books. Doesn’t mean we could conduct one, but… Other writers opened the world of forensic pathology, autopsies and morgues with the result that many shows on the subjects turned up in television.
Even in the “simplest” of fiction novels, the background information is important. By simple, I mean they’re not necessarily focused on a field of work. They’re not primarily detective or legal or medical fiction, but tell a tale about rather ordinary folk.
In my first book, The Bridgeman, I portray an old-fashioned lift bridge and the person who manages it. I had to actually go and look at a bridge to see how that worked. My protagonist throughout the series, the Emily Taylor Mysteries, is a school principal in a small town. Luckily, I was a principal in my other life, so I had experience on my side. When the caretaker is murdered in the school, I had to explain how the education system would handle such a thing.
Then there is the puppy mill in the book. For this section, as difficult as it was, I wrote about my niece’s experiences as a veterinarian’s assistant.
For Victim, I had to do a lot of reading about Ojibwa folklore and philosophy. Legacy returns to the school and its processes with Emily’s handling of a very dysfunctional family, plus there are tidbits about the effects of fire, inquests and hypnosis. The research! My fourth book, Seventh Fire, discusses a wrongful conviction and how these tragic mistakes happen. My Forensics for Dummies and Criminal Investigative Failures, as well as Until You Are Dead (Steven Truscott) are well thumbed.
Although the stories are fiction, and some of the facts may not be one percent accurate, there is enough background information to give the reader a more in-depth picture of the setting, the characters and how the plot plays out. It may even lead a reader to investigate the topic further.
There must be enough fact even in fiction. You can see why only highly intelligent people can write a mystery.
Is that statement fact or fiction?
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