Friday, November 14, 2008

Wednesday's Penguin Post

Lessons Learned - Confessions of a Rabid Researcher

One of the cool things about writing the Death By books was researching what happens when people die. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a serial killer at heart. I just found the whole dead body thing to be very interesting.

As I dug into researching various methods of murder, I discovered all sorts of fun and gruesome facts. In Death by Bikini, for example, I planned to leave my victim dead on the beach, strangled by the strings of her bikini top. While researching what the results of strangulation might look like, I came across an interesting article about a man who had strangled his wife and then stuck her body in the bathtub to make it looked like she had drowned. Investigators quickly disproved his story because of little pinpoint red marks called petechiae they found on the wife’s face and eyes. Petechiae are the result of blood leaking from the capillaries, which could be caused by the extreme pressure of strangulation, but would not be present from drowning.

Well, I thought I was pretty clever to have discovered this exciting fact, so I tried to work it into the scene where Aphra discovers Bianca’s body. While everyone else was speculating that Bianca drowned, Aphra wisely notes the petechial hemorrhaging on Bianca’s face, proving that she had been strangled. Here’s where the lesson comes in. I had never given Aphra any basis for knowing about petechial hemorrhaging. She’s just an average sixteen-year-old, not a forensic scientist. I never even gave her a keen interest in watching CSI or Bones or anything like that. My attempt to show off my newfound knowledge was obvious and clunky. I had to pull it from the scene.

I still love to research, but now I’m painfully aware of this kind of author intrusion and have to be very careful not to endow my characters with knowledge or sensitivities they haven’t ‘earned.’

Have you ever come across this sort of thing when reading a book or watching a movie? Does it pull you out of the story or do you shrug it off and just enjoy the ride? Inquiring authors want to know!