Nearly all crime novels feature a muscle-bound, sharpshooting, fast-driving, marathon-running, cool-as-the-center-seed of-a-cucumber detective? What is it about the suit-wearing investigators that attracts a writer’s attention? After all, detectives are often the last officers to see any real action.

Police investigators are rarely in shootouts. They hardly ever chase fleeing suspects. In fact, their job is pretty mundane—see a body, collect some evidence, send evidence to a lab, talk to a few people, evidence results return from the lab in the morning mail, get a warrant, arrest the suspect (or have a uniform pick him up), testify in court, and then start all over again. Oh, and paperwork, paperwork, paperwork! Lots of mind-numbing paperwork.

Many detectives have been on the job for years and years, doing not much more than the above, and it’s this lack of activity that sometimes takes its toll in the form of flabby muscles, poor shooting skills, slow reaction times, couldn’t run if they wanted to (and they don’t), and yes, as more time passes by, even hot flashes, crappy eyesight and hearing, and bad backs, knees, and hips.

Writers are actually going about this thing all wrong. Bass-ackward, as some of the old-timers on my old beat used to say.

Patrol officers are the men and women who see all the excitement—going toe-to-toe with 350 lb. musclebound crooks who refuse to be handcuffed, shooting it out with armed robbers, 110 mph vehicle pursuits, chasing armed robbers through dark alleys, being bitten by dogs, removing unwanted 20-foot-long pythons from beneath mobile homes, rescuing people from burning cars and buildings, performing CPR on unconscious and unresponsive drug addicts, climbing in windows after burglary suspects, capturing prison escapees, wading into a street filled with drug dealers, gang members, and prostitutes, and rescuing tiny puppies and kittens from storm drains and frozen ponds. Now there’s the complete package—excitement and action along with a tender side. And who doesn’t love puppies and kittens, right?

So let’s explore this concept a bit further. Lots of people are attracted to fit men and women in uniform, right?

But how many people could possibly be attracted to detectives who wear rumpled, out-of-style suits and scruffy facial hair? For example …

Ridiculous to even consider, right?

Patrol officers hit the gym regularly so they can match muscle-for-muscle with the thugs they arrest on a daily basis. Detectives, well, they sometimes drive by a gym or two while on the way to their colorectal pre-surgery appointments.

Patrol officers hone their skills every single day. They’re out there in the trenches, staying sharp, looking sharp, and acting sharp.

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Investigators start their day in their offices, drinking a cup of coffee while solving the daily crossword puzzle, using a pencil crudely sharpened with the pocketknives they carry for peeling apples and cutting loose threads from their suit jackets.

Uniformed officers are the front line officers, the “faces of the department.” Therefore, their hair is neatly trimmed, clothing neatly pressed, and shoes shined to glossy perfection.

Detectives are often seen wearing t-shirts, old jeans, and sneakers. And the last time they saw a set of hair clippers was the day they spent an entire morning grooming the family Lhasa Apso.

Patrol officers stare into the face of danger. Detectives work “undercover.”

Patrol officers fight crime. Detectives wait until the danger is over before “going in.”

Patrol officers rush into active crime scenes to save the victims. Detectives serve search warrants in the middle of the night, hoping to catch the bad guys while they’re sleeping.

So give this a little thought when you sit down to dream up a character for your next thriller. Do you go with bass-ackward tradition, or will your tale face a new direction?

Besides, who do you want saving your puppies, a super-fit, handsome patrol officer …

such_fat_cops_640_10

Or an out-of-shape, poorly-dressed detective who adores puppies, rainbows, and long walks on the beach at sunset?

*No puppies were harmed during the research portion of this article. I cannot say the same for donuts and chocolate cake.


*** A fantastic and unique opportunity! ***

On January 23, 2021, Writers’ Police Academy Online will once again offer an exciting and unique daylong live and interactive seminar. This course, “Criminal Investigations: Writing Believable Make-Believe,” features three of the country’s top investigators and forensics experts who will present detailed sessions on cybercrimes and security, 3D crime-scene mapping using drones and lasers, and an in-depth, behind the scenes chronicling of what happens when a victim of sexual assault seeks care in a hospital setting.

