Killer Stories: Pick Your Poison

grim reaperIf you’re a crime writer, a mystery novelist, or you just need to bump off a character without violence or bloodshed, using poison might be your cup of tea…or maybe in their cup of tea.

Sometimes writers think it’s easy to just pick out any poison and use it to kill off their characters…but it’s not that simple. Some poisons work more slowly while others are almost instantaneous; some have strong flavors or don’t dissolve in liquid; some are more easily accessible than others. And that just scratches the surface.

The point is that you need to do some research to make sure the poison you choose works in your scenario.

What doesn’t work…

Say you pop a belladonna berry into your character’s smoothie, then have him thrashing about in agony before blood spurts from his mouth in a final gruesome death scene. Well, there’s one problem with that – small amounts of diluted belladonna are actually used for medicinal purposes and wouldn’t cause death, let alone a dramatically violent death.

Or maybe your character lives in the northeastern US and you have her picking wild sneezeweed in a city park. The problem is that sneezeweed only grows naturally in portions of the western US and only at certain elevations.

So as you can see, you need research to make your story believable.

How to make it work…

Research, plain and simple. But be careful of your sources because some websites haven’t double- and triple-checked their information – they’re just taking the first thing they come across as gospel, and some of that comes from forum discussions where “facts” are debated and debatable. Find reputable sources and double- or triple-check that information.

Here are a few sites we’ve found helpful:

~ – just put in the name of the poison orpoison hemlock poisonous plant you’re interested in, and you’ll find out everything from where it’s grown to how it works.

~ Some gardening websites, like Gardening Know How.

~ Poison Control: lists common and dangerous poisons.

~ USDA has an entire section on poisonous plants.

~ ListVerse: 10 Poisons Used To Kill People.

~ Earth-Kind Landscaping: lists common poisonous plants AND the parts of each plant that are toxic.

There are others, of course, but these can get you started.

One word of caution – always, always double check (at the very least) information you get from Wikipedia. Wiki entries can be modified by just about anyone, so you never know if the information you’re getting is 100% accurate.

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