Today, as your keystrokes guide your police officer/detective/protagonist through the perils that go hand-in-hand with saving the day, pause for just a moment to consider the lives of real-life officers. Do your characters measure up to a human officer’s abilities? Have you over-written the character? Are they mindless, superheroes? Have you given them human emotions? Is the danger level realistic? Are they believable?

Think about what you’ve seen on this site for the past few years—cordite (NO!), uniforms, handcuffs, Miranda, Glocks, Sig Sauers, edged weapons, defensive tactics, etc. Where do I get the ideas for blog topics? Well, I read a lot. A whole lot. Book after book after book. I read tons of books including books penned by readers of this blog. Therefore, and unfortunately so, I have a near endless supply of fodder for articles—the mistakes writers make in their books (smelling cordite, thumbing off safeties when there aren’t any, etc.).

For example, while pouring over the pages of a wonderfully written book, a paragraph stopped me dead in my tracks.

Wonderfully Written Book

So I backed up to re-read the last few lines to make certain that what I’d read was actually on the page and not my mind playing tricks on my tired eyes. Nope, there it was as plain as day, one of the most impossible, unbelievable means to kill ever written (I won’t go into detail because the book is very new). Then, to make matters even worse, the scene was followed by a few more paragraphs containing incorrect information about the weapons and materials involved in the goofy slaying. Not even close to realism.

Now I have a problem. I really liked this author’s voice. It was fresh, new, and exciting. However, I doubt that I’ll have the courage to pick up another book written by this particular author. Why? Because he/she didn’t bother to check facts. The writer didn’t attempt even the slightest effort to use common sense. Actually, I wondered if they’d ever seen a real-life cop.

Common Sense Works for Lee Child: Writing Believable Make-Believe

One of the best thriller writers of our time, Lee Child, writes a ton of over the top action, but he does so in a way that makes you believe it, even though some of it probably couldn’t happen in real life.

Lee Child – Writers’ Police Academy

I once asked Lee how much research he conducts before writing his books. His answer was (click here to read the entire interview), “Better to ask if I do any research before I write the last word! I don’t do any general research. I depend on things I have already read or seen or internalized, maybe years before.

I ask people about specific details … like I asked you what a rural police chief might have in his trunk.  But in terms of large themes I think it’s difficult to research too close to the time of writing … research is like an iceberg—90% of it needs to be discarded, and it’s hard to do that without perspective.”

So how does Lee make all that wacky action work? He uses common sense. Well, that and more talent in his little finger than I have in my dreams.

Between a rock and a hard place

I cringed when I read the opening line of the first draft of the new series. She’d named me Biff Steele, as if Rod Manly hadn’t been bad enough in the previous books. But names, however cheesy they may be, are not the worst thing that could happen to me. At least my author does her homework, unlike my best friend’s creator.

My pal, poor guy, has lived a really tough life. Not only does he have a name worse than mine—Rocky Hardplace—his psycho-behind-the-keyboard author lives her fantasies through him—killing, bombing, fighting, shooting, and sex … so much sex. Too much sex. SEX, SEX, SEX. It must be all she ever thinks of, day and night. Well, that and how to solve crimes using the dumb stuff she sees on TV shows. Doesn’t she realize that most of those characters are also products of poor research and fantasy?

My writer understands the huge differences between the written word and the on-screen action seen on TV and film. Live-action stuff quite often needs over the top excitement to capture and hold the attention of a viewing audience. TV watchers see events unfold in vivid color. They hear the excitement pumping throughout their living rooms via high-dollar surround sound systems.

Readers, on the other hand, require a carefully planned and plotted mental massaging of each of the senses in order to bring movement and stimulation to what’s nothing more than carefully arranged blots of ink on a page. There are no images within a murder mystery; therefore, the writer must somehow form detailed pictures inside a reader’s mind.

