Creating Fictional Characters Using Forensic Science Occupations
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN: January 15, 2019
In criminal investigations, you have several people who play pivotal roles. Crime scene investigation is all about collecting evidence that will help formulate what crime may have occurred, time of the crime, who committed the crime, where the crime was committed, and why the crime was committed.
When crafting your crime thriller, you have several forensic occupational options for your protagonist or antagonist to choose from.
Your protagonist doesn’t just have to be a detective solving the case...maybe you want to write a series from the perspective of the medical examiner, or anthropologist, or perhaps from the perspective of the crime scene photographer. And the same for your bad guy. He can be one of the same people trying to solve the crimes, uhh does Dexter ring a bell?
I have put together a list of a few forensic jobs that may suit your character well. This list doesn’t even come close to the many positions that are in the criminal justice/forensic area. These are some of the ones that I feel may translate to creating a unique MC or a bad guy. If none of these suit your needs, research and find something else.
The point is, you can think outside the box when developing your character’s identity.
Criminology is literally the study of crime. Criminology is considered a social science, and because of that, a criminologist studies crime with the impartiality of a scientist.
They find the cause of crime and impact of crime to better understand what motivates the criminal. Basically, they find out what makes a criminal tick.
They do this via the study of economics, sociology, and political science. Most criminologists don’t need a specific criminology degree. A lot of criminologists are researchers. Most will even seek to be a professor.
CRIME SCENE PHOTOGRAPHER
A crime scene photographer’s job is to photograph the crime scene. Pretty simple, huh? Not really. The integrity of evidence is an integral part of the criminal justice system, few things even come close to that one aspect. These photographs are almost always used in a trial. Items will often get moved around after the body is removed by the ME from the crime scene, and these photographs are paramount to the preservation of the crime scene and evidence.
Crime scene photographers tend to work with law enforcement, almost exclusively.
If you want to write a paranormal crime mystery, using this as a profession for your character may work very well. After all, how many creepy photos have you seen on TV of ghosts and shit? Just think of the possibilities you can come up with.
First, what is computer forensics? Computer forensics is the study of digital forensic media found on computers and how that pertains to crimes and criminal acts.
If you do choose to have your character have this skill, be forewarned that individuals will need knowledge of encryption, varieties of computer operating systems, network systems, server administration, and data retrieval and removal software.
Activities that your computer geek will do may include, ethical hacking, (Or unethical hacking, if you choose that), he will be well versed in protecting data confidentiality and will provide oral and written communications to courts or legal teams as needed. He will have knowledge of how to preserve digital evidence that is acquired during searches both on-site and in the lab.
Your character will also need a degree in forensic science along with advanced knowledge of Information Technology.
FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST / ME
Forensic pathologist/ME are fully qualified physicians who specialize in examining bodies to determine the cause of death. Medical examiners conduct autopsies, figure out the manner of death, time of death, and cause of death. Even though most of the pathologist's work is done in a lab setting, they do visit crime scenes and appear in court.
If you choose this profession, you will need an excellent understanding of medical crap. All things medical. So be prepared to do a lot of research.
Forensic toxicologists are experts on poison and poisoning. They identify substances (dose of and exposure to) in a victim and the adverse effects that the substance had on the victim and the victim’s death.
They are responsible for testing blood and tissue samples for traces of alcohol, drugs, poison, and other substances.
This profession does require a background in chemistry or biology. They tend to work in the lab, but they can also be called to a crime scene for the collection of evidence.
Something to be aware of, if you make your character, MC or bad guy, a forensic toxicologist, they are detail orientated and work well under pressure.
Bones, one of my favorite shows. That, in a nutshell, is a forensic anthropologist. They examine human remains and determine how a person died. Anthropologists will also gather vital statistics about the person including sex, age, and possibly other information such as health status, all from the bones.
They usually retain full-time jobs with universities or museums and then consult with law enforcement. Using this type of character as your MC offers a lot of leeways. Especially since they would be able to operate without the confines of the law.
I like this character. My new book uses a profiler who has a degree in psychology. He has a lot of issues too…but I digress. A forensic psychologist studies human behavior, criminology, and the legal system. They often deal directly with offenders, defendants, victims, attorneys, law enforcement, or with patients in state corrections or rehabilitation centers.
You can use this type of character in so many ways. They can work within the confines of law enforcement, such as my characters FBI Agent Dillon McGrath or FBI Agent Derek Reed do, or maybe you want them to be a consultant not employed with law enforcement. The possibilities for using this type of character are wide open.
You may not think of this as a good MC, but consider what a forensic nurse does.
These nurses specialize in giving care and support to victims of trauma or crime. They are also the first line in evidence gathering from these victims. They have a working knowledge of the legalities that deal with identifying, assessing, and documenting injuries. This documentation will most likely be used in legal proceedings.
Your character would need to be a registered nurse. On top of that, they will need to have a certificate in forensic nursing. This can be obtained from the International Association of Forensic Nurses, which offers board certification. Some will even achieve a master’s or doctoral in forensic nursing.
Forensic accountants are numbers crunchers on speed. They investigate financial fraud and meticulously look over financial records and documents searching for irregularities. Their findings are used to assist law enforcement agencies with the prosecution of white-collar crimes and large criminal organizations.
Forensic accounting techniques are used often to discover embezzlement, fraud, and money laundering. These individuals are highly sought after by law enforcement, and the position requires a great deal of advanced coursework and specialty training.
The people who maintain these jobs have a high level of attention-to-detail. Keep in mind, individuals in this career path will have an advanced degree in accounting and will have knowledge of criminal justice procedures, especially if they are working in the law enforcement field.
I bet you’re thinking of an artist who either creates sketches based on eyewitness accounts, or documents closed courtroom proceedings through their drawings. And while this is all true, they also can do a whole host of other things.
Some forensic artists employ high-level technology to identify skeletal remains and put a face to nothing but a skull.
Some perform facial reconstruction (Forensic Facial Reconstruction) using clay, wax, or plastic applied directly to a clean skull. Thus allowing them to identify missing and murdered persons who may not otherwise get found. They are also called on to testify to their findings in court, so an understanding of law enforcement will help.
Many are full-time police officers or have other law enforcement jobs, performing these sketches or reconstructions as part of their other work. However, in larger cities, there may be a need for a full-time forensic artist.
Hopefully, these professions give you endless possibilities for creating characters for your crime fiction novel. But, if you’re going to choose one of these professions for any of your characters, make sure you do your research. Make sure you know what they had to study and what degree they may or may not need, and how much experience is required to pull off what you want them to do.