As a bonus, USA Today & Wall Street Journal bestselling author Lisa Regan details how to use the elements of fiction to craft a gripping crime novel.

Sign up today to reserve your seat!

“Criminal Investigations: Writing Believable Make-Believe”

Schedule and Class order:
(All times are EST)

10:30 – Login and Test
10:45 – Welcome

11:00 – 12:20
Digital Breadcrumbs: Tracking People in Cyberspace ~ Instructor, Josh Moulin

Nearly every investigation involves some aspect of technology, whether it is used to commit the actual crime or contains evidence of criminal activity. In this information-packed session, you will learn how cybercrime investigators trace activity on the Internet, how mobile devices are tracked, how digital forensics is used to uncover evidence, and how law enforcement obtains information. Additionally, this course will cover techniques that suspects may use to try and hide their activity from law enforcement such as the darknet, anonymizing services, and anti-forensic tools.

12:20 – 12:50
Break

12:50 – 2:10

Sexual Assault: When a Victim Seeks Care in a Hospital Setting ~ Karmen Harris, RN, SANE-A

Based on a scenario, the class will explore what happens when a victim of sexual assault seeks care in a hospital setting. In this class, we will walk through the process of the medical-forensic exam and further explore how trauma is identified, the elements of documentation and forensic photography, evidence collection, and other aspects of the fascinating intersection of forensic science and nursing.

2:20 – 3:40

Using 3D Laser Scanners and Drones to Document Crime Scenes ~ Instructor, RJ Beam

3D scanners used by engineering firms have slowly been gaining traction in police work. Take a walk into a real homicide scene to see how the 3D reconstruction helped secure a conviction. Learn about how 3D scanners work and how drones can augment the creation of a 3D recreation.

3:50 – 5:10

Creating Dynamic Crime Fiction: How to use the elements of fiction to craft a gripping crime novel ~ Instructor, Lisa Regan

In this class you will learn how to combine several elements of fiction to create a crime novel that is authentic and riveting. You’ll learn tips and tricks for plotting effectively to keep readers turning pages. You’ll learn how to develop characters who are relatable and intriguing. We’ll discuss how to write believable dialogue that moves your story forward. You’ll also receive tips for incorporating information from law enforcement and other experts into you work. Finally, we will discuss advice on self-editing.

5:10

Final words

Does your latest tall tale feature a beginning, middle, and end? How about characters, setting, and dialog? Have you been especially creative by inserting lots of sentences composed of various words with various meanings? Do you know the difference between a police chief and a sheriff? Are you aware that the FBI does not typically investigate local murder cases, that it is the duty of local police to solve those crimes?

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

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

How does a writer create scenes that ignite a reader’s senses of touch, taste, hearing, smell, and sight? Well, for starters, they should call on past life experiences and then translate those experiences into dynamic descriptive words and phrases. However, when describing mood, setting, to emphasize a point in dialogue, etc., writers should avoid using an abundance of clunky “ly” words.

Words ending in “ly” are often clunky and clumsy

Words ending in “ly” are often redundant and quite frankly, unnecessary. They can slow the reader and are often so jarring they could stop the flow of the story. Is it possible to draw on personal experiences and then to write those powerful scenes without the use of “ly” words? Well, let’s check in with a few top storytellers.

For example …

Patricia Cornwall didn’t invent rain, leaves, or playing fields, but she obviously drew on her memories to create the passage below. It’s a simple scene, but it’s a scene I can easily picture in my mind as I read. I hear the rain and I feel the cool dampness of the asphalt, grass, and tile roof. The writing also conjures up images of raindrops slaloming down windowpanes, and rushing water sweeping the streets clean of debris. The splashing and buzzing sound of car tires pushing across water-covered roadways. And she accomplished the imagery without using a single “ly” word.

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

Sandra Brown takes us on brief “no “ly word” journey through a pasture on a hot day. We know it’s hot because of the insect activity. We also know the heat of the day increases the intensity of the odor of horse manure. And, Brown effectively makes us all want to help Jack watch where he steps.

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Okay, what does all of this have to do with writing about cops, you ask? Well, in the passages above, the authors created a micro world by using a few, but extremely powerful and carefully chosen words. And it’s obvious to the reader that each of the writers called upon their own experiences to write those scenes. They’ve been there and done that, and their imaginations have conjured up memories of things they’ve seen, touched, tasted, heard, and smelled. And all without the use of words ending in “ly.” Just simple, clunk-free writing.