We, as characters who’ve traveled the paths inside the minds of readers, know that each person has a different perception of what they read, and that’s because they draw upon their own past experiences. And this is where Rocky Hardplace’s writer really goofs. She has no experience in the world of cops and robbers so she makes up what should be realistic information, and some of it is totally absurd.

Unfortunately, the poor woman has Rocky tromping about his fictional city while doing some pretty ridiculous stuff—shooting a revolver that spews spent brass, knocking out bad guys with nothing more than a tap to the back of the neck, shooting guns from the hands of serial killers, and her wacky-ass notion that FBI agents ride into town on white horses to solve every murder and kidnapping case. And the cordite … puhleeze!

Thankfully, as I said earlier, my author does her homework. She reads books such as Police Procedure and Investigation, and she’s a regular reader of this blog. She also attends the Writers’ Police Academy.

Yes, my writer is a fictional hero’s dream author. I rarely ever do stupid stuff in my quest to save my city from crime and corruption (Have you ever noticed how much of this stuff goes on in books? I’m thankful that reality isn’t nearly as bad).

My author dresses me nicely. I carry the best guns money can buy. I’m an expert in ten different martial arts styles/systems. I have only super intelligent girlfriends. My work partner is smart, but remains at one level below me. I drive a really cool car. I live in a wonderful beach house. I have a flea-less dog as a best friend. And I have just enough flaws and quirks to keep my fans interested. Yes, my world is perfect.

If only I could convince her to change my name. Biff Steele … yuck.

In 2016, the number of murders in the U.S. rose by 8.6% over the 2015 tally. Overall, violent crime increased over 4%.

Since there’s a lot of talk about assault rifles being a favored weapon of choice among killers, let’s take a moment to examine the number of people murdered with rifles of any kind (Remember, most rifles described as assault rifles are merely everyday rifles wearing fancy do-dads—no extra firepower, etc.).

Each of the above rifles is a Mini-14. They are the same rifle with the same firepower.

In 2016, 17,250 people were murdered. Of the 17,250, 374 victims were shot and killed with a rifle of some type. In comparison, 1,604 people were killed with knives or other edged weapons. Hands, feet, and fists were the instruments used to beat to death 656 people. That’s right, victims were beaten to death far more often than were shot and killed with rifles.

Illinois, for example, saw a total of 941 murders in 2016. Of the 941, only 14 were killed with some type of rifle.

61 were killed with an edged weapon. 62 with “other” weapons. 19 by hands, feet, etc. 780 by handgun or other type of firearm. 762 of the total killings in Illinois occurred in Chicago, by the way.

 

Murders by Rifle (a few random states)

Alabama – 0 by rifle (3 total murders)

California – 37 by rifle (1930 total murders)

District of Columbia – 0 by rifle (136 total murders)

Georgia – 20 by rifle (646 total murders)

Nevada – 2 by rifle (209 total murders)

New York – 2 by rifle (628 total murders).

Texas – 51 by rifle (1459 total murders)

Wyoming – 0 by rifle (19 total murders).


Also in 2016, 57,180 police officers were assaulted. 118 of those officers were killed.

 

Over 32% of the attacks against officers occurred while responding to disturbance calls, with 13.2% of those assaults taking place between the hours of midnight and 2 a.m.

 

62 of the 118 officers were killed with firearms.

19 officers were within five-feet of their attackers when they were killed.

45 of the individuals who killed officers had prior criminal records.

*Source – FBI UCR reports

Stolen passwords. Forged emails. Corrupt files. And … someone hacked into your model JXC3 Dell-Apple SonySung hack-proof computer and swiped your manuscript—the tale about the FBI agent who singlehandedly saves everything under the sun—and sold it to PenguinHouse-Putnam-Holt-Brown for twelve-thousand-million-zillion dollars!

But how could such a thing happen, you ask? After all, you had all the available security measures in place and all were working fine, or so you thought.

Computer hacker

Someone though, most likely a nefarious computer expert from the dark side, somehow bypassed your passwords, the fingerprint and iris scanners, the facial recognition software, and the voice reader, all to take your extremely original story.

