When many people think of a private investigator, they think “surveillance.” Typical images that come to mind are the PI in his vehicle following a subject’s car through traffic or a PI parked somewhere, watching the subject’s residence or work. If a writer is crafting a city surveillance, she’ll take into consideration such things as the flow of traffic, how closely the PI follows the subject’s vehicle, and possible side streets the PI might take.
But what if your story is set in the country? Or your big-city investigator must travel to a rural area to conduct a surveillance? Here’s some tips from a couple of real-life PIs for writing a rural surveillance starring your fictional PI.
Know the area: In our part of the country, we have some impressive, wide-open stretches of country outside of “the big cities.” When we’re going into a rural area, we’ll first check online maps (for example, MapQuest and Google Earth). Have your fictional PI do the same. We’ve scheduled rural surveillances in areas that are so remote, they don’t even show up in online maps! In such cases, we contact the sheriff’s office for that region and request help with directions and maps.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for more conflict in your story, have your sleuth circling around and attracting unwanted attention in that small town!
Use an appropriate vehicle. Maybe your fictional PI scoots around town in a lime-green VW, but that dog won’t hunt in the country. In a small town, everybody knows everybody else, including what car they drive. A PI will drive a vehicle that blends in, is nondescript and can handle the terrain. Also, avoid using vehicles with identifiers such as decals, vanity plates and bumper stickers. Or maybe you want to write a humorous scene where the town folk all know the pick-up with the “Don't make me go medieval on you” bumper sticker is that city-slicker PI who’s playing undercover.
Why is the PI parked there? A PI can be parked on a country public road and document whatever he sees “in plain view” -- but he’d better have a good reason for being there if someone asks. Most PIs keeps props ready, such as binoculars and a bird guide (pretending she’s a bird watcher), car-repair tools (pretending he’s fixing his car) and so on.
Look the part: Just as a PI wears clothes appropriate to a city location, he’ll wear clothes that blend in to that part of the country/season. When we did a winter rural surveillance in Colorado, we wore jeans, t-shirts, boots and jackets.
Choose useful equipment: It’s always iffy if a cell phone will have adequate transmission in remote areas (which can add a twist to your story), but other equipment can be selected for rural surveillance (cameras with increased optical zoom, video equipment that is functional, portable and low profile). And you never know -- maybe a laptop with wireless connectivity can connect to some farmhouse’s wireless Internet service, which can give your fictional PI access to the Internet.
Thank you, Terry, for hosting us today at Terry’s Place. We’ll be checking in throughout the day, answering any questions readers might have about rural surveillances. On Friday, we’ll randomly pick a name for the visitors to win a Kindle version of How to Write a Dick (owning a Kindle device isn’t necessary because there are free, downloadable Kindle apps for PCs and Macs).
Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman are legal investigators who co-own Highlands Investigations & Legal Services, Inc. in Denver, Colorado. Their non-fiction ebook How to Write a Dick: a Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths is available on Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00595K1UK/