• "Hello? ...Um, Is anybody in there?" Tactically Clearing a Building Info for Writers

    Photo found publicly on FB no atribution
    I thought today we could go over room clearing so you writers can write it right. I'm trying to type that with a straight face. 

    This is not something that comes naturally, no matter how many times your heroine has watched cops do it on TV. The layperson in your plotline is going to act the fool. Don't believe me?

    Rebecca and I tried our best as we trained under Captain Randy Shepherd's patient tutelage. But have we got stories to tell!

    So Rebecca - I thought it would be the easiest task in the world: clear an apartment. It didn't even have furniture in  it for the bad guy to hide behind. But in actuality, it isn't  all that easy is it?

    As I remember you died a few times.

    Rebecca shooting her paper to death

    Rebecca -
    Thanks for pointing that out. Four times, if I counted correctly.

    I think I have the "what not to do" covered.

    Fiona - 

    Let's start with - what is room clearing. 

    The "room clearing" is the methodical procedure police and military follow to sweep through each room in the building, checking all the nooks and crannies, closets and bathroom showers for bad guys.

    Rebecca - 
    Our instructor was Captain Randy Shepherd, and he started us off from the perspective of officers responding to a 911 call about a door ajar in the middle of the day.

    Of course there can be any number of reasons for that....

    So the team that responds comes at it from the position of a threat being on the other side of that door, and they need to not only identify the threat(s) but neutralize it as well protect any victims in danger.

    Fiona - 
    The team doesn't just burst through the door guns-a blazin' There is prep work outside. 

    * They gather what intel they can. 
    * They dress in their protective gear including kevlar - with
    * They choose their weapons 
    * They try to get an idea about what the  inside layout of the floor
       plan might be.
    * They discuss their strategy.

    Now, if this is law enforcement, one person is in charge and will signal his team what to do. The team needs to trust the skill level of their fellow team mates. I think Randy got shot in the head once - but he said it was only a flesh wound. Fingers off the triggers folks!

    Fiona - 
    Luckily, for our training exercise  we were using a little rubber gun so no harm no foul - how about I buy you a drink?

    So there we were on a four man team. As the lead decides it's time to go in, she signals her intent.

    This is the standard hand signal poster. I'm providing it for your writerly use LINK but please note we were only trying to master three signals - none of which are on this poster. They were: 
    a) Crossed fingers for cross over
    b) A hooked finger to mean "button hook" or move around the door
       frame and work on the same side of the room
    c) Thumbs up means clear.

    The leader will make a decision about  how to proceed and use hand signals to communicate this with the team.

    Then the lead will bounce (mini-squat). On the third bounce it's a go!

    So... we were awful. Some of us laughed hysterically and didn't enter. Some were completely freaked out even though it was an empty apartment, and had a full on anxiety attack/adrenaline dump.

    Some were following the squats and hooks and still got shot in the head. Rebecca would you like to talk about why someone might get shot while clearing a room?

    Rebecca - 
    Let's see.... the FIRST time I was shot was when I went charging across the room to clear a closet for my partner... and didn't notice the first perp standing right by the door. Bam.

    The SECOND bullet I took was when I cleared the first closet in the room, and turned around to see a scary bathroom shower at my back. Bam.

    After that, I decided to sit back and let another pair take the lead.
    I felt a headache coming on....

    The THIRD bullet to my head at the building search exercise was when I was moving aside to open a door for another on my team... at which point I looked over my shoulder to the "bad guy" hiding in the pantry with her gun trained on me.

    The four of us in our group were a bit slow in figuring out who would take the lead... and once the point person started directing the second with a buttonhook or crisscross gesture, that person missed the cue and things started moving fast.

    One of the biggest take homes for me was how FAST the whole process is.

    A couple of seconds per room by a team of two, while a second team clears a room across the hall. Perfectly synchronized, deadly, silent.

    Fiona - 
    My team was extremely cautious, but that's not how it happens in real life. The police don't have the luxury of time. It is very very fast. Point and clear, run forward. 

    It would be easy to miss the bad guy huddling in the shadow. Even play acting - it was a nerve racking experience. We knew there were no real bullets or sharp knife points coming at us. The responder on the other hand does not. My respect for law enforcement and our soldiers went up a thousand fold when I tried the apartment clearing exercise.

    Fiona (cont)
    I was one of the people who got to hide and jump out. I hid behind an open door. One thing that the officers would do is look through crack behind the door to see if someone is there. Now, I stood as close to the doorknob as I could to keep the door jam crack clear of my shadow or my bulk. I killed the chicklet coming around the door - but Randy Shepherd said he always slams the door open. If he was on lead, I'd have a broken nose.

    Yay for small favors.

    From what we learned clearing as a group with safety equipment - why don't you tell us about how you applied this knowledge when you had an apparent intruder in your garage?

    Rebecca -
    Ah, the real reason you wanted to do this interview with me!

    Can't believe you remembered that... you mean the night I was home alone, my cats were going berserk, and then I heard what sounded like a ceramic planter scraping across the concrete floor of my garage behind me? Oh man.

    I must be a cat. Nine lives, I tell ya.

    Because four deaths was not enough...

    Actually, my daughter was asleep in her room, I wasn't home alone....

    I didn't have a weapon handy other than a kubaton on my key ring and a butcher knife in my kitchen, so I grabbed the knife in one hand and had 911 punched in on my phone... and stood just inside with my ear pressed to the door. Duh.

    Because there's no way anyone would ever burst through the door, right?

    No sounds (other than my head throbbing with my heart), and I decided it would be brilliant to use the element of surprise and throw the door open!

    Of course, that was after I flipped on the light behind me in the doorway. It wasn't until I stood silhouetted in the doorway, looking into the pitch black garage while holding a butcher knife, that it occurred to me I probably shouldve made some different decisions...

    Fiona - 
    Wow! Rebecca how'd that work out for you? LOL
    From your TRAINING what might you have done differently if you actually wanted to live through the experience?