I know, it’s difficult to understand. The expert kid at the computer store, the one you overheard telling a coworker about a really tough homework assignment that had to be completed before his dad would loan him the family minivan, said the machine was equipped with the best anti-everything protections that money could buy. A pimply-faced coworker, whose voice was locked in teen change-mode with pitches ranging from deep floor-rumbling bass to a canary on helium, agreed. Foolproof security.

The price of the computer was a meager $899, but with all the add-on security options, though, the price tag came in at just under $11,000. No way anyone should’ve beaten the high-end system. Yet they did.

So what can be done to stop the hacking, the bypassing, the backdoor entries, the stealing of such valuable and original manuscripts?

Heartbeats

Yes, the human heart is the solution to computer security. By using low-level Doppler radar, scientists at a University in Buffalo have developed a system that measures the human heart (no two hearts are identical) and uses those dimensions as your personal identifier. The systems takes about eight seconds to scan your heart and then it continually monitors the beating organ to be sure no one else has stepped in to take over the computer operation. If so, the device shuts down (the computer, not the heart).

The same system is thought to be useful for smartphone operation/security, and at airports to assist with security checks. The system is currently capable of detecting and monitoring a person up to thirty meters away.

What’s next, a heart database? Are we a mere heartbeat away from the government having the capability of monitoring our lives by, well, listening to our heartbeats as we walk or drive past a county “Heartbeat Police Car?”

The Human Heart: A New Sheriff in Town

Will we soon see Heart Police? Will their gun belts be equipped with B/P cuffs and portable EKG machines?

How about heartbeat line-ups?

In the world of make believe, the place that exists in the minds of writers and readers alike, THIS is how the story begins … for the savvy writer. So go full screen, crank up the volume, and hit the play button. Oh, and please do watch to the very end (after the credits). You know how I like twists and surprises!

 

For details – Writers’ Police Academy

 

It’s the year 2525 and yes, man is still alive. Things are different, though, in that scientists  have unlocked the secrets of altering and editing genes.

Experts began gene-altering for the purpose(s) of having the ability to switch on the “good stuff” and turning off “the bad characteristics.”

With this process in full play, the U.S. government (they control all gene altering) hired numerous “gene editors” who were once former employees of major publishing houses.

When the Great Book Plague struck in 2500, well, book editors and agents were left twiddling their thumbs. This transition was a no-brainer. Gotta pay the bills, right?

Red pencil

So, with red pencils in hand and the luxury of never, not ever, having to respond to emails, the former literary folks hopped into their teleporters and zipped over to the DARPA headquarters situated on WIP123, the meteor tethered to the spot where New York City once sat. There, the editors and agents were divided into two groups—one responsible for gene drive and genetic remediation technologies, while the second … vivo therapeutic applications in mammals.

I know, a huge leap from the written word to dealing with live mammals (some of you will recall that literary agents are mostly solitary creatures who often avoid contact with other humans, especially writers). But, upon closer examination, the change is not all that drastic. Think about it. Book editors and agents are tasked with finding the good in a manuscript. Then, using a red pencil they trim away all the bad, leaving behind a desired product.

Genetically altered turtle

The same is true when altering the genes of living things—trim away the bad and leave the good.

This entire process started way back in the year 2017, when the U.S. government awarded DARPA grants to seven teams—The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; Harvard Medical School; Massachusetts General Hospital; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; North Carolina State University; University of California, Berkeley; and University of California, Riverside.

DARPA invested $65 million in the Safe Genes program through 2021.

Those scientists were tasked with collecting empirical data and developing an assortment of versatile tools that would work to support bio-innovation and combat bio-threats. 

The idea was for the seven teams to devise and develop biomolecular “instructions” that provide actual and reversible control of certain genes in living systems. They were also to go even deeper by devising drug-based countermeasures to provide the ability to prevent disease, as well as offering treatment options.