Cops live and work in a unique world that’s generally not accessible to the average person, including writers. They experience things that most only read about or see on TV news reports. And that brings us full circle. How can a writer effectively write, and activate a reader’s senses, about something they’ve only read about or heard second and third hand from someone reading to them, word-for-word from a teleprompter?

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

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

To increase your knowledge of forensics and writing, I strongly urge you to attend courses and classes offered by Writers’ Police Academy Online. These sessions take participants behind the scenes to places typically visited only by law enforcement. The value of information provided is immeasurable, especially so for writers whose goal is to deliver top shelf material.

On January 23, 2021, Writers’ Police Academy Online will once again offer an exciting and unique daylong live and interactive seminar. This course, “Criminal Investigations: Writing Believable Make-Believe,” features three of the country’s top investigators and forensics experts who will present detailed sessions on cybercrimes and security, 3D crime-scene mapping using drones and lasers, and an in-depth, behind the scenes chronicling of what happens when a victim of sexual assault seeks care in a hospital setting.

As a bonus, USA Today & Wall Street Journal bestselling author Lisa Regan details how to use the elements of fiction to craft a gripping crime novel.

Sign up today to reserve your seat!

Discovering who killed Kenny

Ah, the mind of a mystery writer. Always contemplating the simpler things in life, like car chases, explosions, and murder.

For me, there’s nothing better than to open a book and instantly feel as if I’ve been transported to another world, and I want the character’s emotions and senses to take me there. I want the black, murky waters of James Lee Burke’s Louisiana swamps to fill my gut with a sense of foreboding. I want to feel and smell the humid southern air after a crab boil, and I want to experience the heartbreak that Dave feels when his wife dies. Those things are important to me as a reader, and they’re even more important to me as a writer. I want readers to see, feel, taste, and hear what I write.


Setting can be an antagonist, such as stories featuring humans (the hero) battling and overcoming the forces of nature (the antagonist)—hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, blizzards, etc.


As a reader, I also pay a lot of attention to the names assigned to fictional characters and locations because they also tell us a little bit about the author. Like the town names Hope and Despair that Lee Child used in his book Nothing To Lose.

The road leading to Hope was fresh, new, and smooth ( as smooth as the author). The road to Despair was in disrepair, filled with potholes and was totally worn out. Using those two simple words (Hope and Despair) was brilliant. Lee typed eleven letters and told us a story about two towns that some couldn’t have achieved in a dozen pages.

Now, speaking of appropriate settings and naming of towns in crime novels, how about the name in the photo above—Kilkenny Marina? How’s that for a great place to set a story? I suppose we’d need a few facts, first. Like, who’s Kenny? And why do the folks at the marina want to kill him? What exactly does one fish for at Killkenny? And what, exactly, would our characters use as bait? Pieces of Kenny would, of course, be a perfect means of destroying the evidence of murder, right?


Setting allows readers to step into the pages of a story and then to exist there alongside the characters as they move through the tale.


A name alone can serve as a great hook. After all, catchy names can also become a familiar link between fans and their favorite stories/books—Metropolis (Superman), Bedrock (The Flintstones), Whoville (The Grinch and Horton Hears a Who), and Emerald City (The Wizard of Oz), to name a few.

Anyway, Denene and I once stumbled across this little jewel of a place—Kilkenny Marina—while exploring the back roads near Savannah, Ga.

Instead of hanging a right onto Belle Island Road in Richmond Hill (south of Savannah) I kept straight and this is the little slice of heaven we found after passing through the narrow opening in a stand of massive live oaks. A perfect setting for a mystery? Perhaps we should find Kenny to ask his opinion of the situation, if he’s still alive.


Great settings activate the reader’s senses by using smells, colors, textures, sounds, and sensations.



Sounds are part of setting, such as waves gently licking and lapping against the hull of a boat. Odors are also bits of setting, like how the scent of salty air mixed with fumes of gasoline and sun-drying oyster shells, bait fish remnants, and seaweed take us to the decks of fishing boats.