    Rebecca - 
    Graphic found publicly on FB

    I should have stood to the side of the doorframe (a la WPA building search).

    And I should have been wearing Randy's Kevlar vest...

    Or a helmet...

    A shield....

    A team of four trained officers to shove me aside and take over....

    Fiona -
    Yes, please.

    Okay, lets actually talk about that. You have training. You're a smart girl. You did everything wrong. From a real life perspective walk me through your thought process and why you did so many stupid things?

    (PS readers - Rebecca is a very dear friend - so I can tell her the truth here - as a matter of fact, I yelled at her about all of this)

    Rebecca - 
    You're lucky I love you so much.

    The goal was to defend my home and my daughter against someone who'd snuck into my garage.

    The only weapon I could think of was a kitchen knife. So I ran back to the kitchen, grabbed my butcher knife, and then stood just inside the door to listen.


    The cats had been acting strange, so I really was worried someone had come in the side door (which is right next to my kiddo's window where she was sleeping).

    I knew from WPA that I had to move fast, so no slowly creaking door opening.

    ... I knew I had to open the door fast. Of course, I threw it open without thinking about the lighting situation. The light overhead did nothing to illuminate the shadows in the garage, and as soon as I flung that door open I realized I was a sitting duck.

    Dumb dumb dumb.

    I had my phone ready to go, but I didn't want to bother the police.

    In hindsight, I could've called, a unit might've come by, we would've chatted for ten minutes, and my address would be reason for a few laughs down the line. No harm, no foul, as you say, Fiona.

    But, I believed it was nothing really, and so I decided to handle it myself.

    Thank God it was nothing more than one of the killer palmetto bugs.  (Those suckers are BIG! Don't laugh til you've come face to face with 'em.)

    Fiona -
    Let me just interject here that Rebecca is not faint of heart
    You can read about how she jumped out of a plane HERE

    In hindsight - and in preparation for your next bug-in-the-garage scenario - how do you plan to handle this next time?

    Make a plan, practice the plan, execute the plan (good tactical living)

    Rebecca -
    Since then, I've been working on becoming a harder target: trimming trees and shrubs back from the outside of my house in preparation for activating the alarm system (yes, the peace of mind is worth the cost).

    And since then, I've been attending the local PD's citizen's training academy, which has been a great experience on so many levels -- not the least of which is that I'd feel much more comfortable calling for an officer in a similar situation.

    (You just had to toss out the skydiving video, did ya? Just wait -- I'll get you up there some day.)

    Fiona -
    Only if I am just coming out of surgery and still highly sedated.

    Rebecca -
    That can be arranged!

    Fiona - 
    The sky is def, my limit.

    Okay folks you want to see for yourselves? Repetition Repetition Repetition. Get it right, or you die. 

    Video Quick Study (3:57) SWAT UK training.
    Video Quick Study (5:21) Clearing your home by yourself
    Video Study (14:50)  Husband and wife training for home invasion. See just how hard it is - even with your hero/heroine trained - to function in a high adrenaline/high stress scenario.

    To learn more about Randy Shepherd:
    * Go HERE for Sniper
    * Go HERE for Breech entry with explosives

    If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. I moderate for spam so it will take a little while to see your comment. If my blogs are helpful to you, why not share them with your friends? Social buttons are conveniently below. Happy plotting.


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  • Familial DNA: An Unusual Way for Your Inspector to Find the Perp - Information for Writers

    I was recently chatting with David Swykert about some of the stories he'd come across while at work as a 9-1-1 operator. He introduced me to a new concept, familial DNA.

    First, David, would you please introduce yourself?

    David - 
    I am a retired 911 operator living in northern Kentucky. I also worked as an operations manager for a large transportation company and as part of my job investigated accidents. I worked as an emergency operator for the Department of Public Safety in northern Michigan until 2006. I have written in several different genres, mystery, romance, and even some literary, short fiction and novels. I have five published novels.

    Fiona - 
    How did you first learn about familial DNA in crime cases?

    David - 
    I first heard about Familial DNA from the officer that was our CSI for our department. It's simply a DNA search that turns up no exact match, so you ask the computer for the closest match.

    Fiona -
    If you need a quick brush up on DNA in crime scenes go  HERE

    So the DNA found at a scene that did not match any of the DNA that was in the computer bank. The officer would then task the computer to find as close a match as possible, hoping to find the general family from which the possible perpetrator belonged. Is there precedent for this?

    David - Yes. Lonnie David Franklin, deemed The Grim Sleeper, because of the length of time in between murders committed by him. There was never any DNA at any of the crime scenes that identified Franklin. 

    The investigators found him by running a Familial DNA search which turned up his son, who was a convicted felon. This led the investigators to Franklin. 

    After Franklin's arrest, the investigators tested Franklin and his DNA was a match with that found at the crime scene. 

    He was caught the summer of 2009. But this case is just going to trial perhaps this year (2014). There have been volumes of appeals and briefs filed because there was never any direct evidence that connected Franklin to the crimes, and defense lawyers contend his investigation based on someone else DNA was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights concerning illegal search and seizures.

    The argument is: the inspectors had no direct evidence that connected Franklin to the crime before they investigated him.

    When you run a persons records, you have to have a law enforcement purpose that allows the search, the defense contended they didn't have one. 

    The courts have ruled so far in favor of the prosecution, and the trial is moving forward. But it will get appealed to higher courts. The Fourth Amendment protects you against unusual search and seizure, but of course there can be very broad interpretations of what this means.

    Fiona - 
    What are the arguments against using familial DNA?

    David - 
    Civil Libertarians argue that using someone else's DNA to justify investigating someone else violates the Fourth Amendment that protects us against "unreasonable" search and seizure. They see this as "unreasonable." 

    I really don't think an officer can "abuse" the technique. In defense, the lawyers can always ask to see who's DNA caused the detectives to investigate a defendant, discover whether that DNA close to the perpetrators, and ask about probable cause. 

