Researching for Crime Fiction

Have you ever watched a cop show while sitting next to someone with a law enforcement background? Or maybe a forensics specialist? And listened to them say, “That’s so wrong. Why can’t the writers do their research?”

I try not to be one of those writers. The lazy ones who make stuff up. I make up plot and characters, but procedure, science – that ought to be as real as I can make it.

This means I research things that most people might find odd. Possibly disgusting. One day I’ll google poisonous plants that could be placed in someone’s salad. Another day I’ll call the DEA and ask who does the pot spotting in my area.

Is it the National Guard? What does marijuana look like from the air? What sort of helicopters do they fly? Is there enough room in the back to stuff a body?

Okay, thanks. Guess that isn’t going to work.

And home burials? Are they legal in this state? What are the regulations? Do I have to embalm? How far from the well should the hole be dug? Do I need a permit? What happens if I inadvertently dig someone else up? Do the police have to investigate?

And drugs. If I want a character to be assaulted, but I don’t want her to remember the assault, what do I use?

A nurse suggested I try Versed, a drug commonly used in oral surgery. It’s an amnesic. That means the victim, I mean patient, won’t remember anything that happened while under the influence.

This could be it!

But a good assault drug … wouldn’t you want the … victim … to be, I dunno … aware? So … if my victim is out cold, and I’m your normal everyday psychopath, why bother? Doesn’t Dexter wait for his victims to wake up before he kills them?

And this is where I start asking leading questions in places where I ought to keep my mouth shut.

On Tuesday I had oral surgery under conscious sedation. Before I went under, I remember asking, “Do you use Versed?”

The surgeon answered, “Yes, and a little Demerol.”


Before I could ask anything more, I was waking up in a little recovery room with no memory of how I got there. Someone, a nurse? was reminding me to keep the ice bag pressed against my face.

And then Jim was walking me to the car. And then we were home. And DARN IT! I forgot to ask the questions I wanted to ask. A missed opportunity!

And surgery is, after all, legal assault upon a drugged victim. Darn, darn, darn, darn, darn!

This morning, five days later, I mentioned to my husband that I’d forgotten to ask about Versed, but I planned to ask when I went for my follow-up in three days.

He gave me this funny look and said, “But you already asked the woman in the recovery room.”

“I did?”


“What did I ask?”

“You asked if you’re all the way out, or if you’re conscious and able to communicate.”

“What did she say?”

“You’re conscious and able to follow instructions. But you’re maybe more suggestible than you would normally be. She did say you wouldn’t do anything out of character.”

“What else did I ask?”



“You asked if you could experience pain, or if you were beyond pain.”


“You experience pain, but it’s immediately forgotten, like it never happened.”


“So I could beat the crap out of someone, and they’d experience the pain, but afterwards they’d have no idea how it happened, and they wouldn’t remember I’d done it?”

“Pretty much.” Jim started looking uncomfortable. Like the day I told him we could totally grow marijuana under bird netting, and the National Guard choppers would never know it was there.

Except I’m pretty sure they have a file on me by now.

So, I had my answer, both from the nurse, and from personal experience. I was awake, asking questions, acting as if I understood the answers, but I was completely incapable of forming memories. Perfect. Versed is going in the book.

And this is why, after reading my book, my sister said, “I had no idea you were so twisted.”

The thing is, I’m not. I don’t think. But my characters – they kinda have their own agenda.


10 thoughts on “Researching for Crime Fiction

  1. That is so fantastic, and I so know what you mean when family and friends look at you funny. Shoot all I wanted was a book on common house hold items that could be used to make an explosive.

  2. GREAT POST, Nancy! Way to set the example for all other aspiring writers! I gotta say I try and avoid the technical stuff in my writing, kinda skirt around it, but my research on the other important parts (i.e. overall theme, backbone mythology, etc) is usually thorough. Again, great information and keep up the blog! Oh yeah, you’re probably on a couple of lists, so beware…

  3. Nancy,
    Loved the post! I got this blog off of the crimes loop. I’ve researched handguns, bombs, serial killers, autopsies, poisons, amputation tools. I know if the FBI ever got a hold of my computer, things would NOT be good for me.

    I love writing scenes for my villain’s. And sometimes after I finished writing a scene from the villain’s POV and I read it back to my husband he looks at me like-“Who the hell did I marry?” I’m not that twisted, but on paper…well let’s just say I’m not using my real name for my books. Writing is so much fun… Loved your post!

  4. Love this post…and so nice to meet you, Nancy. I recently had a procedure and was “under” versed. I couldn’t remember a thing, but I asked a ton of questions beforehand. I’m thinking this is a very good drug for writers!
    L. j.

    • Hi, Lucie! It’s great to meet you too. My poor oral surgeon. I’ve been in for a series of procedures, and now I wonder if I’ve been asking the same questions every time. Probably asked at the colonoscopy too. Hah!

  5. Hilarious post! I’ve often wondered if someone was tracking me when researching things online. I’m addicted to Google! I call it the school of Google. And I admit to having a twisted mind. 😀

    I should check out your blog more often.

  6. Thank you, Christina! I still laugh about that day. I probably ask that poor man about Versed every time he gives it to me. Probably asked the colonoscopy people too. 😀

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