I need to learn to think like a criminal in seven days flat, Help!
October 25, 2014 1:23 PM   Subscribe

I am going to pull off a massive bank heist I am doing NanoWrimo and have 3 criminal gangs, one of whom has someone chasing two guys who are low level criminals. The trouble is, I have no idea how people who have fallen into a life of crime, and particularly successful crime, think and act or would act in this situation. If anyone has any advice or sources of information please send it my way.

I am mainly looking for online resources, I probably haven't got time to get through a book before Nano, but suggest any because I can always read it afterwards.

The 3 gangs are:

The Mackenzies
The Johnsons
The Pilkingtons

(all named after their leaders)

In the Novel, the Mackenzie's are after the 2 MCs as Mackenzie wants them dead. Mack has a deal with the Pilkington gang as they are also after the 2 MCs for an unrelated thing, but not to kill them, so if the Pilkingtons catch the MCs they will deal with them and hand the MCs over to Mack. The third gang is the Johnsons, ran by Carla after the death of her husband last November. Carla likes the MCs and despises Mackenzie.

They all want to be the new big boss of the criminal underworld, a role Johnson filled before his death. So I need to have them all deceiving and playing off against each other and am way too simple a person to do this. I also have no idea about how they would go about finding the MCs, what actions they would take. Thanks for any help anyone can give.
posted by marienbad to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry I don't have any sources for your actual question - but maybe you could try posting in the NaNoWriMo forums? Good luck!
posted by rawrberry at 1:58 PM on October 25, 2014

I'd read the plot summaries of old gangster movies on IMDb/wikipedia.
posted by Segundus at 2:00 PM on October 25, 2014

In the Parker novels by Richard Stark (you could do worse than to steal from him), the protagonist is damn near a robot who kills when he has to and fits in otherwise. Notice I said nothing about feelings. The flat and round characters who get their emotional states and motives explored are villains, foils and victims, and for all their interest to the reader, they end up merely reacting to Parker and usually dying from it. Good luck with your novel!
posted by infinitewindow at 2:47 PM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think most criminals who are not mentally ill are essentially rational people (as much as any of us are) who happen to disagree with mainstream society's conception of fairness and morality. They feel that they got a raw deal from society in some way, so they feel in some way justified in throwing off society's rules. They may be smart or dumb generally, but they are at least a little canny when it comes to human relations or business. If they cooperate with other criminals, they are able to follow rules when they want to. They do have a sense of right and wrong, even if it doesn't completely agree with that of mainstream society. They've gotten to where they are based on their circumstances and what they perceive to have been the best choices they could have made at the time. In other words, they don't think all that much differently than law-abiding people. Successful criminals would also have good business and people sense.

The other, rarer, variety of criminal would be the mentally ill kind. Look up descriptions in the DSM for that. (Of course I'm not saying that all mentally ill people become criminals; most don't. Just that a true sociopath might find 'enforcer' to be a fun career choice. Or 'CEO', for that matter.)

And if you're going to have them playing off each other a lot, then I think you need to spend some time sketching out how the world looks from the point of view of each of them, and what they each think of the others.

Source: I read a lot and also think about fairness a lot.

Oh, and you might find 3-way gang movies like Last Man Standing (1996) interesting. (I have not seen/read all of the following, but apparently this is a gangster remake of A Fistful of Dollars which is a western remake of Yojimbo which is a samurai adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's The Red Harvest.)
posted by the big lizard at 3:08 PM on October 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

The way they're going to get caught is by some random person with a marginal connection to the family recognizing them and turning them in for brownie points. Big criminal organizations (my familiarity is with motorcycle gangs) have their thumbs in a lot of pies and have a very large number of two-bit criminals who, essentially, are their subjects.

So, when the word goes out that Boss Pilkington wants the MCs, that will eventually percolate down to the lowest levels. It will be someone like a gas station employee who deals weed on the side and pays tax to the Pilkingtons who will spot the MCs. He won't act out loyalty, he'll act out of self-interest, thinking that catching these two might be his ticket to an actual role in the family. As such, he'll try to act like a hero (slashing their tires or otherwise trying to actually take them prisoner, rather than just calling in their whereabouts) and will likely cock it up.

Once the Pilkingtons have the MCs, the big question will be: what's in it for them in actually honouring their deal with the Mackenzies?
posted by 256 at 3:29 PM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might want to see if you can get hold of court transcripts for trials of people arrested for the sorts of crimes your characters are committing. If they or their associates speak during the trial, it could give you a sense of their voice, and what people say about their background and motivations might be interesting.
posted by lollusc at 4:01 PM on October 25, 2014

When a thief sees something and decides he wants it, it immediately becomes his in his mind, though still in the custody of someone else (the rightful owner). Thus the actual theft is merely claiming his own property.

This observation applies to a person who steal because he is a thief, not someone who steals because he is hungry or desperate or an addict.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:07 PM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you don't have time for books, how about movies?

I'm thinking the Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing (heavily derived from Dashiell Hammett's novel The Glass Key, which you should definitely read when you get a chance),

and Goodfellas (from the non-fiction Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, also worth reading.)