    Amazon Link
    When I heard about familial DNA searches,  I thought it would be a great hook for a crime story, which I wrote in early 2009 just before LAPD caught The Grim Sleeper using the technique.

    I'm surprised crime writers haven't written a lot of books regarding the use of the technique. In mine, they catch him, but the D.A. isn't sure they can prosecute him successfully, which causes my detective, Bonnie, a lot of consternation. She knows he did it, but perhaps he can't be convicted. Which could happen out in LA. That's just getting started.
    Fiona - 
    Let's talk about your book. Can you give a synopsis?

    David - 
    This is a fictional story about Detroit Homicide Detective Bonnie Benham, who convinces the District Attorney to allow a Familial DNA search as she investigates the murder of several young girls. 

    The book reveals standard investigative homicide procedures and the frustration of the officers as all leads go nowhere and the body count continues to mount. A task force is put together and Bonnie and her partner, Neil Jensen, who understands Bonnie’s frustration, become inseparable as they track this killer of children.

    Fiona - 
    I had never heard of familial DNA prior to your book, while it will probably be more prominent as the trials catch the imagination of writers. If a writer wants to include this twist in their plot line can you give us any more information about the process?

    David - 
    It's no different than a DNA search, except the lab expands the search to include DNA that is close to the DNA profile from the crime scene. The investigators then investigate the people the expanded search includes. 

    Last time I checked there were only two states in the U.S. that even have a policy regarding it's use, Colorado, and California, Michigan, where my story is set, is not one of them. 

    What I thought would be the hook for my story is the old: I know he did it, but I can't prove it. It took from 2009 until this year for the courts to get The Grim Sleeper into a courtroom, and this case will perhaps set precedence for the future use of the technique. I think the rest of the states are waiting to see the outcome before they write a policy.

    Fiona -
    What do you hope the outcome will be?

    David - 
    I want to see the guilty convicted. DNA profiling has worked both ways, it's freed a lot of innocent people. As unique as DNA is, I would hope the courts decide if the DNA is close enough to a match this constitutes a reasonable search. 

    I'm not an expert on the scientific profiling of DNA, but I would think they can set parameters that the profile must meet, a standard, which when met, allows indicates that it is reasonable to investigate this person. 

    I believe ultimately the courts will allow its use. Fingerprinting isn't absolute, and they allow it entered as evidence. So there is already precedence.

    Fiona - 
    David, thank you so much for chatting with us today - I can almost hear all of the cogs starting to 
    whir in the minds of mystery writers.

    And thank you Readers/Writers for stopping by. If you have questions or comments please leave them below. I do moderate for SPAM so please be patient while I get your comments up. Also, if you find my blog to be helpful, please share! Social buttons conveniently below. Happy plotting.


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  • Pedal to the Metal: High Speed Chases for Writers with Inspector Karen Lynch

    Fiona - 
    Today, Karen Lynch is visiting us from her home on the West Coast. Karen, would you please tell ThrillWriting about your background?

    Karen - 
    I was born in San Francisco and graduated from UC Berkeley in 1980. At that time the headlines read much as they have in recent history, "graduates face worse job market since Great Depression." I had no safety net, no family to rely on, and my marketable skills were minimal. I was also a feminist and had read a lot about women being recently allowed into law enforcement. Many men interviewed felt women were too weak and emotional to do the job. I was a stubborn 21 year old, quite physically strong, and I had a little chip on my shoulder. I ended up applying, going from my college Renaissance Bar serving wench job to working street patrol. 

    My first years were working uniform patrol in San Francisco's downtown, the parts of town I had lived in....Chinatown, North Beach, Fisherman's Wharf, the Tenderloin, and Financial District. At 30, I was promoted to "Inspector" a rank known as "Detective" in other cities, and was sent to the investigations bureau. There I worked Sex Crimes investigations, Accident, and traffic related investigations, and finally ended my career as a Homicide Inspector.

    I retired after 29 years on the force, leaving sooner than I had planned because of a bout with breast cancer.

    Fiona - 
    Today, we're talking about high speed chases.

    Under what circumstances are police officers allowed to conduct a high speed car chase.

    Karen -
    When a cop is chasing a speeding vehicle, she must be constantly asking if the value of capturing the criminal/speeder is greater than the risk to life and property. 

    Most departments have greatly restricted their parameters for allowable times to continue pursuit. I can only speak for my own jurisdiction, San Francisco, but it is not at all unusual for a sergeant to call off a pursuit when she feels it is simply not worth the danger to the public. 

    Back in the 80's we chased anyone who ran from us, and the chase continued, often ending in the suspect hitting a parked car or something. By the time I retired, cops had reduced the number of chases they were in. They might start chasing a red light violator, but if it became dangerous to the public, they would shut down the chase. 

    Generally, the only chases that continue for long periods of time now, are those with dangerous fleeing felons,or reckless drivers who are causing a hazard

    Fiona -
    How fast can a cop drive in a chase? And how do they acquire their skills?

    Karen -
    I'm not aware of any specific speed limits enforced on officers.

    Obviously, the cop has to drive nearly as fast as the violator just to keep him in sight. Again, once a chase begins, a sergeant is required to monitor the action. She might come over the radio and ask the speed....if she deems it too dangerous, she may shut it down. 

    In the old days, there were chases right out of the movie Bullitt.....just crazy fast and dangerous. In the end, no cop wants to hurt an innocent person, or die pursuing someone for something trivial, so things are much less wild on the streets today. 

    San Francisco cops receive excellent EVOC training. (Emergency Vehicle Operations Course)
    Video Quick Study (2:45) car camera of officers training.

    The instructors have been highly trained in race car driving skills. We do about two weeks of training in the academy. In my day, a track was set up at Treasure Island, and we chased a "suspect" around learning counter-steering skills, Code 3 driving (Code 3 means using red lights and sirens), basic maneuvering skills. 

    We all needed to learn to back and park the "wagon" a large transport van, not many had driven before. 

