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Accuracy in Crime Fiction

Updated: Jan 4

Don't let your crime novel be a crime scene of inaccuracies!

Tips for Accuracy in Crime Fiction by Kristin Noland Crime Fiction and Speculative fiction editor

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You have a disturbing crime, great characters, and shocking plot twists!


But don’t let your crime novel be a crime scene of inaccuracies. Inaccuracies decrease your authority, and readers will not be happy. 😒


I absolutely love crime novels. I love reading them and editing them. It seems I can’t get enough!


But when I read them, I want them to be accurate in their portrayals. I don’t want someone contaminating potential evidence, then using that evidence to prove a person or persons committed the crime.


To help you be accurate and keep your credibility, I’ve collected some useful facts! 😊


This is a quick overview of crime scenes, eyewitnesses, evidence, scientific testing, and confessions.


Each of these aspects of an investigation are opportunities to be accurate, eliminate evidence if it isn’t handled properly, and for red herrings!


1.      The scene of the crime.

This could be the body of a victim or an empty jewelry box.

The investigators will expand the crime scene to the point of entry and exit to as large of an area as necessary.

So, if there is a broken window—probable point of entry—in the house, investigators expand the scene outward to include the window. Then farther to include footprints or other potential evidence outside.

If a trail of mud or blood goes from the house and down the street, the scene will expand. However, the bigger the area, the more potential for contamination of the crime scene.

Without being obvious, of course, place most of the relevant evidence close to the center of the crime scene and add more and more red herrings farther away.


2.      Eyewitnesses

Eyewitnesses are terrible witnesses.

The range of what people see will vary drastically, because our brains take in certain information and process it based on our previous experiences.

And it’s difficult to remember specific details when you only see something for a few seconds.

So, one person could think they saw a man about five feet ten in a black baseball cap, jeans, and a white t-shirt, while another thinks they saw a woman dressed in dark leggings with blue tennis shoes and a light jacket.

Eyewitnesses are opportunities to drop in red herrings!


3.      Evidence


Most evidence is circumstantial, and most cases are won on circumstantial evidence, because a piece of evidence comes with questions as to under what circumstances it ended up where it was found.

The bottle used to knock out a victim has someone’s fingerprint on it, but they could be from the victim’s visitor the day before. It doesn’t mean they committed the crime.

Use some evidence to lead your investigators and your readers in the wrong direction for a bit.

Evidence will not only help investigators recreate the crime, but also build a profile of the perpetrator(s)!


4.      Scientific testing


Testing takes time.

Depending on the severity of the crime and how many tests laboratorians have in the queue, your detectives may wait a while for the results.

While a DNA profile only takes about 15-20 minutes to perform, a lot happens before the test is done.

Blood is found on a piece of glass at the scene. The glass must be bagged and logged at the scene, then requests for testing are made by the forensics team—the request must approved. The laboratory will process the evidence and prioritize the testing.

This takes time. Hours.

Once the test is prioritized, the evidence waits in line until the laboratorians test everything that comes before it in the queue. More hours, even days, or weeks!

The test is complete, and the results are posted. Yea!

But, depending on the investigator, it may take them some time to look for the email or the results in the system. More hours.


So, the results of a test that takes 15 minutes may not even be available for weeks! And an amateur sleuth may not have immediate access to the results.


5.      Confessions

Confessions can also be unreliable.

People confess to all sorts of things they didn’t do for various reasons.

  • They don’t remember.

  • The police have evidence, so they must have done it.

  • They think a family member committed the crime, so they confess to protect them.

  • They want a warm bed and food.

  • They committed a different crime that they weren’t punished for, so they confess due to guilt.

If you want to really throw your reader off the trail, use a false confession!


Writing crime novels requires knowledge of police procedures and forensics. You don’t need to know it all, especially if you have an amateur sleuth, but you should know some basics and how to use them to your investigator’s advantage.


I suggest reading The Howdunit Series published by Writer’s Digest Books. Some books in this series are older publications, but there is a wealth of useful information in them. Additional research for updates on procedures and policies will still need to be done, but this series is a phenomenal start!


Be accurate and keep it real, folks! 😎


Happy Writing and Revising!



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