On Writing & Crime: What's in Your Car?

When I was 18 and living in an apartment with my brother, my Mazda RX-7 that cost me $1,200 and had chipped paint and a window that never went all the way up, was burglarized. I never locked my car. First, I didn’t think there was anything in it worth stealing (who would want to steal my Food Lion apron?). Second, it’s not like now when locking a car requires one push on the key fob (we actually had to insert the key and turn it to lock the car!). And third, since I couldn’t put the window all the way up anyway, what’s was the point?

Well, my unlocked junky car got robbed. They ripped my radio out of the dashboard. And, while they were at it, they stole all my loose change.

While car burglaries aren’t the worst that could happen, it’s no fun to walk out to your car in the morning, ready to go, to discover that it’s happened to you.

Did I start locking my car? No. Now, there REALLY wasn’t anything to steal.

The key fob changed that. I do lock my car these days. But, even so, I don’t keep anything of value in there, if I can help it. My car blanket, a sweater, an umbrella, and yes, loose change. That’s about it.

But, a recent rash of auto burglaries in my city has got me thinking: What’s in your Car?

As far as crimes go, breaking into cars is entry-level, next to shoplifting at Wal-Mart. If you’re the kind of person who steals, you’re going to steal from cars. And because so many people leave their cars unlocked, it’s kind of easy.

What’s surprising really isn’t that thieves steal from cars. The surprising thing is what people keep in their cars, and even more surprising – what they keep in unlocked cars.

Here is a short list of items stolen out of cars in Wilmington in September:

$800, Invisalign braces, $400, a $3,600 calculator, a $3,000 laptop, ammunition, a Glock 9mm handgun, a Smith and Wesson 9mm handgun, $300, Martin Dingham loafers, Sperry shoes, wallets, phones, and purses.

Breaking into cars may be entry-level, but it pays big.

In a rash of auto burglaries over the summer (70 reports over a few nights), 31 guns were taken! 31 guns! Left in cars! Left in unlocked cars! Overnight!

While I’m all for the right to bear arms, they shouldn’t be borne so carelessly. Carelessness is exactly what criminals count on. Instead of protecting themselves against criminals, these gun owners armed them!

Guns, computers, and cash – we should all think about what’s in our cars.

That’s not a bad lesson for fiction writing either – what’s in our cars? A good tool for character development could be: what’s in our character’s car? What have you learned about people based on what the inside of their cars look like? What’s something unusual that a person could keep in her car? And what might happen because of it?

Car burglaries can also get us thinking about crimes of opportunity. In mystery writing, the main crime, usually murder, is premeditated; the plan becomes part of the story. Or the crime is an act of passion or revenge – something in the heat of the moment. What leads to the act makes the story.

Crimes of opportunity, though, are the most common in real life, so why don’t they show up more often in fiction? Maybe because there’s no story there, but there could be. What about a crime of opportunity – like stealing a laptop out of car – that leads to the owner coming after the thief? Maybe the laptop contains trade secrets or information about a political scandal. Oh, the possibilities!

If you want to get to know someone (real or fictional), take a look inside their car.

If you’re looking for your next crime to write about, start where the criminals do – crimes of opportunity – and see how small crimes lead to big ideas.

Oh, and don’t forget – LOCK YOUR CAR!