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Monday, February 17, 2014

Burke and Hare

I am not a writer.  A writer puts words down on paper.  As one professor of mine put it, "A writer writes."  That's really all it takes to be a "writer."  No, I am not just a writer.  I'm an engineer.  A story engineer.

When engineering a story, I tend to do my fair share of research.  In today's world, it is all too easy to just go to wikipedia or google and claim you've done the research, and sometimes that works.  But it usually takes more.  Wikipedia is a great source to find viable sources.  It can give you the gist, but little else.  And details, those are the things that a story craves.  Those details may never make it to the final work, but the very fact that you, the writer, know those details will change the feel of your piece.  

In 2006 or 2007 I was doing research for a short story.  It involves a pair of British serial killers, Burke and Hare.  At the time, there was precious little information about them that was easy to find online, and the more I delved into the piece, the more specific the information I needed.  In the end, I somehow tapped into historical records that had been scanned in by hand.  Talk about primary sources!  Later, I revamped the story and was unable to find some of the same sources, but new ones had emerged.

Tonight I am rewriting the story once again in preparation for a contest.  Now when I check Wikipedia, I am bombarded with information about Burke and Hare, Dr. Joseph Bell, the history of hospitals and medical universities in England in the 1830s...  It seems there has been an intense interest in the subject since 2007.

Turns out, there has been.  Now there was a movie made about them back in the 1970s, but it wasn't very popular.  A few minutes ago, while searching Netflix for something to put on in the background while I work, I discovered a new movie, Burke and Hare (2010).  This time they turned it into an all-star black comedy.  Although it has not been highly rated, I am intrigued.  This would indeed be enough to create a resurgence in interest of the two killers.  What did they do right?  What did they do wrong?  I think, however, that I will wait until I am finished rewriting my story before watching it.  The last thing I need is to be influenced by someone else's vision.  My own vision doesn't have room for it.

If you're at all interested in Burke and Hare, or serial killers in general, I highly recommend doing some research into them yourself.  It is fascinating to think of how long they got away with their dirty work and who was willing to turn a blind eye.  It is feasible to set their story in modern times, I think, to illustrate just how little we have come.

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