Edited “Tweet”

Gene editing is designed to protect the integrity of the “good genes” in populations of organisms, as well as providing a means of detecting and eliminating unwanted engineered genes.

And …

Okay, enough Sci-Fi. This is happening right now. Today. In the United States.

Those seven teams mentioned above are currently hard at work devising means to switch on and off genome editing in bacteria, mammals, and insects.

Angry mosquito in need of intervention

The plan is to limit or protect against future biological threats, reverse mutations caused by exposure to radiation, develop an “off switch” in mosquito species relevant to human and animal health, gradually improving mosquito performance (little or no malaria), regulating invasive species, target species that spread Zika and Ebola (for example).

The program could go a longs ways toward making the world safer, I guess. But at what cost? Well, other than providing an income for all of those out of work editors and agents … in the year 2525.

So, what are your thoughts about our government having the capability of altering genes to force living things to behave according to the desires of government officials? I know I don’t mind at all. In fact, I signed up as human guinea pig to help further the research. And, you know, I haven’t seen a single thing go wrong. Not one side effect.

 

 

My Friend Cayla is not the typical secret agent. Not even close. In fact, her identity is out there for the world to see and she doesn’t care who knows her capabilities. She’s that good.

Standing at a towering 18 inches and powered by 3AA batteries, Cayla is able to carry on conversations with your children. She can also ramble on and on about herself—likes, dislikes, and even her possible career choices as she grows older.

Yes, Cayla is a doll, a child’s toy labeled as a “mole” and recently banned by the German government because of her ability to spy on the people around her. The country considers the doll to be so harmful that the FNC, Germany’s telecommunications network, issued an order to the public, instructing them to destroy every single Cayla doll in their possession.

My Friend Cayla is NOT Your Friend. She’s a Spy!

The order further instructed parents/Cayla doll owners to fill out a certificate of destruction and have it signed by a legitimate waste-management company official. The signed documents are then to be sent back to the FNA as proof the dolls were indeed destroyed. German law provides for aa potential fine of $26,500 and two years in prison as a general punishment for not following the FNA orders.

Cayla, you see, can be easily hacked by anyone within 30 feet of the dolls transmitting device. And, the Cayla dolls (also included are the i-Q Intelligence Robot) were found to be transmitting audio recordings to a third party specializing in voice recognition for police and military forces.

Ask Cayla if she can be trusted and she responds, “I don’t know.” A future politician, perhaps?

 

Banned in Germany, Cayla dolls are capable of spying on your kids, and you!

The dolls, designed as playmates for children, ask kids for their personal information—name, address, phone number, parent’s names, hometown, names of schools attended, and much more. All this without obtaining parents’ permission to collect the personal data.

The company producing the dolls says there’s nothing shady about the practice of collecting the data, which, they say, is used to enhance the experience of playing with an interactive doll.

Nuance – Dragon Naturally Speaking

Nuance, the company best-known  for Dragon, the speech-to-text dictation software (I used it from time-to-time when writing my book on police procedure and investigation), is also a defense contractor that sells “voice biometric solutions” to the military and to government intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Nuance makes the interactive voice recognition system used in these toys (Cayla dolls, etc.).

Nuance’s privacy policy states “We may use the information that we collect for our internal purposes to develop, tune, enhance, and improve our products and services, and for advertising and marketing consistent with this Privacy Policy.”

It continues, “If you are under 18 or otherwise would be required to have parent or guardian consent to share information with Nuance, you should not send any information about yourself to us.”

How many 6-year-olds will keep that directive in mind when her best friend, Cayla, asks for her mommy’s name and where she works? You’re right – Zero. And, who’s watching for the person who’s truly directing Cayla to ask the questions spouting from her plastic mouth?

After all, it could be the kidnapper/rapist sitting inside the ice cream truck parked at the curb—the creepy guy who just learned from your 9-year-daughter that her mommy will out for a couple of hours, but her 12-year-old sister is babysitting, and sure, they both like ice cream. And, of course she promised her friend Cayla that would not tell mom or dad.

