Many writers have never, not once, set foot inside a police car, nor have they climbed out of bed at 11 p.m. to swap pajamas for a police uniform, Kevlar vest, gun belt, sidearm, and spit-shined shoes. And they’ve not headed out into the night to spend the next eight to twelve hours dealing with the city’s “worst of the worst,” and worse.

Most people have not left home with their family saying, “Be careful, see you when you get home,” and know they’re saying it because they worry the next time they see their loved one will be at their funeral service. “Killed in the line of duty” is what the bloggers and reporters will say.

Sure, you all know what goes on during a police officer’s shift—fights, domestic calls, shootings, stabbings, drug dealers, rapists, and killers of all shapes and sizes.

But what those of you who’ve never “been there, done that” cannot honestly and accurately detail the sounds heard when someone take a shot at you. No, not the actual gunshot. Its the other noises that help bring super-cool details to your stories.

To learn about those sounds, let’s pretend we’re the officer who’s just been the target of a bad guy’s gunfire. We’re chasing the suspect through alleys and paths that wind through dark wooded areas, all while knowing the guy has a gun and he’s definitely not afraid to use it.

Can’t see your hand in front of your face, so you stop and listen. And then it happens …

That eerie calm.

It causes the hairs on the back of your neck to stand tall and straight. Goose bumps come to attention on your arms. A lone pea-sized bead of sweat worms its way down your spine, easing through the space between your pants and the bare skin of your waistline. It feels oddly cool against your fear-warmed flesh.

If this occurred in a movie there would be, of course, background music. So let’s do this right. Hit the play button, take a sip of your coffee, or tea, and then read on to learn about A Cop’s Nighttime Melody.

 

10-4, I’ll take this one …

The call came in as “Shots Fired. Suspect is armed with a handgun and caller advises he is still at the residence and is threatening to kill responding officers.”

I was working the county alone so I asked the dispatcher to request backup from a nearby city and from the state police. The trooper in our county was also working alone. Our roles differed, though. He was out on the interstate writing traffic tickets while I responded to the usual plethora of calls. Either way, we were alone when we approached whatever situation was before us, be it stopping a stolen car with dark tinted windows or heading toward a house where I knew a man was waiting to kill me.

The sound of a police radio is far different when it’s heard late at night as opposed to the same radio traffic during daylight hours. Its an unexplained phenomena. It could be that dark skies and night air create different acoustics. Or that working the graveyard shift forces dispatchers to work really hard to battle “the thing” that comes out at night to squeeze their emotions into submission. They typically lose the fight which results in a manner of speech that’s without feeling, inflection, and dynamics.

Nighttime radio traffic echoes and travels far. It’s weird and out of place among the stars and creamy moonlight. Dispatchers drone on like robots … “Robbery at …” “Wife says husband hit her …” “Lost child …” “Possible drug overdose at …” “Loud music at …” “Peeping Tom at …” “Customer refuses to pay at …” Shoplifter at …” “Dead body in river …” Dead body in park …” “Shots fired …” “Shots fired …” “Man stabbed at …” Shots fired …”

Back to the man who wanted to kill me

I acknowledged the call with a “10-4, I’m en-route.” Then I hooked the radio mic back into the metal “U-shaped” clip connected to the dashboard. Next I pushed one of the many red toggle switches mounted into the center console.

With the push of the button, a faint click occurred simultaneously with the eruption of pulsating blue light. I stepped on the gas and heard the engine come to life. Since I was miles out in the country there was no need for the siren. Not yet.

I pushed the pedal toward the floor until I was cruising along at 70 mph. Believe me, that was pretty fast considering the curvy, hilly road that was before me.

There are no streetlights in the country. It’s super dark. Blue light reflects from trees, shrubbery, houses, mailboxes, passing cars, and telephone poles. It also reflects from the white lines painted on the pavement.

