Friday, March 4, 2011

So Your MC is a Detective...

Is he / she Homicide, Narcotics, Fraud, Burglary, Robbery, Vice, Organized Crime, Arson and Forgery?  Honestly most of these would make for an interesting character to build a world, and a novel around.  But these days it seems the most popular is Homicide.  After all, isn't that what's on TV these days?  The mysteries have us piecing together the clues making us feel we have a part in solving murder, and bringing justice to those left behind.  But, why not expand your thinking in this area?  What if your MC investigated murders, as well as attempted murders, extortion, non-parental abductions?  That would really open up a lot of avenues for more plots.  Well, I have the answer for you - make them a Major Crimes Detective.  And, yes, I assure you that is their real title.

Last year, in the midst of editing my first mystery, I made contact with the Detective Sergeant in the police department of where I live.  He told me they are not large enough to warrant a specific division just for Homicide.  Instead, the detectives under him take care of more than just murders, they take care of the areas mentioned above.  They also handle missing persons, found human remains and other complex criminal investigations.   And their titles?  Major Crimes Detectives.   (Now, there's other sections to the Criminal Investigations Division and they have each have a Detective Sergeant in charge of them.  For example Guns and Drugs, and Fraud.)

But maybe this is something you could utilize in your novel(s)?  Especially when writing a series, by making your MC a Major Crimes Detective you're not limited to investigating a murder.  It could be a non-parental kidnapping or extortion.  Possibly these elements could be weaved together to create even more plot twists and complications.

One thing to consider when choosing what type of detective your character will be is setting.  If basing it on a real place, contact the local police department or sheriff's office.  Try to establish the facts.  While there is room for imagination in fiction, the stretching of truth, be careful how you exercise that freedom.  For example, we know Las Vegas, Nevada has a Sheriff's Office, if you wrote the top guy as being Chief of Police then you would lose the reader.

My suggestion is to contact the local police department in the area you're placing your novel.  If your city is fictional you must have some sort of an idea as to size.  You have more freedom in deciding whether it's going to be a Police Department or a Sheriff's Office.  From here, you will need a structural hierarchy.  You'll also need to decide if your city is large enough to warrant a Homicide Detective Division or whether it would have Major Crimes Detectives.

And just a note, if you're shy or nervous like I was to contact the police department, most of them have a website with a contact page.  I emailed and simply explained that I was a mystery writer looking for someone to help answer some questions.  A couple weeks later, I received a call.  (Oh, and if one of your questions is going to be:  how many detectives do you have?  Don't.  For safety reasons, they can't answer that question.)

Another thing to consider when establishing your law enforcement organization is the forensic side of things.  Most mysteries rely on some sort of feedback from a CSI, a lab tech.  So, how is that organized?  Again, in a fictional city you have room to play.  If your setting is real, you might want to see if you can help from someone on the inside.  Pulling from the city in which I live they have a Forensic Identification Unit which collects the crime scene evidence such as blood, clothing from the victim, and suspect (if available).  If the crime involved a firearm, they swab the hands of the victim and any suspects.  They collect fingerprints and any other trace evidence, but the in-depth analysis isn't taken care of within the city, it is sent to a larger city. (Search Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto for more info)

Hopefully, you'll have found this post interesting and informative.  If you have any comments, or feedback to this post, I'd love to hear it.