By the way, who says you have to die to see the light at the end of the tunnel? As a more practical means of having a peek at “the light,” simply visit Kilkenny Marina a few minutes before sunset and this is what you’ll see on your way out.

Regarding setting, though, our decisions are often based upon what we see. In the case of blinding sunlight, a character may squint, pull down a car’s sun visor, hold up a hand to shield their eyes from the bright light. A person who’s blind may react to the sudden warmth on their face.

So yes, setting can be a character, one who evokes emotion and adds layers and depth to a story. It’s also a place for the story to take place. It’s atmosphere and mood, and the antagonist who creates tension.

 


More examples of using setting to activate a reader’s senses:

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


*UPDATE –  We never found Kenny, so we assumed the deed had been done prior to our arrival. His disappearance remains a mystery …

Writers are a curious bunch of folks who should never let walls, doors, locks, or the word NO stop them from producing high quality books.

The tellers of both tall and short tales, in fact, go to great lengths to find detail—the perfect setting, great, believable characters, and those wonderfully juicy tidbits of information that stimulate a reader’s senses.

With pen in hand and minds wide open, a writer will do whatever it takes to reach the last page of their work-in-progress, including hopping on a plane, train, car, or truck to travel to wherever information can be found. They walk, they talk, they telephone, they email, they read blogs and books, they ride with cops, attend court proceedings, and they attend awesome events such as the Writers’ Police Academy and/or Writers’ Police Academy Online courses. Again, they do what it takes and they do it all in the name of pleasing readers.

Many stories include prison and/or jail settings, as well as the residents and/or employees of each. So what do writers do? They meet with jail officials and arrange to tour their facility. Sure, it can sometimes be a very steep uphill battle to get a foot in the door to some places of incarceration. But, as it’s been said, where there’s a will there’s a way inside, or something along those lines.

Suppose, though, that you, a writer, find yourself incarcerated for a long, long time. Perhaps for the remainder of your life. What would you do? After all, your passion is the written word. You have so many stories to tell, especially the one that landed you behind bars. You’ve gotta write!

So how on earth would you obtain the information you need for your book(s)? The internet is often not available. No modern library (in many lockups you’d be fortunate if there’s anything more than a few tattered paperbacks stacked in what used to be a mop closet). You’d have very little, if any, contact with people on the outside. And, if your story involves law enforcement, forensics, etc., you can pretty much rule out the assistance of cops and CSI experts.

What would you do?

Well, one such writer, a prisoner, once reached out to me back a while back via my publisher. He sent a three page handwritten letter, complete with a very nice, well-written one-page introduction that explained the reason for his incarceration—murder. He went on to say that he’d been sentenced to life for killing a woman (a close associate of a well-known outlaw motorcycle club) during a heated argument. He also said he feels no ill will toward police. In short, he did what he did and accepted full responsibility for the act, but the circumstances hadn’t stopped his desire to write.

Interestingly, this fellow, the convicted murderer, subscribes to Writer’s Digest Magazine, which is where he read an article I wrote (published in the September 2014 issue). Yes, WD is delivered to prisons.

My article is what prompted the lifer to write me with an unusual research request. A request that I strongly considered. It was a consideration that went against the very grain of my being. However, I was inclined to help because his story could’ve very well been a good one … a life-changer for someone on the outside.

There was a small problem, however, with delivering my information to this prisoner. You see, he had no idea where I lived at the time and I didn’t want him to know (return addresses are required on all inmate mail at this and other facilities). In fact, the bio in my book about police procedure states that we reside in Boston. This is a book the inmate has in his possession and he mentions it his introductory letter to Writer’s Digest.

howdunit_PPI

Non-prisoners may also purchase my book!

Therefore, when the inmate wrote my publisher, he was under the impression that I lived somewhere in New England. However, it had been quite a while since we’d resided in Boston.

20141105_113239

As many of you know, we’re frequent re-locators (and that’s putting it mildly), so imagine my surprise to see a return address that just happened to be that of a state prison located very near where we lived at the time I received the letter. Very. Very. Near. As in less than fifteen miles away.

I finally came up with with a means to give him the information he needed, via an online source. I used the internet instead of snail mail to prevent him from learning our home address. After all, he had family and friends and “business associates” on the outside.