Meanwhile, the radio traffic continues with updates for me and with traffic from city officers and the trooper out on the interstate … “Use caution. Driver of the vehicle is wanted for a homicide in …”

My car radio played in the background. The Oak Ridge Boys went on and on about Bobbie Sue and Elvira while I attempted to straighten the curves by hitting my marks—drive low in the curves, on both sides of the road. Never at the apex. Unless a car is coming in the opposite direction or you cannot see far enough ahead to safely do so.

The blue strobes mounted on top of the car make a clicking sound with the start of each flash. The wig-wag headlamps do the same. The roadway is very uneven with a few cracks and potholes scattered about. They cause the patrol car to dip and roll. The extra pair of handcuffs I and many other cops keep handy by hanging them from the spotlight handle that protrudes from the post between the windshield and driver’s door, sway back and forth and bang together causing a constant click, click, click noise. The sounds are out of sync.

I switched off my lights a ways before reaching the scene—didn’t want to shooter to know  I was there—and stopped my car on the shoulder, a bit down the road from the driveway. I called the dispatcher on the phone to let her know I’d arrived. The use of the phone was in case the bad guy was listening to a scanner. I turned down the volume on my police radio. Way down. Remember, the sound travels far. I wished backup didn’t have to do the same (travel far).

I opened my car door slowly to avoid making any noise. The interior light was not operational—disconnected in police cars to prevent illuminating the officer and/or blinding them to goings-on outside the vehicle.

As I slid from the seat my leather gun belt creaked and squeaked and groaned, as leather does when rubbed against other leather or similar material. To me, the sound was as loud as fourth of July fireworks. My car keys (in my pants pocket) jingled slightly with each step. So I used a hand to hold them against my leg. The other hand was on my pistol.

I walked up to the house to peek into a window before knocking on the door. I wanted to see if I could, well, see anything. But, as I closed in on the side the house a large mixed breed dog stepped into view, showing its teeth and upper gums. The animal with matted-hair and a crooked tail growled one of those slow, easy rumbles that comes from somewhere deep inside. I held out a hand for it to sniff. It backed into the shadows.

A quick peek inside revealed a family of five. A woman with two black eyes and three crying children. Two girls, not quite teenagers, but close, probably, and a wiggling and squirming baby. A man stood near a tattered recliner and tall floor lamp. He held a pump shotgun in his right hand. At the moment, the barrel was aimed toward the floor. He yelled a few obscenities and started to pace. Then he looked straight at me, or at least it seemed like he looked at me.

My heart pounded against the inside of my chest. It bumped so hard I could hear the sound it made with each beat.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

From somewhere deep in the shadows.

Grrrr …….. Growl …..

From inside the home.

A baby crying.

A woman pleads and sobs.

A young girl. “Please, Daddy. No more!”

Sirens wail in the distance, beyond the black tree line that connects sky with earth. Sounds travel further at night, right?

The air-conditioning unit beneath the window snaps on. Its compressor humming and fan whirring. The metal casing rattles slightly. Probably missing a screw or two.

A Cop’s Nighttime Melody Approaches the Finale

I knew what I had to do and started toward the door with my leather shoes and gun belt squeaking and keys jingling and heart thumping. As I reached for the knob I took a deep breath.

The expansion of my chest pulled at the Velcro that held my vest tightly against my torso.

Crackle. Crackle. Crackle.

Right behind me now.

Grrr …. Growl …

Crying.

Screaming. 

Whir.

Thump. Thump. Thump!

Jingle

Squeak.

The door.

Turn and push.

“Drop the gun!”

BANG!

BANG!

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Crying.

And crying.

“10-4. Send the coroner.”

So, my friends, those are the sounds of working the graveyard shift … A Cop’s Nighttime Melody.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*This is a repeat post per request. Thanks!


By the way, we are preparing a big announcement regarding the 2018 Writers’ Police Academy. Believe it or not, the event just became even more exciting. Extremely exciting, actually. Never before offered at a writers conference, or to non-law enforcement. This is big and it’s a fantastic opportunity!

