Instant Messaging isn’t new but there was a time it didn’t exist. In 2000, people turned to online desktop programmes for their first IM experience. These clever bits of code allowed anyone with the same IM program to exchange messages without delay. My villain uses a private IM that I wrote into SEETHINGS so they can secretly contact their intended victims without delay too.
There are many modern IM equivalents (Instant Messaging [programmes]). From Facebook to SMS, life is built around IMs. What isn’t normal is a private IM, one that’s designed for only two people, only seen on two devices. The victims become surprised when they see a different IM pop up on their screen, but pleasantly so. They think it’s fun and cute. Later, they appreciate them in a different way because they want their online conversations to remain private. They have just as many secrets to keep hidden from their spouses as the killer does from them.
It comes down to sneaking a tiny piece of code onto their E-technology. My villain is cunning and extremely patient. After waiting a suitable amount of time and gaining the trust of their intended target, they ask them to take their discussion over to email. The recipient opens the first and only email and then the code that’s hidden inside it self-installs an IM onto the victim’s device. Once activated, it’s ready to communicate incognito and virtually untraceable when investigations begin.
Where did this IM idea come from?
In 2001, I created my first real-life personal pop-up IM (like the old ICQ IM) to contact my wife. Did I say create? I meant, download. I downloaded a simple pop-up programme from Tucows (it was called Tiny Pop-Up or Cosy Chat or something like that). My office was at one end of the home and hers was at the other. I needed a way to send her a message without yelling all the time, so I searched for something that could help me do it via our computers:
“Do you want tea now?”
“Have you finished?”
She’d write back:
“Give me half an hour.”
Our personal pop-up IM helped us keep track of each other’s day and it became an invaluable tool that we used right up until we had mobile phones. When writing SEETHINGS, I thought to include a special private IM into its story to connect two secret, yet married, lovers. That old IM was designed for computers on a closed network but it could’ve easily been adapted to the online world. In fiction, that’s what I did. This small IM gets delivered to a victim’s computer via a packet of hidden code. It also deletes itself when it’s no longer required. All traces of the IM vanishes along with any messages it conveyed.
I hear what you’re thinking: “That’s nice but digital communication leaves a digital trail.”
But the story is complex and an IM that deletes itself isn’t the key to the story. It’s just one of the many processes undertaken to protect our villain’s identity. The greater hurdle for investigators is to establish a connection between the victims. Not all of them meet their killer on dating apps. In fact, only one does — and the victims come from different walks of life. They don’t look the same, share similar interests or move in common circles. It’s only their secretive second life that links them — and a private IM that doesn’t exist. Only YOU know about it because of this post.
There’s more to the story but this is a start to understanding the technical side of it.
Before you think SEETHINGS is a book of techno-babble, trust me, it’s not. It’s about love, lust, marriage, secret affairs, trust, loyalty, commitment, needs, wants, feelings and emotions. Murder is the book’s end result but the people involved in it need a way to connect. The Internet is an obvious choice. A secret IM adds intrigue for the reader while keeping the investigators in the narrative guessing. It also helps delay the inevitable.
But when it comes to great dark fiction, inevitable could mean the opposite of what you’d expect. Will it lead to the good over evil cliche or something more explosive that you never saw coming?
Five women’s bodies are discovered after the nights of thunderstorms. Their spouses are suspected of the crimes, but it becomes clear that someone else is responsible. There’s no blood and few clues. A storm photographer specialising in taking lightning pictures may be the only witness.
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