So … as soon as you’re out the door and out of sight, Mr. Stranger arrives at the front door with ice cream, balloons, and candy in hand …

Hackers gain access to these dolls via Bluetooth connection

The dolls are connected to an app (typically a parent sets it up on their phone(s). Once accessed, the dolls are in the control the hacker, and the information received is theirs to do with as they wish.

Voiceprints

Data received and recorded can also be “voiceprint” for future access to “locations” without having to be physically present.

*Source – Consumerist, NPR, Washington Post… and me.

 

Treason is a word we often see in the news and social media and, unfortunately, its use is often, well, absolutely incorrect. Therefore, to save writers the trouble and embarrassment of using the term incorrectly in a work of fiction, here’s the definition of treason, a definition that is quite easily found in the U.S. Constitution.

Treason and Espionage

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.”

Please note the use of the word “only” in the first sentence. It’s there for a reason, to make certain there’s no misunderstanding. The treason law ONLY applies to those individuals who are levying War against them (the U.S.), or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. That’s specific. Quite specific. There’s no wiggle room whatsoever.

Tried and Convicted

So how does one commit treason against the U.S.? Here are examples:

  • In June 1947, Tomoya Kawakita, a U.S. citizen, was tried and convicted for the mistreatment  and abuse of American POWs held by the Japanese during World War II.
  • Mildred Elizabeth Gillars (aka Axis Sally) was convicted of assisting the Nazis by broadcasting propaganda on her radio show. She was an American employed by the Third Reich in Nazi Germany.
  • Iva Ikuko Toguri D’Aquino (aka Tokyo Rose), was tried and convicted of treason for her propaganda radio broadcasts to American troops where American POWs were forced to participate in on-air propaganda messages.
  • In 1948, Robert Henry Best, an American foreign news correspondent who covered events in Europe, was tried and convicted of treason after it was discovered he was a Nazi supporter and broadcaster of Nazi propaganda during World War II.
  • Aaron Burr, third vice president of the United States, was charged with treason after the discovery of his plan to invade Mexico for the purpose of establishing an empire. Now that was an ambitious plan, for sure. However, Burr was a acquitted by Chief Justice John Marshall. In his ruling, Marshall said that to prove treason, “war must actually be levied against the United States … conspiracy (to levy war) is not treason.”

Spies often commit espionage.

Espionage

Remember Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the couple who were prosecuted for giving atomic secrets to the  Soviet Union? The pair was tried and convicted for their crimes, but they weren’t charged with treason because the U.S. and Russia were not at war when they committed their traitorous acts.

Again, the Rosenburgs were NOT charged with treason because the U.S. was NOT at war with Russia at the time. Sure, this occurred during the Cold War, but that’s not an actual war with bombs and missiles and soldiers fighting the enemy. Therefore, the Rosenburgs were instead charged with espionage (spying and/or transferring state secrets to a foreign government). The Rosenburgs were convicted and executed.

So, without going into a lot of detail (especially since details are not in any way available to any of us) and to help writers avoid a mistake, the charge of treason requires far more than a brief meeting to discuss juicy gossip. On the other hand, if Boris and Natasha were present and the U.S. was at actual war with another country, any country, and IF someone aided that country with their efforts against us in that war, well …

Collusion

To continue today’s lesson, Collusion is … click here to read the details.

*I ask that you please reserve political comments for another website or blog because this article is strictly for informational purposes. This is not an op ed piece about politics or politicians. Actually, I’m sick of seeing even one single word about politics (I avoid it at every turn. I do not read political blogs, articles, social media posts, etc.). I delete political comments, by the way. However, I absolutely welcome and encourage discussion. Just not about politics, religion, race, and any of the other hot button topics du jour.

Spies, they’re everywhere!