Dreams and even nightmares are often great fodder for a story or scene. Sometimes, though, those nocturnal fantasies are absolutely bizarre and offer no help whatsoever. Not even a tiny twist for an ending.

The image above—a questionable murder, to say the least—is a perfect example of the gaggle of “punctual” characters who, for some reason, show up in my mind from time to time. However, these guys come to me while my eyes are open and I’m wide-freakin-awake. Yep, my brain is a weird one. So are the things found inside, such as …

The renowned 100-yard Em Dash

The em dash is perhaps the most versatile of all punctuation marks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatcha’ gonna do ’bout the puppies?

Colon owners consider semi-colons as mixed breeds, therefore they prefer to keep the two apart. This is to prevent an unfortunate encounter that could result in large litters of periods and commas.

Unfortunate encounters produce large litters of periods and commas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have your ellipses glasses?

Punctuation marks have been known (in my mind) to join together to wreak havoc on the weather.

Periods, in teams of three, attack the sun.

 
 
 
 

Braces for Junior

Braces are also known as curly brackets “{ }”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quotation Marks have places to go!

Commas and periods always go inside the quotation marks in American English; dashes, colons, and semicolons almost always go outside the quotation marks; question marks and exclamation marks sometimes go inside, sometimes stay outside. ~ Grammerly

 

Stop Shouting

In my mind, everyone gets to speak, and to ask questions, without being shouted down. Everyone …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too many questions …

 

What is it that sets writers of crime fiction apart from, well, everyone else in the entire world? Could it be that …

1. The worst murder scene in the world pales in comparison with the thoughts roaming through your mind at any given moment of the day.

2. You actually do wonder what human blood smells like.

3. Somewhere in your house is a book containing photos of crime scenes and/or dead bodies. (Click the book!)

51uTGkVA7kL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

4. You want to ride in the back seat of a police car.

5. Your internet search history has a file all its own at the Department of Homeland Security.

6. At least once in your life you’ve asked your significant other to pose in a certain way so you can see if it’s possible/believable to stab, cut, shoot, hack, or strangle them from a variety of angles.

New-Picture-14

7. You own a pair of handcuffs, and they’re strictly for research purposes.

8. The cop who lives in your neighborhood hides when he/she sees you coming with pen and paper in hand.

sex in a graveyard

9. You attend more police training workshops than what’s required of the police officers in your town.

Lecture Hall – Writers’ Police Academy

10. While other people fall asleep listening to soft music or gentle ocean waves, your sleep machine plays the sounds of police sirens and automatic gunfire.

11. Your favorite bookmark is an actual toe tag from the morgue.

12. Writers in other genres listen to classical music while working. You, however, have a police scanner chattering in the background.

13. When using a large kitchen knife to chop vegetables, your thoughts drift to using an ax to dismember a body.

14. You see a cop and instantly know the caliber and manufacturer of the pistol on his side.

15. You’ve searched high and low for a perfume or cologne that smells like gunpowder.

16. You own a police flashlight.

17. Your screensaver is a photo of a police K-9.

18. The ringtone on your phone is the theme song for the TV show COPS.

19. You think you know more about crime-scene investigations than most of the cops in your city, and you probably do.

20. You’ve registered for the 2018 Writers’ Police Academy because it is without a doubt the most exciting, action-packed, and thrilling experience for writers that’s available anywhere on the planet. And yes, were pleased to announce that a few new spots are now available! So please spread the word.


It’s Saturday night, almost midnight, and your protagonist has arrested a couple of strangers who sort of kind of sound as if they’re speaking English. Sure, every third or fourth word is recognizable, but phrases such as, “If’n you don’t let me go I’ma gonna stomp a mud hole in your ass,” well, they just don’t quite make sense.

The drawl, though, is a dead giveaway. Yep, those folks are from the deep south, where life is just about as fine as … well, you’ll see in a minute.