    The most enjoyable and memorable part of the driving training was the "skid pan". One day they flooded the lot with soap flakes, and we drove around at high speeds going into skids and donuts and learning how to correct our steering. Over the years, we would return to the academy for in service training and our skills would be refreshed. By the 90's the department purchased excellent simulators that allowed us to hone our skills without having to set up a big track.

    Fiona -
    What if they hit a county or state line? I'm thinking Dukes of Hazard here.

    Karen - 
    Once a chase enters a new jurisdiction, the dispatcher notifies that town, and usually one of their officers will follow the chase until we leave their jurisdiction. If we crash and burn on their turf, then their department is now part of the mess....if we just drive through, they become a footnote, as in, Daly City Officer sos and so also joined the pursuit from X to Y.....then we entered San Bruno where Officer blah blah....all of that is part of the report, but ultimately the cops who started the whole mess are stuck with the report/arrests/clean up, etc.

    Fiona - 
    When you get a call for an accident, and you head in sirens blaring, what are the first steps that one takes?

    Karen -
    Well, as an inspector/detective we tend NOT to respond Code 3. 

    We come after the first responders, and they are generally stabilizing victims, assessing if a crime is involved, taking witness statements, towing cars. We come as this is happening....not Code 3, but generally expedited driving. The inspector then takes over the scene. 

    To read more about crash scene forensics go HERE

    Fiona -
    Okay, let's say you are in a car chase, and the runner hits a person or a person's car. What does the officer do? Continue to follow or stop and process the accident scene?

    Karen -
    The officer would continue the pursuit and another officer and ambulance would respond to assist the victims.

    Fiona -
    Have you ever done a real life chase?

    Karen -

    Oh yes! sadly I was in dozens of them as a patrol officer.

    Most of them involved stolen cars, but there were many crimes involved in a variety of chases. 

    Fiona -
    I'm wondering about the physical and emotional aspect of a chase. How might an officer feel? What goes through their mind?

    Karen -

    A police chase is one of the most stressful, adrenaline provoking situations on officer can be in. In some ways, it's worse than an officer involved shooting, at least, in the short term, because it can go on for in some cases hours! 

    We've had chases half-way across the state. The entire time, as the driver, your adrenaline is maxed out. I personally felt borderline panic at times, though some cops love the high of the excitement. 

    The entire time I am praying the driver will stop before someone gets hurt. You fear your brother/sister cops will crash into each other trying to get to your assistance, and you don't want that on your shoulders. When you're 25, maybe you think it's fun and exciting. Grow up a bit, have a child or two, and a police chase is your worst nightmare.

    As a passenger it is equally stressful....your life is in your partner's hands, and you sure as hell better trust his/her driving ability. The passenger is responsible for the radio....giving the ever changing locations and advising other cops the safest avenues of approach, etc. 

    Fiona -
    Do you think that seeing as many vehicle accidents as you have, that that too comes into play? You know exactly what can happen to you and that has to be somewhere in your mind?

    Karen -

    Without a doubt, we have seen the horrible damage two tons of crushed steel can do to a human....but consciously, I don't think that is going through our minds....we are in that lizard brain fight or flight thing. 

    Fiona - 
    Do police cars have special protections for crashes.

    Karen - 
    Police cars are probably less safe than the average vehicle because we have all this computer equipment, etc to be impaled on. I have lost more that a few co-workers to vehicular accidents, and annually more cops are killed in car related incidents than gun or any other means.

    Fiona - 
    Let's move forward to your book. This is a memoire. What aspects of your book do you think would be helpful for a writer in learning what makes a good cop?

    Karen -
    Good Cop, Bad Daughter gives a really clear insider's view of the making of a rookie cop. 


    There are many chapters about things my friends had no idea we had to do. For instance, at one point we were all put in an army quonset hut and gassed with CS canisters. This gas makes you feel as if you will die, though it cannot in fact kill you. Before that training day arrives, the anxiety builds to such a point, some recruits quit the day before. We were also required to practice the carotid restraint (choke hold) on each other, and the instructor actually put a classmate to sleep with the hold. We all lived in fear of the instructor using us to demonstrate the hold, because one potential consequence is defecation or urinating....so there was fear of pain, coupled with humiliation. I would say the most common response I get from readers is something along the line, "I had no idea what you had to go through to be a cop." 

    I would just say any reader who enjoys memoir in the tradition of "The Glass Castle" etc, or anyone interested in police training, how cops live, growing up with a bi-polar mother....any such reader will most likely enjoy GC, BD....reviewers say it is a page-turner.

    Fiona - 
    Thank you kindly for all you have shared, Karen. 

    And thank you, ThrillWriting readers/writers. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. I moderate for SPAM so be patient about seeing your comments posted. Also, if this blog is helpful to you, I'd appreciate it if you could help spread the word by sharing. Social button conveniently below. Happy plotting.

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  • Firearms, Self-Defense, and the Law: Information for Writers Plotting a Gun Scene

    Image found publicly on Facebook
    Your heroine is in a spot she could never -
    would never - imagine finding herself. Sure, when she bought her gun  it was with the thought that it was for  self-protection - but it was a distant thought, one that didn't comport real conviction. Now here she was loading her ten precious silver bullets into her magazine, sliding it into place, ready to take out the werewolf pacing outside her bedroom door.

    In your fictional work, laws don't just go away. You will need to research the area in which your heroine lives and have her come to some decisions about her own conduct. In Janet Evanoviche's Stephanie Plum series, Plum disobeys the law by carrying a concealed gun - that she has no intention of shooting or even brandishing. Plum relies on the fact that she has dumb-luck (and a hunky police investigator boyfriend) on her side to keep out of jail.

    What choices will your heroine make? 

