Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Do you need to know anything about forensic science if you're writing cozies?

Yes, you do!

Your readers are well-informed, intelligent people. Given the viewership of dramatic programs such as "CSI" and "NCIS," and non-fiction programs such as "The Forensic Files" and "The New Detectives," your readers are also likely to have an interest in forensic science.

Mystery novels almost always include evidence of some sort. If your story includes a dead body, anyone with a gun, a poison, a sleeping potion, fingerprints, or any of a thousand other elements, if you don't do your homework, your readers may wonder why something impossible has happened -- why rigor mortis has or hasn't set in, why a body moved from one location to another shows no signs of such, why a dead body is bleeding, how someone detects drowning in salt water without an autopsy. They may ask why the symptoms don't match the type of poison you chose, why a revolver has a safety on it, or why police haven't taken known measures to solve a crime.

Even if your novel is set in the past, natural processes (such as those that occur in a body after death) and chemical reactions (such as those caused by poisons) haven't changed over the centuries. You may also need to be aware of how much was known about some areas of forensic science in earlier times -- and what was not yet known in the period you write about.

There is a long tradition of forensic science in the mystery novel -- Agatha Christie knew her poisons, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes often used trace evidence to solve crimes.

ForUStL will help you to better understand forensic science, teach you how to learn more, and how to incorporate what you learn at the conference in your writing. Who knows? The idea for your next book may be waiting for you in St. Louis!