Still, without an interpreter, your hero’s caught twixt a rock and a hard place. But this ain’t his first hog-callin’, no sir. He’s been in this pre-dict-a-ment afore. So he reaches for his handy-dandy Officer’s Guide To Southern Speak, and within seconds he’s a hootin’ and a hollerin’ with the best of of ’em, including that famous southern lawman, Cap’n Rufus “Peanut” Jenkins.

Cap’n Rufus “Peanut” Jenkins

Now you, too, can join in on the conversation. All you have to do is print out the pocket guide (below) and keep it real handy because you’ll want to know exactly what to do when Bubba Lee Johnson, Jr. says, “If you feel froggy, jump.” Of course, the fact that without warning, Junior spat out his Redman chew—the whole wad—, and snatched off his grease-stained Hank, Jr. t-shirt while puffing out his narrow chest, well, you sort of knew he was ready to fight and his words were a dare for you to make the first move (why they always, always, always tear off the t-shirt is a mystery of the universe, along with black holes and Stonehenge).

Anyway, poke your finger at the print button, ’cause if the good Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I’m fixin’ to help you understand Southern Speak. And to help us out, Bubba Lee is going to share some of his favorite expressions.

Take it away, Bubba …

Mindless Superhero

1) He’s so poor he cain’t pay attention (a person of meager means)

2) D’rectly (in a little while) “I’ll be there d’rectly.”

3) Like white on rice (extremely close to something or someone) “Bobbi Sue is so stuck on Junior she’s like white on rice.”

4) Looks like two bulldogs in a gunny sack (the motion of a female’s rear end is very appealing). “Hey, Junior, look at ‘ol Bobbi Sue over yonder. Looks like two bulldogs in a gunny sack.”

5) Fixin’ (going to). “I’m fixin’ to head down to the liquor store. Y’unt anything?” (See definition of “y’unt,” below).

6) Blessed me out (fussed or cussed). “I got Bobbi Sue pregnant and dang if’n her husband didn’t bless me out.”

7) Like a cow peeing on a flat rock (a downpour). “It’s raining so hard it sounds like a cow peeing on a flat rock.”

8) Slicker than snot (extremely slippery). “That dad-gum snow made my driveway slicker’n snot.”

9) Fine as frog hair (exceptionally nice). “Why, I’m as fine as frog hair. Thanks for asking.”

10) Rode hard and put away wet (looking pretty bad). “Dang, what happened to ‘ol Junior? He looks like he’s been rode hard and put away wet.”

11) Hungry enough to eat the south end of a northbound skunk (famished). “I ain’t eat in three days. I’m hungry enough to the eat the south end of a northbound skunk.”

12) Quieter than a mouse peeing on cotton. Extremely quiet. “It so quiet in here it’s, well, quieter than a mouse peeing on cotton.”

13) Dancing in high cotton (successful/wealthy). “I just got my income tax check and I’m dancing in high cotton.”

14) Stove up (sore muscles). “Dang, Lulu’s old man come in the back door and I hadda run all the way home. Now I’m all stove up.”

15) Nabs (Lance snack crackers). “I’m going to the store to get me a pack of Nabs”.

16) Catfish are carrying canteens. Dry conditions/drought. “It’s so dry the catfish are carrying canteens.”

17) – Disremember (forgot). Write down what I’m tellin’ you, Ralphie Sue, so you won’t disremember it.”

There you have it, 17 expressions your hero is likely to encounter when arresting a southerner. So listen closely and keep this guide handy. And, bless your heart, not everything that sounds nice is a compliment.

Bless your heart – a polite way to deliver an insult. Transforms a positive comment into a negative. “Her baby is really cute, bless her heart.” In the region of the South where I lived and worked for many years, this typically means the little one is basically stomp-down, butt-ugly.

REJECTED!