    Legal or Illegal? How does your heroine get a gun in her hand?
     * If she is buying a gun she must  fill out BATF form 4473. 
        This form includes information a bout the buyer, the serial
        number, and a description of the firearm. (Not applicable to
        private sales - obviously, if your heroine is getting it from 
        Crud Murphy in the back alley, she won't be filling out a form)
     * There are legal reasons why your heroine may not be able to
        follow the straight and narrow. It is illegal for her to buy a gun if 
        she :
         ^ Was convicted of domestic violence
         ^ Has ever had a court ordered restraint
         ^ Was a United States Citizens then renounced their
         ^ Was discharged from the armed forces dishonorably
         ^ Is addicted to a controlled substance
         ^ Is illegally in the U.S.
         ^ Is fugitive from the law
         ^ Was convicted of or under indictment for a crime that carries
            over  a year in jail.

    Legally possessing and legally transporting a gun are two different things.

    Federal law prohibits guns in federal buildings such as
       post offices, some military installations, some public lands.
    * The area your heroine lives will determine if she can open carry,
       conceal carry, whether she can only have her gun in her home or
       if she can have it in her yard/on her property.
    * Gun safety laws are important to how you lay out your plot line.
       If your heroine's jurisdiction  requires her to have a gun lock - can
       she get access to it in time?  Especially under high-stress 
       circumstances? Remember that  violent acts usually happen close 
       and quick. Did she prepare for  that by having her bedroom set up
       like a safe room with steel  doors? Does she decide to ignore the
       law and keep the gun under h er pillow? You might just have her
       shoot the serial killer and  have her butt dragged to jail. Isn't that 
       an interesting twist?

    Image found publicly on Facebook

    The Use of Deadly Force in Self Defense

    The "Reasonable Man" Standard - What would a reasonable man (or heroine) do in a given situation. This is the standard that is placed before a jury. What seems reasonable to a person in the heat of the moment - with tunnel vision and other physiological and psychological factors running amok - may not seem so reasonable to those 12 who are rendering a verdict.

    Reasonable Force -  The amount of force your heroine uses to defend herself can't exceed what is called for to get out of the situation. If the heroine hit the guy on the noggin with her fry pan, she can't pull out her gun and shoot the unconscious villain in the head to have it over with. While she may feel it's a reasonable response after all the heartache he's caused her, the courts would disagree.

    Use of Deadly Force 
    Image found publicly on Facebook
    - In order to lawfully use deadly force. Your heroine must be the innocent victim of an imminent attack that threatens her life or the lives of those around her (her children for example). The threat has to be deadly and not about property. Sometimes other responses are requires by law - living outside of D.C. I would be required to attempt a retreat prior to using force, for example.

    Brandishing - Is when your heroine displays her firearm in a threatening or aggressive manner; this action is illegal for the most part. Let's assume for a minute that your heroine is confronted by her crazy ex who hisses in her ear, "I'm coming after you. I'll toy with you then kill you and laugh as I burn your body." YIPES! Your heroine cannot pull out her gun and point it at him and say, "I'll be waiting." 1) that's brandishing and 2) that's provoking which means that if he does come after her, she is not an innocent party. So if anyone heard that exchange, she's in deep doo-doo if his body is splayed across her kitchen floor.

    Castle Doctrine - "a man's home is his castle" and he has every right to defend it. This is the law in many jurisdictions such as Texas. In your home  you are not required to retreat from an attacker. Also, in some places this law protects you wherever you are staying such as a hotel or friend's house.

    Cessation of Threat - Your heroine is entitled to use deadly force against the attacker as long as she is still being threatened. If the zombie fled, surrendered, or collapsed in a pile of entrails, lethal force must stop.

    So Your Heroine Shot the Bad Guy, Now What?

    * In all jurisdictions if a shooting results in injury or death it will be
       investigated by the police.
    * Anything your heroine says can be used against her
    * She has the right to be quiet - though she may not have the right
       mental  state to exercise her right. But sometimes less is more
       until  she  talks to her attorney. Yes, she is going to need one.
    * If your heroine knew the person or quarreled with the person
       even if she was protecting herself - she may have acted illegally.
       (though many will say they'd rather be tried by 12 then carried by
       6) your heroine needs to think about that in advance and take
       precautions. In the trial was her only precaution to buy a gun and
       take one-on-one classes in quick draw? Uh-oh. Putting in a
       security system, getting a dog, putting up lights, filing for a 
       restraining order all of the OTHER steps she took to harden her 
       surrounding against attack will go in her favor.
    * Your heroine is not going to get a pat on the back and a 
       handkerchief handed to her. She will probably be arrested, 
       booked, fingerprinted, and photographed. She will be put in a
       cell  where she will wait until charges are dropped or bail posted. 
       This  could take several days.
    * The police may take the heroine's gun and any other gun in the 
       house since she is a suspect in a homicide (or if the villain lives
       she will have committed  assault with a deadly weapon). And if
       the villain lives, his side of  the story might be vastly different
       than  your heroine's. (ballistic forensics LINK)
    * They will probably fire her guns for ballistic impressions if they 
       are trying to make a case against her.

    * An area where a shooting took place may (probably will be)
       treated as a crime scene. As the police run through their normal
       evidence collection (crime scene 101 information), they will
       cordon off the area and only the police will have access. This can
       go on for days or even weeks. Does your heroine have someplace
       else to stay?

    * If your heroine carries in a state that requires a gun permit, she
       may have that permit suspended. Uh-oh. She killed the villain 
       and  now his brothers are after her in retribution. Now what 
       choices is she going to make? 

    * Criminal Trial - is possible

    * Civil Suit is almost inevitable - as the family steps forward and
       tries to sue your heroine for killing their sweet baby. Just the
       legal  bills will be thousands. (Check state law.)

    I hope everything turns out great for your heroine and she gets to live happily ever after. Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments you can leave them below. If you find my blog articles to be helpful, I'd appreciate you helping me spread the word by using one of the social buttons below. I truly appreciate it. Happy plotting!