We’ve all seen those scary media reports of people’s home being robbed, right? You know, the stories describing broken windows and doorjambs and missing televisions and jewelry. Security video sometimes captures intruders raiding innocent refrigerators and pantries, and the thugs (thug – noun: a violent person, especially a criminal) even have the nerve to drink straight from cartons of milk and juice.

Indeed, a home break-in and burglary while you’re away or asleep in your bedroom is a traumatic experience. Believe me, I know from both perspectives, as a detective who investigated more B&E’s than I could possibly count, and as someone whose home was burglarized. Yes, a dumb crook actually broke into the property of a police detective and thought they’d get away with it. Puhleeze.

Anyway, it’s time to quash yet another misuse found in many writings, including works of fiction. Yes, this bit of “wrong” is often seen in mysteries, romance, romantic suspense, thrillers, etc.

So what is this terminology faux pas that so boldly stands on equal ground with the horribly inaccurate use of the nonexistent “odor of cordite?”

It is (hang on to your hats) … the ROBBERY of a house.

To illustrate, let’s have a look at this “news” story. Notice the headline.

HOUSE ROBBED WHILE FAMILY AT MOVIE

Cordite, Va – The home of I. Will Fillemfullalead on Glock Circle in Cordite was robbed last night between the hours of 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. The family was away enjoying a movie at a local theater at the time of the atrocious crime.

The robbers left the Fillemfullalead’s with very little. The Red Cross has offered their assistance.

“When we got home, we saw that our house had been robbed. They took everything, right down to to the kid’s handguns and reloading kits. They even took the goldfish and a brand new box of C-4 we’d planned to use for blowing up a few old stumps in the back yard.” said Mrs. Fillemfullalead. “I hope the police catch them before we do, or there’ll never be a trial.”

Police spokesperson, Captain I. M. Overwait, says investigators have no leads at this time. He vows, though, that his department will catch the robbers.

Okay, does this report sound a bit familiar? How many times have you seen headlines similar to the one above? Well, too many times if you ask me, because a house cannot be robbed. No way, no how. The legal definition of a robbery is this: To take something (property) from a person by force, violence, or threat.

From a PERSON. Not an inanimate object. From a PERSON. Not a building. Not a car. Not a boat. Not a plane. Not even a pic-a-nic baskeet.

Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 11.43.47 AM

So no, Yogi, an inanimate object cannot be robbed. Not even an object as valuable as a picnic baskeet.

A house or business cannot be threatened or intimadated. Nope, there has to be an actual person/human, present. And he/she must have felt threatened and/or intimidated by the robber when the goods were taken.

Therefore, the Fillemfullalead’s home had been burglarized, and their property stolen. Not robbed as the media often mistakenly reports.

Please do keep this in mind when writing your stories.

Many people have asked me to review books on this site, and I’ve resisted for a long time. Well, I finally caved in a while back and agreed to start. Lo and behold, the first book that came my way featured both “the odor of cordite” and a house being robbed. Needless to say, I won’t be reviewing that one.

Now, back to robbery. Here’s a real case that involved, well, see for yourself. It’s tragic to say the least.

In 2012, a Texas teenager, Claudia Hidac, was shot to death during a botched robbery attempt at a local residence. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the girl was found face down at the back door after gunfire broke out during the attempted robbery.

Hidac, the apparent “brains” of the operation, had directed two male accomplices to the residence where at least five people were at home at the time of the incident. One of Hidac’s partners was armed.

One of the three robbers kicked in the back door, and that’s when the exchange of gunfire erupted. The two male accomplices fled the scene, leaving 17-year-old Hidac dead from a shot to the head.

Both male accomplices have since been arrested, tried, and convicted for their parts in the robbery and murder. One, Curtis Fortenberry, 23, pled guilty to killing Claudia Hidic and was sentenced to 33 years in prison. The second man, Terrance Crumley, 23, pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and theft charges and was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Both are eligible for parole, though. Ironically, the man who discovered Hidac’s body was found four months later hogtied and strangled inside a burning car. He’d been murdered, obviously. But that’s a different story.