Therefore, if you’ve queried an agent who resides below “the line,” and their response to your manuscript submission was, “Your writing is wonderful, bless your heart,” well, it might be a good idea to re-think your career choice.

Help is on the Way

To help out (if the rejections become too overwhelming to handle), I’ve listed a few local “HELP WANTED” ads. A couple of them caught my eye, and they need employees right away. The first …

News reporter

Fence painter

Ghost writer for James Patterson

Undercover Writer

Carpenter

Rejected, again.

Paid participant in new drug clinical trials

I don’t think they gave me the placebo …

The letter “D” works overtime in the South

Oh, I almost forgot about the addition of the letter “D” in places it “dudden” belong. I “wadden” gonna mention these but they are an important part of the dialect in some southern locations. It “idden” right, but it is what it is.

Some of you, I know, “hadden” been around many hardcore southerners, so these phrases and words may be a bit furrin’ to you. And, if used anywhere else in the country they simply “wooden” work.

Suppose, for a moment, that Paul Revere had been born and raised in, say, Richmond, Va. If so, locals might have heard him cry out, “To arms, the Briddish is comin’, y’all.” Lawdy, that sounds purdy silly, dudden it?

Fine-lee, I’d like to mention the ever-popular:

  • Lie-berry (library)
  • Cain’t (cannot)
  • Don’t make me no never mind (I don’t care)
  • Cut out the light (turn off the light)
  • Might ought to/Might could (should)
  • Y’unt-to? Rhymes with “punt two.” Like, “Could the kicker punt two footballs at the same time? (Definition – Do you want to?)
  • Lie-berry Ann – (Librarian) “There’s the lady from the lie-berry. I think her name is Ann ’cause my teacher said I have to see the Lie-berry Ann to get the book I need for my report on moonshinin’.”

“Don’t make me no never mind if you go to the lie-berry. I’d go witcha but I cain’t right now. I might could go a bit later, though, if y’unt-to  Hey, don’t forget to cut out the light before you leave. And y’all be careful now, ya’ hear.”


* Before any of you “bless me out,” I lived in the south for nearly 40 years and have heard each of the above more times than I could count. Remember, many terms and expressions may vary from place to place, but I reckon you already knew that, didden you?

By the way, this article brought to my attention just how often frogs are mentioned in southern conversations. That, and their legs are absolutely delicious, so … frog-gigging is a favorite pastime in many locations in the south.

Don’t think you’ll want to participate in this kind of “gig,” Froggy. Unless your band is called The Entrées. In that case, well, plan on staying for dinner.

 

The new grocery store sales flyers are now available and the deals this week are spectacular. In fact, the selections are especially wonderful for writers hoping to spice up their current villains.

So travel past the melons, the seafood, eggs, bacon, and English Muffins, and then take the turn on the far side of the toilet tissue aisle and that’s where you’ll find the real bargains of the week—the ingredients to concoct THE perfect villain.

And, to help out, here’s a tasty recipe to add to your file.

Hurry, we can’t wait to see how your next “dish” turns out!
 

Orange Brown Icon General Recipe Card by Lee Lofland
 

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.

Have you done the unthinkable? Are there words in your latest tale that could send your book straight to someone’s “Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years” pile? How can you avoid such disaster, you ask? Fortunately, following these four simple rules could save the day.

1. Use caution when writing cop slang. What you hear on TV may not be the language used by real police officers. And, what is proper terminology and/or slang in one area may be totally unheard of in another. A great example are the slang terms Vic (Victim), Wit (Witness), and Perp (Perpetrator). These shortened words are NOT universally spoken by all cops. In fact, I think I’m fairly safe in saying the use of these is not typical across the U.S., if at all.