    As always, this is a non-political site that is geared to help writers write it right. I am presenting information to help develop fictional characters and fictional scenes. In no way am I advocating any position or personal decision.
    Information for this blog article comes from NRA Guide to the Basics of Personal Protection in the Home, (2000) National Rifle Association of America
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  • Them's Fightin' Words! Writing Fight Scenes Right with AJ Scudiere

    Fight Scene Example 3
    Fight Scene Example 3 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
    I recently met AJ Scudiere at the Writers' Police Academy where she helped to demonstrate how to remove a gun from someone's  hand and just how lethal a knife can be.

    AJ, can you tell the ThrillWriting crowd about your background?

    AJ - 
    I was a dancer for over 20 years, pointe, modern, tap, etc. as a performer, teacher and choreographer. Now, I'm a writer, with 6 released books and over 20 best fiction or suspense of the year awards.

    Fiona -
    Very nice to have you. What a treat. Our topic du jour is getting a fat lip. Let's talk about reading first. AJ, when you read fight scenes, what makes you skim over the words?

    *Obvious writer techniques for breaks in action - like the character
      pulls the trigger, and we stop for a mental review in a way that
      doesn't flow. 
    * When I start rooting for the antagonist because the hero gets
       really dumb all of a sudden and doesn't even know it.
    * And sudden shifts in character, setting or even gravity i.e. we
       need a knife, so our southern housewife was just carrying one
       down a dark alley for no reason.

    Fiona - 
    YES! Or suddenly has a skill-set that takes years of practice to develop.

    BTW, t his Southern housewife ALWAYS carries a knife down dark alleys.  

    Can you talk about pacing? What are some effective pacing points you can offer so that the fight has the desired impact?

    AJ -
    There's a common saying that fast things happen slow and slow things happen fast, and while that's a good general rule, it can be tiring to read something consistently set up that way. 

    I find good writing reflects what's going on in the scene: introspection gets long sentences with heavier clauses and bigger vocabulary. Fights often go by with short, clipped sentence structure. This is often a good time to use fragments, commands, and other very short pieces. Vocab should stay short and ideally even contain words with sharp or harsh sounds when read aloud.

    Fiona - 

    Can you give us some fight scene sentence examples?

    Fight Scene Example 2
    Fight Scene Example 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
    His fist was lead as it plowed into her cheek.  She reeled. Gulped for air.

    Fiona - 
    How do you like to lead into and out of fight scenes? 

    I know it's not formulaic - but there is a decided shift in real life fight events (to read about the body language of aggression, go HERE)   you're eyeing your opponent, experiencing feelings, and then there's a trigger...

    AJ -
    This really plays back to that tunnel vision Eli Jackson was talking about. (See Eli Jackson's blog article HERE) When I shift into fight mode (IF I shift--sometimes I just open a chapter in a fight) then the scene starts wide and narrows. I tend to follow the characters' thoughts. So in many cases, there's a house, a room, a scene. Then as the fight begins, things shift scope. There's a lamp we can grab and wield if necessary. The gun at our back (or not, depending on how things go down) . . .

    Fiona - 
    A fight scene is short on the page but long in planning - can you walk me through the process (knowing that you have a sister-ninja at the ready).

    AJ -
    I literally walk through the scene. My family likes to ask if it's a new dance. They usually get a dirty look from me, then get told to join me, so they can play my victim or something. I'll ask/make my husband stand with his arm out in a punch so I can see if I can grab his arm and how much effort it would take to pull or push someone his size. I also head down to the karate school and grab my two favorite ninjas (one is my sis, both are avid readers) to walk a scene for me. I always know what I want before I go in, and I always find out I'm either wrong, off base, or really had no idea what I wanted.

    Fiona - 
    LOL - I was just working with a co-author over Skype and telling him about slicing an artery. He would NOT believe me. So I grabbed a daughter (2nd degree black belt) and a marker and told her to act out the scene to show him how she'd fall. My writing partner was horrified. So much fun!

    AJ - 
    Yup - that's pretty much it. I don't understand why other people don't see how much fun it is. Afterward, I say thank you and happily bop up the stairs to my office and proceed to murder folks on paper. Good times. 

    Fiona - 
    You are helping to put together the writing/fighting weekend - what kinds of things as a writer did you feel it was important to make sure were included - the things every fight-scene writer should experience rather than make up in their imagination?

    AJ -
    I've added more of the "who" to have. I.E. we need someone who will teach X because so many writers use this type of weapon in their story. I'm on a handful of writers' forums, and I see the questions writers are asking. I'm making sure we are addressing fight needs across genres. Also, I'm making sure our writing classes fit writers' needs, too. Not just a big name to come in and tell a funny story but to teach something specific about fight writing.

    Fiona -
    What are some of the most common questions that writers ask about fight scenes - AND what weapons are they asking about. 

    AJ - 
    Right now, everyone is clamoring for longsword. Not only do we have longsword teachers and demos, we have several eras represented. Though no one asked outright about this second topic, the one that most makes writers light up is when we mention our physicist who will be teaching about lasers and a separate class for space/anti-gravity fighting.

    Fiona - 
    Whoop! A physicist teaching AND anti-gravity fighting!!!

    When you're writing a fight scene, how much research do you do? And, what does research look like to you?

    AJ - 
    It takes a lot more to get it right than people think. I can swim, but I don't jump in the pool and think I'm Michael Phelps. 

    A lot of people don't realize that when writers slap things on paper, we get called on it, just the same way anyone else does when not giving their craft/job the work it requires. 

    It's my job to get it right. And I work really hard to make sure that everyone, fighters included, can read my books and not get pulled out of the story by errors.

    (Watermelon) Citrullus lanatus
    (Watermelon) Citrullus lanatus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
    Research takes many 
    forms. In a lot of cases it can be done at the computer and involves reading or watching videos. 

    But whenever I can, I go hands on. I lived in a firehouse for a while, and went on every call. I went into a police station and interviewed people at all different positions as well as rode along for over 24 hours. I shoot things, I break into my own house, and I've murdered a handful of watermelons.

    Fiona - 
    Can you tell me the story behind your favorite scar? (If no scar, then favorite harrowing story.)