Anyway, the point of this long-winded story with no real end is that writers should never settle for an “okay” book when overcoming small obstacles is all that stands in the way of producing a really great story.

What are some of those barriers?

  • Too chicken to make contact with cops and/or other experts. Believe me, cops love to talk about their work and, if you let them, they’ll talk about it until the cows come home. So please don’t hesitate to approach a police officer. Of course, you may have to extend an offer of a cup of coffee to start the ball rolling, but after that, hold on because your mind will soon be filled with real-life tales of car chases, shootouts, drug raids, puking drunks, and struggles with the biggest and baddest bad guys who ever walked a dark alleyway. Of course, you should probably avoid weird and scary opening lines, such as, “Hi, my name Wendy Writer and I’m wondering if you would please tell me how to kill someone and get away with it?” Or, “Hi, my name Karla Killer and I’d really like to hold your gun so I can see how heavy it is.”
  • Procrastination (I was too busy to attend the Writers’ Police Academy. Maybe next year. In some instances, “next year” may never arrive. After all, we can’t do this forever!)
  • Fear of rejection by agents and editors. Settle for nothing less than a big fat YES, and don’t stop working and writing and bettering your craft until you reach your goals.
  • Television (Please STOP using TV as a source of information!! Easy isn’t always best).
  • Allowing life to run you instead of you running your life.

I guess what I’m getting at is that if a murderer who’s serving a life sentence in a harsh prison setting is willing to go far beyond the extra mile for a scrap of important information needed for his book, then why shouldn’t all writers at least make some sort of effort to “get it right?”

How about you? Do you go the extra mile for the details in your tales?

Speaking of details …

Coming January 23, 2021, a live and interactive seminar featuring crime scene mapping using lasers and drones, sexual assault investigations, the craft of writing with USA Today & Wall Street Journal bestselling author Lisa Regan, and more!

writerspoliceacadey.online

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.

A questionable murder (above image), 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 often 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 my ever-working twisted mind. 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 …

 

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 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 …

  • When confronting a long-gun-wielding suspect (shotguns and rifles are long guns) it’s best to have the hero approach from the side. Doing so forces 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. The tactic also allows time for the hero to react to the threat.
  • If possible, place your hero in a good light. Make use of bright lights, such as a setting sun or bright early morning sunlight. The light should be at the hero’s back, shining into the eyes of the bad guy, making it difficult for them to see clearly. The hero, though, will have no trouble seeing the crook. 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, your heroes should focus on breathing during deadly encounters. 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 lead to avoidable disaster—not thinking clearly and perhaps rush into a no-win situation.

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!

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. Well, now there’s Andrew Child, so …

Boogaloo: a slang phrase used as a shorthand reference for a future civil war. (Also known as “Boog.”)

Boogaloo Boys (aka Boogaloo Bois): A leaderless group whose “members” seem to have extreme libertarian politics, with a strong emphasis on gun rights. Their objectives vary greatly, from some claiming to be strictly antiracist, while others lean toward white-supremacist beliefs. Group members often post memes to social media pages featuring neo-Nazi themes. Boogalooers love their guns and many openly carry them while wearing colorful Hawaiian shirts as part of their Boogaloo “uniform.” Their stance is anti-authority, anti-state, and definitely anti-law-enforcement. The collapse of American society is quite possibly their ultimate goal. Some members have murdered police officers. Others attempted to aid foreign terrorists.

The Boogaloo movement roughly formed in 2019 and is still developing. When 2020 rolled around, “Boogalooers” increasingly became engaged in protests about gun rights, police shootings/killings, restrictions related to the COVID pandemic and, well, basically anything that involved authority over citizens.

Typically, Boogalooers are not white supremacists. In fact, as a result of their anti-cop beliefs, many actively participated in the Black Lives Matters protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Most likely, though, the George Floyd protests were an excuse to confront and attack law enforcement.

In May 2020, a 26-year-old Texas man, Ivan Harrison Hunter, participated in one of the Floyd protests. He was seen wearing a tactical vest and a skull mask over his face as he used an AK-47 style rifle to fire 13 shots into an occupied police building. Shortly after Hunter fired those rounds the building was set ablaze. Hunter also claimed to have joined with members of the Black Panthers organization to burn other police stations.