2. Simply because a law enforcement officer wears a shiny star-shaped badge and drives a car bearing a “Sheriff” logo does not mean they are all “sheriffs.” Please, please, please stop writing this in your stories. A sheriff is an elected official who is in charge of the department, and there’s only one per sheriff’s office. The head honcho. The Boss. All others working there are appointed by the sheriff to assist him/her with their duties. Those appointees are called DEPUTY SHERIFFS. Therefore, unless the boss himself shows up at your door to serve you with a jury summons, which is highly unlikely unless you live in a county populated by only three residents, two dogs, and a mule, the LEO’s you see driving around your county are deputies. Andy was the sheriff (the boss) and Barney was his deputy.

3. The rogue detective who’s pulled from a case yet sets out on his own to solve it anyway. I know, it sounds cool, but it’s highly unlikely that an already overworked detective would drop all other cases (and there are many) to embark on some bizarre singlehanded quest to take down the infamous serial killer/cannibal I.B. Cookinppl.

Believe me, most investigators would gladly lighten their case loads by one, or more. Besides, to disobey orders from a superior officer is an excellent means of landing a fun assignment (back in uniform on the graveyard shift ) directing traffic at the intersection of Dumbass and Mistake.

4. Those of you who’ve written scenes where a cocky FBI agent speeds into town to tell the local chief or sheriff to step aside because she’s taking over the murder case du jour…well, get out the bottle of white-out because it doesn’t happen. The same for those scenes where the FBI agent forces the sheriff out of his office so she can set up shop. No. No. And No. The agent would quickly find herself being escorted back to her guvment vehicle.

The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. I’ll say that again. The FBI does not investigate local murder cases. And, in case you misunderstood … the FBI does not investigate local murder cases. Nor do they have the authority to order a sheriff or chief out of their offices. Yeah, right … that would happen in real life (in case you can’t see me right now, I’m giving a big roll of my eyes).

Believable Make-Believe

Okay, I understand you’re writing fiction, which means you get to make up stuff. And that’s cool. However, the stuff you make up must be believable. Not necessarily fact, just believable. Write it so your readers can suspend reality, even if only for a short time Your fans want to trust you, and they’ll go out of their way to give you the benefit of the doubt. Really, they will. But, for goodness sake, give them something to work with—without an info dump, give readers a reason to believe/understand what they’ve just seen on your pages. A tiny morsel of believability goes a long way.

But if you’re going for realism, then please do some real homework. I say this because I recently began reading a book and I’d barely made it halfway through the first chapter when I tossed it into my WRIAMY pile (Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years). This was a ARC a publisher sent me to review, by the way.

It was obvious the author was going for realism, and it was also painfully obvious the writer’s method of research was a couple of quick visits to the internet and maybe a viewing of one or two of the old Police Academy (comedy) movies.

So, is there a WRIAMY pile in your house? Worse … have you written something that could land one of your tales in someone’s “Wouldn’t Read In A Million Years” pile of unreadable books? If so, perhaps it’s time to change your research methods.

A great means to assist in adding realism to your work is to, of course, attend the Writers’ Police Academy! Registration for the 2018 WPA, our 10th anniversary blowout, opens on February 18, 2018. You will not want to miss this thrilling experience. It is THE event of the year!

Good action scenes—car chases, gunfights, and exploding cars and buildings—are great at keeping readers busy turning pages. But, how does your hero survive the barrage of bullets, flames, and KABOOMS?

Are you giving the star of your book a realistic way out of all the tough jams you’ve tossed her way? Is what you’ve written a true tactical maneuver or, did you write yourself into a tired old cliche’ corner? You know what I mean—the karate chop to the wrist that forces the bad guy to drop his weapon. How about this doozy … shooting the gun out of the villain’s hand. Yeah, those things, the things that are not only far-fetched, they’re downright silly.

As writers of fiction it is your job and sworn duty to deliver believable make-believe, and having your character(s) shoot the gun out of someone’s hand is far from achieving that goal. So, you ask, how do real-life heroes avoid meeting untimely ends when confronted with deadly situations? Well, for starters, they should …

– When confronting a long-gun-wielding suspect (shotguns and rifles are long guns) it’s best to have the hero approach from the side. By doing so, your protagonist has forced the crook to turn his entire body toward the approaching hero in order to continue the threat/potential shootout. Otherwise, the thug has no option other than to flee or surrender. And, that movement allows the hero the time needed to react to the threat.