    AJ - 
    No scars really. calluses on feet from spinning on hardwood barefoot for years.

    Most harrowing story: I was in the the grocery store (with my then 6mo old infant) when two masked men came in and gunned down the two Brinks Guards there to pick up the daily cash. It was planned, they were never caught, and it happened 8 feet away from me. 

    I learned that, no, you won't necessarily recognize gunfire when you hear it. And that traumatic situations are just that . . . shocking, out of nowhere, and very disjointed in our interpretations of them

    Fiona - 

    Since you were there as a mother - what did you do first?

    AJ -
    I ran first. Major props go out to the store personnel who knew what they were doing. 

    They filtered everyone out through the back door in a relatively orderly fashion considering the multiple murder at the front of the store. I'm pretty calm in a tough situation, so I carefully unhooked the car seat from the cart. I remember hooking it into my elbow, thinking my son was heavy, and he would bounce more there, but I'd be able to get farther hauling him. I remember he laughed and thought it was fun.

    Fiona - 
    And I thought this interview was fun! Thanks AJ.

    Are you interested in learning hands on how to write it right?
    A.J. and Eli want to help ThrillWriting readers get to their conference. If you plug in the code: J6ZGKT when you register, they will give you $25.00 off the registration price - and it's already priced to make it affordable. Here's the LINK

    Also, if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. You know I have to watch for SPAM so they will NOT go up right away. Also, if you find my blog helpful, please share with your friends. Social buttons are just below. Happy plotting.


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  • BAM! SLAM! KURSPLAT! How to Write a Fight w/ Martial Arts Hall of Famer Eli Jackson

    Eli Jackson is the smaller fighter on the right.
    Ah, but there's POWER in her small frame - and mastery.
    Don't mess with the best.
    Let's fight it out!

    Fiona - 
    It's fun to imagine and write a fight scene - but fight scenes, just like the other details in your book, have to make sense and be as accurate as possible. There are real life fighters out there who will put your book down if you're writing garbage strikes and kicks. To save you from bad reviews, I've invited Eli Jackson to visit with us. 

    Eli, please tell us about your background.

    Eli - 
    I have over 30 years of martial arts experience in Tae Kwon Do, Isshinryu, and MMA. I was ranked 3rd in the world in fighting and 4th in forms for 2 years by NASKA (North American Sport Karate Association). I was a member of Team Pepsi when I competed. I have been inducted into 2 martial arts Halls of Fame. I currently hold a 3rd degree in Isshinryu and a 3rd degree in MMA, and I have taught martial arts for over 15 years.

    I also have over 10 years experience running large events and coordinating multi-day conventions.

    Fiona -
    From a technical POV, when you read fight scenes what makes you skim past all the words?

    Eli -  
    * I skim when authors get it 
       wrong. I hate reading that 
      someone  took 20 punches, 
      wiped a bit of blood from their
      lip and kept on  swinging. 
    * I also skim when someone puts
       in too much detail. It's as if 
       they  did the research and you
       (the reader) NEED to know 
       that they did i t, so they include
       every single detail they ever
       learned. It's an  action scene - it
       needs to keep the pace.

    Fiona -
    I just read a book where the guy survived a bomb blast, pieces from the surrounding structure were embedded in his leg. He dug out the pieces, end of information. Seriously, he ran miles and had maybe five fights, and they never mentioned his thigh again. 

    Can we talk for a moment Eli about the after effects of a fight? How does someone feel? - How long is recovery? Any tips you can offer?

    Eli -
    This is something that authors often get wrong. It takes time for bruises and breaks to heal. It often takes lots of rest and sometimes physical therapy. But that's boring, so I understand why writers sometimes skip that part. 

    If you want to be realistic at all, you have to have some of that. We've all had scrapes and scratches, and we know how long it takes for them to heal.

    One thing people miss is the general scars from training. Especially guys who train very hard all the time, they have crooked noses from breaks, and they have what we call "cauliflower ears" where their ears have turned inside out from being rubbed on the mat. They aren't usually the hot, sexy guys authors make their heroes out to be.

    Fiona - 
    I know my knuckles are often bruised and raw. You do not have a crooked nose or cauliflower ears - how does training show up on your body?

    Eli - 
    I train using equipment (padding and gloves), and I don't go full out. I'm not in a cage going 75% on a daily basis. But I don't have cage matches to prepare for, nor do I fight in kickboxing matches where people consistently get knocked out. So that's why I don't have those types of injuries.

    But I do have injuries. I injured my shoulder a couple years ago. I ended up having surgery to fix it, and it still isn't 100%. I was in a sling for weeks and unable to use my arm much at all for months. I still have lingering pains, and I may never do a push up again. Time will tell.

    Fiona -
    Let's talk about that - old injuries. I have cadaver parts in both of my knees from fights that went badly. Though they are supposedly even stronger robo-knees now, I am hyper protective of them in fights because each took me a year of painful recovery. 

    You have shoulder issues - does this change how you fight, and how a character would approach a fight? 

    Eli -
    A fighter is DEFINITELY protective of injuries (trained or not). It's built into us. For me, I use my other side more. I'm not as fast with my left arm and when given the option, I will use my strong side whether in a stand up fight or on the ground. My options are more limited based on limited strength. And if anyone starts to attack that part of my body (shoulder locks are not uncommon in a trained ground fight), I am extra protective.

    Fiona -
    Let's talk timing. It will be different with trained fighters v. fighting-for-her-life fighters. But these fights don't/can't go on very long. Can you offer some basic timing parameters?

    Eli - 
    A real fight can end after only a couple of well placed blows. A trained fighter knows that they aren't doing their job if a fight goes on much longer than that. A bar fight, however, could go back and forth for a while.

    Timing will vary tremendously based on who is fighting. Two untrained fighters could have any length of fight. It depends on how much damage they're willing to do. Are they wrestling around? Is one trying to force the other to do something? Does one care if the other lives? Is it an all-out brawl where one or both is fighting for their life?

