August 06, 2013

Writing About: A Crime Scene

Trigger Warning: In this post is an image of a woman's bruised face. The bruises are not real.

There are quite a few crime scenes in the fourth book of my (unpublished) series, but even though all crime scenes are different, writing about them requires the same elements every time.

Sight: The most powerful element of a crime scene is what it looks like. Describe the detective’s first steps onto the crime scene starting at the crime scene tape. Is the crime scene in an alley, a hotel room, a house? What does the detective see first? A dumpster, a shattered lamp, a jimmied lock? Imagine that you are walking through the crime scene yourself and you’re seeing everything with your eyes.

Then when your protagonist is in the middle of the crime scene, all eyes are on the victim. Before you begin describing the scene around the victim, tell us what he/she looks like. This can start with their hair color, their clothes, the position they are in, and finally, the wounds on their body. You will have to know all of these details beforehand, so it is best to write out a profile for the victim to help you create a full description, and to make sure you don’t leave a single detail out.

This picture is NOT real! I am using it for visual purposes
to show wounds a victim can have. Also, to raise
awareness for domestic violence.
Image by Chrys Fey.

Finally, you get to dig into the crime scene. Along with knowing the victim before you write, you will also need to know how they died, even if you keep a few secrets. The method of murder most likely will affect the crime scene. For instance, if the victim was shot, there will be bullet casings, blood splatters, and maybe a bullet embedded in a wall or a piece of furniture. Does the suspect leave a message? Was the room/house destroyed? Describe everything, because a crime scene is 360 degrees!

Smell: What the detective smells is also very important, and crime scenes can be especially stinky. Does he/she smell decay, chemicals, gunpowder, or smoke?

Feel: The detective’s thoughts and instincts are very important. Reveal them! Also in the category of feel is the real sense of touch. Does the detective have to touch something? Describe the sensation, but make sure they are wearing gloves!

Hear: Sometimes a crime scene is silent, other times there can be hysterical loved ones, barking dogs, sirens, and/or a television tuned to a talk show.

Taste: I honestly don’t know of a crime scene where a detective will have to actually taste something, but fumes can settle on the tongue.

After you follow your detective through the crime scene, follow them out of it and into their steps to solve the case.

 TIP: Watch movies and crime shows for ideas.

SHARE: Your tips to writing a crime scene.


  1. I haven't written a crime scene yet so I don't have a tip. But sounds, smells and the chill in the air would be the more important aspects for me (after the visual observations, of course). As horrifying as it would be, I'd imagine what the victim felt before he/she died. (And also check for vomit/spit/cigarette butts around the body ... could be the killer's.)

  2. Claudine, those are all good things to look for, and if a writer knows who the killer is in their story before they write the crime scene, they can definitely have the detective look for cigarette butts, etc. Those things would all be a part of their investigation of the scene. :) Thank you for your comment. And for the record, even though you haven't written a crime scene yet, I think you could write a very detailed, chilling one.

  3. This is a great post. Very insightful. I haven't written about a crime scene yet but in a novel idea I have the protagonist will be investigating her mother's murder, so these tips will come in handy. Thanks for sharing!:)

  4. Thank you! It's great to hear from writers who haven't written about a crime scene, but find this post insightful. I'm happy that my tips will help you in the future with your novel idea. Whenever you get around to it, tell me how it goes! :)

  5. thank you for the points I have an assignment due tomorrow that's about describing a crime scene in our imagination and this helped a lot now its done and ready to be turned in.