Shortly after Hunter fired those rounds into the police precinct he sent a brief series of messages to a a fellow Boogalooer in California, a man named Steven Carrillo.

“Boog,” Hunter wrote.

“Did,” Carrillo responded.

“Go for police buildings,” Hunter said to Carrillo.

“I did better lol,” replied Carrillo.

Carrillo was referring to the fact that he’d just shot and killed Federal Protective Service officer, David Patrick Underwood, in Oakland, California.

Later in the year, Carrillo was arrested and accused of shooting and killing a Santa Cruz, Ca. sheriff’s deputy. Prior to the arrest, Carrillo used his own blood to scrawl the word “BOOG” on the hood of a white van.

Boogalooers believe in a vast assortment of causes, from “wanting the heads of politicians on spikes,” to “wanting pedophiles to die by putting them feet-first in wood chippers.”

The group is so loosely organized that one faction of Boogaloorers seem to support Black Lives Matter, while others muddy the waters by posting an opposite view on social media—“F*** BLM. They’re one of the most racist groups out there. It is ignorant to think BLM isn’t a terrorist organization filled with black supremacists, and white liberal Marxists.”

Boogaloo Michael Solomon and Benjamin Ryan Teeter have been accused and arrested for their plot to sell weapons to someone they thought to be a member of the terrorist group Hamas. The person with whom they’d planned to do conduct business was an undercover FBI agent. Prosecutors say the pair considered becoming “mercenaries” for Hamas in order to fund the boogaloo movement.

In October 2020, eight boogalooers were tied to the plot to overthrow Michigan’s state government. Part of the plan was to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Fortunately the FBI thwarted those actions by arresting Adam Fox, Ty Garbin, and Daniel Harris before the kidnapping could be carried out. The other five men involved were also arrested by the FBI. However, in addition to federal charges, the five men also face state charges of plotting to attack Michigan’s Capitol for the purpose of initiating a civil war.

The basis for the plan centered around Gov. Whitmer’s strict COVID lockdown regulations.

As bizarre as this all sounds, the Boogaloo movement is quite real.

Unfortunately, another casualty caused by the Boogaloo movement are the few brightly-colored, extremely comfortable, Hawaiian-style shirts hanging in my closet to which I must now say goodbye.

The good side to all of this, however, is that writers have more wacky fodder for stories than ever before. Strange politics, spies, moles, whistleblowers, secret meetings, etc. So a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing villain could be shaped into an interesting villain, right? Nah, who’d believe such nonsense could happen in real life?

Of course, this is, after all, 2020!

Aloha, y’all.

I have many fond memories of my days as in law enforcement. Sure, there were bad times and I still bear those scars, both physical and mental, but all things considered I value and cherish the experience. After all, I have a built-in resource library that’s practically unending, and part of that vast lump of knowledge includes interacting with people from all walks of life.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting celebrities and I’ve had the unique opportunity to sit mere feet from a notorious serial killer when the “switch” was pulled to end his life. I’ve met wonderfully nice people and I’ve dealt with some of the worst of the worst. I can honestly say that I’ve been punched, bitten, stabbed, and shot at by some of the best worst in the business.

But pushing aside all of the “bad” cop stuff, I’d like to call attention to plain old human interaction and the differences in our cultures, and how those backgrounds can sometimes affect police officers during their daily duties. These are also details that can go a long way toward bringing that extra bit of realism to your stories in progress.

Such as …

Imagine for a second that you’re a deputy sheriff whose patrol area covers a vast portion of real estate that’s so deep into the countryside that sunshine is delivered each day by horse and wagon. Trips to the grocery store roll around only once or maybe twice each month. These are the places where residents keep their “deep freezes” filled with vegetables from their gardens and home-butchered meat from freshly-killed hogs, deer, and squirrels.

Back in the day, not everyone in these areas had a telephone. Keep in mind, this was pre-cellphone and that meant party lines were still in use, as well as some people having to go to the nearest county store or phone-owning neighbor’s house to make or receive a call. Even then, those precious calls were mostly reserved for emergency use only.