In the case of Hidac, well, there was clearly a threat to the people inside the home, and force and violence were clearly present at the time the crimes were committed. This was a robbery.

20161116_140411

From Black’s Law Dictionary

No one was at home at the Fillemfullalead household, therefore, their home was burglarized.

Hopefully, I’ve made clear the difference between robbery and burglary.

What’s not clear is what drove Claudia Hidac to plan and commit such a crime.

Claudia Hidac – Facebook photo

 

Does your latest tall tale feature a beginning, middle, and end? How about characters, setting, and dialog? Have you been really creative and inserted lots of sentences composed of various words with various meanings?

If you answered yes to each of the above questions, well,  you’ve taken the appropriate first steps toward accurately writing about cops, crime, and crooks.

Sure, you conduct tons of research by visiting online websites and by participating in your local citizen’s police academy, and those are fantastic resources. But, have you considered going the extra mile by spending a bit of extra research time to develop ways to activate the senses of your readers? After all, using the senses is a huge key to the success of showing, not telling. And the use of the senses creates an emotional connection between the story and the reader.

How does a writer create scenes that ignite a reader’s senses of touch, taste, hearing, smell, and sight? Well, for starters, call on past life experiences.

For example, Patricia Cornwall didn’t invent rain, leaves, or playing fields, but she obviously drew on her memories to create the passage below. It’s a simple scene, but it’s a scene I can picture in my mind as I read. I hear the rain and I feel the cool dampness of the asphalt, grass, and tile roof. The writing also conjures up images of raindrops slaloming down windowpanes, and rushing water sweeping the streets clean of debris. The splashing and buzzing sound of car tires pushing across water-covered roadways.

 “It was raining in Richmond on Friday, June 6. The relentless downpour, which began at dawn, beat the lilies to naked stalks, and blacktop and sidewalks were littered with leaves. There were small rivers in the streets, and newborn ponds on playing fields and lawns. I went to sleep to the sound of water drumming on the slate roof…” ~ Patricia Cornwell, Post Mortem.

Sandra Brown takes us on brief journey through a pasture on a hot day. We know it’s hot because of the insect activity. We also know the heat of the day increases the intensity of the odor of horse manure. And, Brown effectively makes us all want to help Jack watch where he steps.

“Jack crossed the yard and went through a gate, then walked past a large barn and a corral where several horses were eating hay from a trough and whisking flies with their tails. Beyond the corral he opened the gate into a pasture, where he kept on the lookout for cow chips as he moved through the grass.” ~ Sandra Brown, Unspeakable.

Close your eyes for a moment and picture yourself walking into a bar, or restaurant. What do you see? Can you transform those images into a few simple words? How do you choose which words to use? Which words will effectively paint the picture and take the reader with you on your visit to the bar?

Here’s a decent rule of thumb – Write the scene and then remove all of those unnecessary flowery words, especially those that end in “ly.”

Too many “ly” words are often difficult for readers to take in. Besides, they can slow the story and do nothing to further it.

Lee Child is a master when it comes to describing a scene with few words. Here’s a fun exercise. Count the number of times Child uses an “ly” word in the text below. Then consider whether or not you would have used unnecessary “ly” words had you written this scene? Think maybe it’s time to back away from them?

“The bar was a token affair built across the corner of the room. It made a neat sharp triangle about seven or eight feet on a side. It was not really a bar in the sense that anybody was going to sit there and drink anything. It was just a focal point. It was somewhere to keep the liquor bottles. They were crowded three-deep on glass shelves in front of sandblasted mirrors. The register and credit card machine were on the bottom shelf.” ~ Lee Child, Running Blind.

Another example of effectively and masterfully projecting an image into a reader’s mind comes from James Lee Burke. Short. Sweet. And tremendously effective.

“Ida wore a pink skirt and a white blouse with lace on the collar; her arms and the top of her chest were powdered with strawberry freckles.” ~ James Lee Burke, Crusader’s Cross.