– If possible, place your hero in a good light. By that, I mean to make use of bright lights, such as a setting sun or bright early morning sunlight. The bright light should be at the hero’s back, which makes it extremely difficult for the bad guy to see. Yet, the hero will be able to clearly see the bad guy and his movements. However, don’t allow your protagonist to stand in a position where she/he is backlit, making their silhouette a perfect target.

– It’s okay to have your hero experience a bit of fear because fear heightens our sense of awareness, which in turn increases the likelihood that we’ll do whatever is necessary to survive. However, fear can have a negative effect if allowed to overtake the situation. In short, a little fear is good, but too much fear combined with gunfire is the recipe for a badge-wearing babbling idiot.

– If possible, take a moment to focus on breathing. Yes, breathing properly during a tense situation can help bring things into perspective. It can also help lower the heart rate, and it can prevent fear from morphing into blind rage (sudden bursts of anger could turn into a deadly mistake—not thinking clearly and perhaps rush into a no-win situation). So, by taking a moment to focus on “combat breathing—” breathe in slowly for a count of four, hold your breath for another count of four, and then exhale to a third four-count. Count to four and then start all over again. The heart rate should be noticeably lower after a few repetitions. Of course, I don’t recommend taking the time to perform these deep-breathing exercises during a gunfight with bullets zinging by your ears. It’s been my personal experience that “timeouts” are not allowed during gun battles.

Okay, there you have it. So no more silly karate-chop scenes or shooting guns from bad guy’s hands, right? Good. Then you’re all set.

Don’t Write Your Hero Into the Dreaded Cliche’ Corner!

But, you know, I can’t recall ever seeing an extremely scared, deep-breathing Jack Reacher standing with bright sunlight to his back while walking sideways like crab toward a guy holding an AK-47.

I suppose an occasional fist to the throat, or a boot to the head is permissible, but only if you’re the hero in a Lee Child book. The trouble is, there’s only one Jack Reacher, and there’s definitely only one Lee Child.

Allele – The characteristics of a single copy of a specific gene, or of a single copy of a specific place on a chromosome.

Alternate light source – Special lighting device that help investigators locate and visually enhance items of evidence—body fluids, fingerprints, fibers).

Angle of Impact – The angle at which a drop of blood strikes a surface.

Area of Convergence – The area where, when lines are drawn (or through use of string) through the long axes of blood stains, all points intersect. This point of intersection  indicates the location of the blood source.

Area of Origin – The location from which blood spatter originated.

Backspatter Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from blood drops that traveled in the opposite direction of the external force applied.

Ballistics – Scientific study of the motion of projectiles.

Biological evidence – Physical evidence that originated from a human, plant, or animal.

Blood Clot – A gelatinous mass formed by a combination of red blood cells, fibrinogen, platelets, and other clotting factors.

Bloodstain – An area where blood contacts a surface.

Bloodstain Pattern – A grouping of bloodstains that indicates the manner in which the pattern was distributed.

Bubble Ring – An outline within a bloodstain caused by air in the blood.

Cast-off Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from blood drops released from an object in motion (a bloody hammer or ax, for example).

Chain of custody – The process used to maintain and document the chronological history of the evidence. It is a written record of each person who handled a particular piece of evidence.

Cross-contamination – The unwanted transfer of material between two or more objects. For example, touching an object containing blood and then using the same hand to handle a different item. DNA, blood, etc. could transfer from the original object to the other.

Drip Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from a liquid that dripped onto a surface or into another liquid.

Drip Stain – A bloodstain resulting from a falling drop.

Drip Trail – A bloodstain pattern resulting from the movement of its source.

Edge Characteristic – The physical characteristics of the periphery of a bloodstain.