Elmore Leonard wrote quite a few novels from the viewpoint of the criminals - the film & TV adaptions of his work have been of variable quality & faithfulness to the novels, but possibly worth watching if you've got the time, and he's definitely worth reading.

I'm guessing from context that "MC" stands for "Minor Criminal", I don't think you actually spelled that out in your question.

Suggestions just from reading/watching the above & a lot more crime fiction and non-fiction (and from having an occasional conversation with cops - innocent conversations, I swear):

1) There really aren't that many criminals (as a percentage of population) in any given city, and a lot of those are going to be really low-level - street corner drug dealers, people who will grab an unattended backpack or pop a radio out of an unlocked car and need a way to sell the stuff for quick cash, truck drivers who "lose" a TV off a shipment, like that. So there are going to be a limited number of places where "real" criminals hang out and do business, and a limited number of people they know, and there's going to be a lot of "Six Degrees of Separation", where, say, a minor member of the Mackenzies knows a guy who does a little gambling, and that guy's sister is friends with another girl whose cousin is dating a minor member of the Johnsons. And a lot of those people semi-associated with the gangs are going to hang out in the same places and talk to each other.

So a lot of the process of finding someone is you ask various people where the MC's hang out, and eventually someone knows someone who knows that they tend to drink at the DewDrop Inn over on 6th, and then you send someone over there to ask if anyone's seen the MC's lately, and eventually someone knows someone who's pretty sure they saw the MC's getting takeout at the Chinese restaurant over on 57th, and, oh yeah, one of them's got an ex-girlfriend who lives a couple of blocks from there.

Talking to people is how you both spread and collect information.

2) But the collecting & spreading of information has to be asymmetrical and to your advantage - if the MC's know Mack is looking for them to kill them, they're gonna take off to another city. So, for example, Mack makes his arrangement only with the head of the Pilkingtons, and the head only lets the rest of the Pilkingtons know that the MC's are wanted by the Pilkingtons for something fairly innocuous. Then the Pilkingtons go out and start talking to people and asking questions, and eventually someone will know someone who will tell the MC's that the Pilkingtons are looking for them but not for anything serious. So the MC's aren't gonna try too hard to hide from the Pilkingtons because whatever they hear though the rumor mill won't sound like a big deal.

Meanwhile, though, the Johnsons have heard from someone who knows someone that the Pilkingtons are looking for the MC's, so now the Johnsons are also talking to people and asking questions, trying to find the MC's so they can find out a) why the Pilkingtons are looking for them and b) if there's any advantage for the Johnsons in preventing the Pilkingtons from finding them. But the Johnsons are going to be talking to fewer people in hopes that it won't get back to the Pilkingtons that the Johnsons are also looking for the MC's.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:58 PM on October 25, 2014

There is no romanticizing motorcycle gangs, moonshiners or drug dealers, they are a nasty bunch. The criminal world is brutish; the criminal is stupid, violent & selfish.

I have enjoyed No Nonsense Self Defence for its description of the criminal mind:
there are people who live their lives basically 'high-centered' between their anger and committing physical violence. Even though they fear the consequences of violence their anger keeps them perpetually trapped near the borders of physical violence. Such people are usually verbally abusive, unnecessarily aggressive in a social context, socially inept, perpetually on guard against insult and perceived threat and often fantasize about committing physical violence. These people are almost constantly in a state [of] conflict with other people in their lives ... usually over situations that they created through their words and actions. As such these people are almost always in a constant state of hypertension.
Life in the criminal and street underworld by-in-large revolves around a nearly pathological obsession over status and deemed 'respectful' behaviors towards oneself by others. In those circles, not showing a violent person the proper respect is considered a justifiable cause to kill someone.
Literally every negative cliché about criminals tends to come to roost with muggers. They are stupid, lazy, violent and dangerous. Severely diminished IQ -- often bordering just above retardation because of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) --is extremely common among the most violent and dumbest criminals.

And yes, they are often drug addicted. Add onto this that they often come from the most violent, dysfunctional and abusive backgrounds imaginable - and far worse than you can imagine.

But this teenager has a gun. ...on top of a dysfunctional, violent and pathological existence, you also have the self-centeredness, lack of foresight, lack of maturity and emotional capriciousness of a teenager.
I remember reading years ago (meaning I can't provide a reference) about a Mafia employee who was set to watch a doorway. If someone went up to the doorway and knocked, the Mafia guy was supposed to call his boss. That was his only job, and the Mafia provided for him and his family. The article said that the guy was so stupid he was unemployable; he was not capable of participating in modern society on any other basis. As a foot soldier in the criminal army, he would be expected to charge into dangerous situations, but he never had to worry about a paycheck.
posted by ohshenandoah at 5:11 PM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Anything by George V. Higgins (Digger's Game or Friends of Eddy Coyle) will tell you pretty much all you need to know about criminals - at least, white American criminals from the North-East. I can't say how the types extend to Asia but they certainly hold for here, in Europe.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:23 PM on October 26, 2014

« Older How to achieve Calvin's hair with much longer hair   |   What's Arabic for 'Kick Me?' Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.