Okay, what does all of this have to do with writing about cops, you ask? Well, in the passages above, the authors created a micro world by using a few, but extremely powerful and carefully chosen words. And it’s obvious to the reader that each of the writers has called upon their experiences to write those scenes. They’ve been there and done that, and their imaginations have conjured up memories of things they’ve seen, touched, tasted, heard, and smelled.

Cops live and work in a unique world that’s generally not accessible to the average person, including writers. They experience things that most only, well, read about. And that brings us full circle. How can a writer effectively write, and activate a reader’s senses, about something they’ve only read about?

I think Joseph Wambaugh, one of the best cop-writers of our time, offers a brilliant guideline to follow when writing cops. Wambaugh said, “The best crime stories are not about how cops work on cases. They’re about how cases work on cops.”

Paste Wambaugh’s quote near your computer. Glance it as you write. Keep it in mind while developing law enforcement characters and scenes.

Next, I encourage you to attend local citizen’s police academies and ride-alongs with officers Hang out with cops, interview them, listen to them, watch their mannerisms, etc. Trust me, it’s a world that’s entirely different than the life of someone outside the profession.

Naturally, I highly recommend attending the Writers’ Police Academy. The WPA is carefully and meticulously designed to offer writers the inside experience of what it’s like to be a police officer, investigator, firefighter, EMS personnel, K-9 handler, etc. We do not mix writing craft with hands-on experiences. We feel you can attend any number of excellent writers conferences to get that sort of information. Instead, our focus is on providing writers with the best hands-on academy training available anywhere.

We burn things so you can experience the heat and smoke of structure and car fires. We put you, the writer, in positions where you must make the life and death decisions faced by officers. You’ll feel the rush of adrenaline that comes with car chases and shootouts (you’ll participate in both). You’ll see and experience the emotions felt by officers during stressful situations.

You’ll smell the gunpowder and gun oil. You’ll feel the texture, weight, and recoil of an AR-15 as you fire one at the range. You’ll hear, see, and smell the inside of a state prison in the section that houses the worst of the worst inmates. You’ll see the flashing police lights, hear the sirens, see and hear helicopters landing. The yells of entry teams (you’re a member of the team, by the way) as they storm a building to search for an armed bad guy. You’ll feel your heart thumping against the inside of your chests when you’re placed in a situation where you must instantly decide whether or not to use deadly force.

This, using a real-life experience such as the WPA, or walking through a cow-chip-spattered pasture, is what breathes life into a story.

To sum up:

– Use your experiences to activate the senses of your readers. Let them enjoy tasting, touching, seeing, smelling, and hearing the words on each of your pages.

– Attend the Writers’ Police Academy. It’s the gold standard of providing writers with the absolute best hands-on training available. If attending the WPA is not possible, consider participating in a local citizen’s police academy and/or ride-alongs with on-duty police officers.

– Read books by established authors who write about police officers and investigations. See how they do it.

– Take advantage of your personal life experiences to help transform flat text into a vivid 3D picture or painting.

– Avoid the use of too many “ly” words. Editor Jodie Renner addressed this and other problem areas in an article she wrote for Doug Lyle’s blog. Jodie’s article is titled, Style Blunders in Fiction. By the way, you should follow D.P. Lyle and Jodie Renner.

– Interview and/or chat with cops. Listen to what they have to say and watch their mannerisms. Does Officer G. R. Done hitch up his pants each time he stands? Ask him if the habit is due to gravity tugging on the weight of his gun belt? Does his wince when he slides into his car seat? The slight moment of pain could be caused by a bit of skin caught between the bottom of his vest and gun belt. Yes, it happens and it hurts. But you have to watch for the little things and you have to ask. Those sorts of things are second nature to cops, so they won’t think to tell you about them.

– Finally, remember to refer to Joseph Wambaugh’s words of wisdom.

“The best crime stories are not about how cops work on cases. They’re about how cases work on cops.”

 

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