I am quick to admit that I don’t know everything. Although I know a lot, there are some areas where I have absolutely zero expertise. That’s when research comes into play. With the wonders of technology, you can often find the answers to questions with a few clicks. But that may not give you the complete picture.
Over the years I’ve met many people with unique backgrounds. There was a young woman at a writer’s conference who was a forensic scientist with the state police. Her specialty was paint chips. She could analyze the minute fragments from a hit and run auto accident and give you details on the make, model and year of the car involved. She became a great resource for many of my bizarre questions. So talking with people about their occupations or their hobbies can help fill in background details for characters and their actions.
Personality traits can be difficult. Sometimes you can get a glimpse into a person’s behavior just by observing them for a few minutes.
Here’s an example from last week. We attended a holiday hand bell concert at a local church. The pews were tightly packed as the performance began. Sitting beside me was a middle age woman obsessed with her smart phone. At one point she thrust both arms in the air to capture on video a couple of children dancing in the aisle. In her excitement, she nearly smacked me in the head. As soon as the number was completed, she took to social media to tell all of the people in her world what she’d witnessed. She spent so much time on her phone that she rarely looked up to enjoy the performance. And it was very distracting to everyone around her.
I know absolutely nothing about this woman. But her annoying behavior bordered on obsession. Which no doubt will be included as a character trait in the future.
Here’s an excerpt from “Your Turn to Die” that’s an example of the research.
In this scene, Chene stops in at the Cyber Unit to see what the crew has learned from analyzing the victim’s devices.
Yekovich led me down the hall to where his team of technicians were working. He stopped beside a skinny young woman whose platinum blonde hair was cut in ragged lengths and dyed several different colors. Her fingers were dancing across the keyboard like a concert pianist. I noticed a rainbow of colors on her nails. The cubicle was decorated with action figures and drawings of comic book heroes.
“Pinky, this is Chene. He’s the lead on the Morrissey case.”
The fingers stopped their dance and she swiveled around to face me. “I heard of you. Nice to finally meet.”
“Thanks. I’m hoping you’ve uncovered some secrets.”
She thumped a silver polished nail on the counter. “Most of the files in the system are strictly business. Proposals, spreadsheets, income statements, that kind of stuff. I’m almost done with the first pass. Then I’ll go through it again, looking for anything that was recently deleted, rough drafts of documents, internet history and all that.”
Pinky shrugged. “It’s all good background. Financial figures reflect a profitable operation. Lots of promotional events with some video and still photos. No ghosts or shadows that look suspicious. But we have a long way to go. There are drives that were shared throughout the company and a couple of ones only Morrissey had access to. I’m going to focus on those today.”
“Was the system backed up internally on a server?”
Pinky flashed a quick smile. “Pretty good, Sarge. No, it was cloud based. I’ve already hacked his password. That’s on my list as well.”
Yekovich chimed in. “Anything on that email Kozlowski flagged?”
She shifted her eyes to him. “The numbers for the senders account appear to be a random jumble. But that could mean something to whoever created it. This looks like it was only used to send that one message.”
“Aren’t most email accounts linked to a phone number?” I asked.
“Yes, but chances are this one was tied to a disposable phone. It’s not active. Whatever details I can pull will be in the report.”
“What time was the message sent?”
Pinky swung back to her keyboard and clicked away. “It showed up in his email account at exactly nine in the morning.”
No other questions came to mind. I thanked Pinky and let her get back to work. Yekovich walked me outside.
“Don’t let appearances fool you, Chene. She’s one of the sharpest people I’ve got. Some kind of computer wizard.”
“Pinky taught herself how to write code when she was twelve. Started a business at fourteen designing websites. Got her degree in computer science from Lawrence Tech at sixteen and a Master’s degree by the time she hit eighteen. Like I said, she’s sharp.”
“So how did you land her? With that type of talent, she could name her price and work anywhere.”
Yekovich grinned. “Turns out she’s a mystery junkie. Loves the idea of using her computer skills to fight crime.”
“Yeah, I noticed the action figure theme.”
“A couple of the guys call her Batgirl. I think she encourages it.”
I drummed my fingers on the roof of the car. “Ask her to focus on that email account. There’s got to be something tangible in that message.”
“Will do. Good hunting, Chene.”
Music this week comes from Stevie Ray Vaughan