Electrostatic dust print lifter − A system that applies a high-voltage electrostatic charge on a piece of lifting film, causing dust or residue particles from a print to transfer to the underside of the lifting film. Some of you may remember seeing this in use at the Writers’ Police Academy. (Picture at right – author Donna Andrews – Writers’ Police Academy)

Expiration Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from blood forced by airflow out of the nose, mouth, or a wound. (Expiration – exhalation of breath).

Firing pin/striker – The component/part of a firearm that contacts the ammunition causing it to fire.

Forward Spatter Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from blood drops that traveled in the same direction as the the item causing the force (A baseball bat in motion).

Homogenization – process of preparing tissue for analysis by grinding tissue in amount of water (precisely measured, of course).

Impact Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from an object striking liquid blood.

Impression evidence – Materials that keep the characteristics of other objects that have been pressed against them, such as a footprint in mud.

Latent print – A print that is not visible under normal lighting.

Locard’s Exchange Principle – The theory that every person who enters or leaves an area will deposit or remove physical items from the scene.

Locus – The specific location of a gene on a chromosome; the plural form is loci.

Luminol  – A chemical that exhibits chemiluminescence, a blue glow, when mixed with an oxidizing agent. Luminol is used detect trace amounts of blood left at crime scenes as it reacts with iron found in hemoglobin. Horseradish can leave a flash positive, but its glow is not as bright as the glow produced by blood. Other items could also produce false positives, but they, too, do not glow as brightly as blood.

Magazine – A container that feeds cartridges into the chamber of a firearm.

Mist Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from blood reduced to a fine spray as a result of an applied force.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) – DNA located in the mitochondria found in each cell of a body. Can be used to link a common female ancestor.

Nuclear DNA – DNA located in the nucleus of a cell.

Parent Stain – A bloodstain from which a satellite stain originated.

Post-mortem redistribution – Toxicological phenomenon of an increase in drug concentration after death.

Primer – The chemical composition that, when struck by a firing pin, ignites smokeless powder., NOT CORDITE!

Pistol – A handgun which uses a magazine and ejects fired cartridge cases automatically.

Plasma – The clear, yellowish fluid portion of blood.

Plastic − A type of print that is three-dimensional.

Platelet – An irregularly shaped cell-like particle in the blood that is an important part of blood clotting. Platelets are activated when an injury breaches a blood vessel to break. Platelets then change shape and begin adhering to the broken vessel wall and to each other. This is the start of the clotting process.

Pool – An accumulation of liquid blood on a surface.

Bloodstain pattern investigation workshop #2017WPA

Projected Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from liquid blood that’s leaking while under pressure, such as a spurt or spray.

Revolver – A handgun that has a rotating cylinder. Cartridge casings are not automatically ejected when fired.

Saturation Stain – A bloodstain resulting from the accumulation of liquid blood in an absorbent material, such as clothing or bedding.

Serum Stain – The stain resulting from the liquid portion of blood (serum) that separates during coagulation.

Spatter Stain – A bloodstain resulting from a blood drop dispersed through the air due to an external force (a bullet, bat, hammer, rock, etc.).

Spines – A bloodstain feature resembling rays/lines emanating out from the edge of a blood drop.

Splash Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from a volume of liquid blood that falls and or spills onto a surface.

Swipe Pattern – A bloodstain pattern resulting from the transfer of blood from a blood-stained surface onto another surface, such as the swipe/wipe of a rag or cloth through a bloody area.

Transfer Stain – A bloodstain resulting from contact between a bloodstained surface and another area/item.

Crime Scenes … Watch Your Step!

Transient evidence – Evidence that could lose its evidentiary value if not protected, such as blood, semen, fingerprints exposed to the rain.

Void – An absence of blood in an otherwise continuous bloodstain pattern.

Wipe Pattern – An altered bloodstain pattern caused when an object passes through a wet bloodstain.

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.