    As an author, try running in place for 60 seconds. When you do it, lift your knees above your waist and keep the pace up as fast as you can. That's what it feels like to be in a fight. 

    Adrenaline helps, but only so much. It gives you a great burst up front, but it also drains you faster than normal. 

    A real fight won't go more than 2 min and MOST fights are going to be maybe 30 seconds. Granted, there are ALWAYS exceptions, but a good rule of thumb is to put yourself in your character's shoes and ask yourself how much their body could handle.

    Fiona -
    What does it really take to knock someone out? How long until they usually get up?

    Eli -
    It takes training or luck to knock someone out. While a trained fighter knows where to hit and how to strike, the ability to do that on a moving opponent is extremely difficult. With that said, we've all seen it happen. So it can be done. It will happen more for a trained fighter, but it isn't a given.

    How long it takes to get back up depends on the strike or choke and it also depends on the person who went down.

    Fiona -
    Eli, we met at Writer's Police Academy, and I pointed out to a fellow writer that you stand with your weight on your back foot and your front foot is ready - like a sheathed weapon. 

    You're getting ready to have your own writers' weekend. Can you tell us all about it and maybe share a few tidbits that writers might pick up while there?

    Eli - 
    I feel like all my answers about fights are "it depends," but that's just kind of true. Every situation is different. This is why we recommend talking to someone about your specific scene. Getting it right is harder than just using some general guidelines.

    I am the CEO of Griffyn Ink Publishing. I have over 15 books published currently. I am not a writer, but I am an avid reader. I believe in giving authors the opportunity to present the stories they want to write, so my authors have a lot of freedom. We try not to make them write something simply because someone somewhere thinks it might sell. We want quality writing and great stories.

    We are putting together an amazing weekend full of fighters and business professionals to show writers how to write fight scenes. 

    We want them to see the different types of fighting up close and ask the experts questions about their specific scenes. 

    We will have martial artists, military professionals, physicists (teaching a class on space battles, specifically gravity and lasers), a doctor (to discuss what happens to the body), gun specialists, historians who specialize in weapons, and so much more. 

    We are also bringing in NY Times best selling authors (Sherrilyn Kenyon and Jon Jefferson) to discuss how to write tension and hand-to-hand scenes. We will also have publishers, artists, publicists, and brand managers.

    But our coolest feature is Rent-A-Ninja. Attendees can work with 1 to 3 ninjas to play out their very own scenes and ask questions. Our trained fighters will walk through what the writer has in mind and offer suggestions. The writer can also see and experience what things really look and feel like.

    Fiona - 
    This is such an exciting opportunity - can you tell us when and where and give us the link?

    Eli - 
    We will be in Nashville, TN April 17-19 at the Inn at Opryland. The link is www.AuthorsCombatAcademy.com

    Fiona - 
    Eli - we always ask this question - tell us about your favorite scar. 

    Eli - 
    I have 3 small scars on my left hand where I was drug across a driveway trying to break up a dogfight. I think it lasted about 7 or 8 seconds, but it felt like an eternity. 

    It was amazing how the chemicals released in my body made me hyper-aware of everything going on and seemed to slow down time. 

    I was afraid, but not enough to get out of the fight. W hat surprised me even more was the time it took afterward to feel "normal" again. It was almost 24 hours before I didn't feel like I was high on something and hyper-alert. And I still remember what happened very clearly as if it is burned into my brain.

    Fiona - 
    As we close, what piece of information do you wish all writers knew BEFORE they constructed a fight scene?

    Eli - 
    I hope all authors know that there are details that they don't know. They need to talk to someone before they write a fight scene. The mistakes are glaring to anyone who knows what is going on. 

    Body mechanics play a huge part in a fight, as do angles of attack, reaction times, counters, state of mind, etc. Seeing it done (even in a mock situation) and understanding WHY it happens the way it does will make it so much clearer to the writer.

    BEFORE conducting a fight scene, try it. You don't have to actually hit anyone, but stand in front of someone and see how you lift your arm and how you guard your body. See where your strike will fall and how your opponent would react. See what that sets up for the opponent to do in reaction.

    Fight scenes are like chess matches. Every move dictates the board for the next move. I can't plan to use my favorite choke hold unless the opportunity presents itself. I can do things to set that up, but my opponent may see an opening I didn't realize and the whole scene changes instantly. Fights are reactionary because the playing field is constantly changing.

    Fiona -
    It's a chess game for a trained fighter. I know you probably can't remember this far back in your fight career - but adrenaline has a way of making you do stupid stuff, and you end up being very reactive.

    Eli -
    You absolutely do! It's reactionary for everyone. A trained fighter just has a toolbox to work from and knows which tools to use for which situation.

    Fiona -
    One last question, can you tell us about tunnel vision in a fight and if someone questioned you (the police) afterwards what would you be able to tell them about what had happened?

    Eli -
    Tunnel vision is extremely common when you are threatened. Your brain puts all it's power into the threat, and so you can become extremely aware of every little detail about that one thing, excluding everything else around you. 

    That's why it can feel like slow motion: because you took in so much information. Later, if you were talking to the police, you might remember exactly how the fight went, but you might also not remember anything about the person yelling at you from 2 feet away the entire time or even the person who tried to pull you out of the fight.

    Fiona -
    And that detail might turn out badly - especially if it is a police officer ordering you to stop. It's very possible you never heard them. Or never saw the man with the gun coming up on your right...

    ThrillWriting friends, are you interested in learning hands-on how to write it right?

    Eli Jackson wants to help ThrillWriting readers get to the combat academy. If you plug in the code: J6ZGKT when you register, they will give you $25.00 off the registration price - and it's already priced to make it affordable. Here's the LINK

    You can also reach Eli Jackson on Facebook LINK
    and Twitter @AuthorsCombat

    Also, if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below. You know I have to watch for SPAM, so they will NOT go up right away. Also, if you find my blog helpful, please share with your friends. Social buttons are just below. Happy plotting.


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