It was during those days—pre-cellphone and pre-GPS—when deputies had to rely on obtaining directions from local residents when they weren’t sure of a particular address. Houses were often set so far from the road we couldn’t see house numbers, if there were any to see. 911 had not come into play. And, well, you get the idea. Cops were on their own when it came to finding someone’s house.

So, we’d often stop the first person we saw to ask for directions. Or, we’d stop in at the country store to ask the overall-wearing guys who sat around a warm potbelly stove chewing tobacco, discussing crops and livestock, and gossiping about so-and-so getting a new tractor or truck, and who’d killed the biggest deer.

This is what we’d sometimes hear in response to our inquiries.

Me to the checker-playing, work-booted group: “Do you by any chance know Joe Imacrook? He’s somewhere around five-feet tall and weighs in the neighborhood of four-hundred pounds. Thick beard and missing one front tooth. His wife’s name, I believe, is Hattie Sue.” 

The men look up from their games, glance at one another, and then the loudest, most vocal of the crew said, “We might. Why’re you asking?”

Me: “He killed a man last night. Shot him twice in the forehead and then took the victim’s cash, car, and his shoes.”

Crew leader: “Did the guy need killing?”

Laughter erupts from his buddies.

Me: “The guy he murdered had just left church and was on his way home to his pregnant wife and two small children. He killed him for no reason other than to rob him.”

The laughter shut down as if someone flipped a switch. These folks were serious their women and children.

Crew leader: “Yeah, we know him. He lives down the road a piece.”

A second man spoke up. “I always thought old Joe was a few pickles shy of a full jar. Told the missus so, too.”

Crew leader leaned back in his chair and ran a hand across the patch of scraggly, bristled whiskers dotting his cheeks, chin, and neck. “Here what you do,” he said. “Go back out to the crossroads and take a left. Then go on about, oh a mile or so and then keep goin’ till you pass Robert Junior’s old horse barn. Then you hang a sharp right at the big oak tree. You can’t miss it ’cause it’s got a big old hornets’ nest a-hanging from one of the bottom branches. When you see the tree, the one with the hornets’ nest, keep on a goin’ til you see a red mailbox. That ain’t Joe’s mailbox, but you’re close. He’s just past where John Henry Thomas used to have a store. It burned down 37-years ago next week, but they’s a big rock there with some yaller paint on it. Yaller was John Henry’s favorite color so his wife, Etta Jean—she’s Romey and Winonna Jenkins’ oldest daughter—painted the rock so’s everybody’d remember him and the store. You know, John Henry sold the best cheese, bologna, and peaches this side of Atlanta. 

Anyways, if you get to where the road splits into a “Y” you’ve done gone too far, so turn around in Mable Johnson’s driveway and head back the way you come. Old Joe’s house is the blue one a’settin’ off the road about two-hundred yards. The one with the goats and chickens running ’round the place. You can’t miss it. Oh, whatever you do, blow the horn three times when you drive up so he’ll know you’re okay, not some of those pesky Joe Ho’vers Witnessers. I ‘spect he’ll come on out peaceful.”

This bit of dialog may sound a bit overwritten, however, it’s a fair representation of what I’ve encountered on more than one occasion throughout the years. Anyway, the point I’m so poorly trying to communicate is that no detail is too small to store in your memory banks. You never know when those intricate pieces of information are the things needed to take your work to the next level.

James Lee Burke, one of my all time favorite writers, is a master of detail and he often utilizes simple things to enhance his stories. To open the cover of one of Burke’s books is to release the scents of swamp water and crab boils. The smell of meat cooking on open fires greets you warmly as you turn the pages.

In short, Burke makes us feel the words he’s written.

For example, here’s a brief passage from The Jealous Kind, one of his recent books.

“I drove her into the same neighborhood where I bought the switchblade knife. It was Sunday morning, and a few people were on the streets. A blind woman of color was playing bottleneck guitar under s canopy in front of a liquor store.”

In three short sentences Burke takes us by the hand to guide us through this neighborhood. I see the blind woman sitting in the shade of well-weathered canvas awning. I hear the twangy sounds she makes while pushing and pulling a metal slide across the steel strings of her guitar. I hear the notes faintly echo from the sides of brick and glass storefronts. I picture her seated on an overturned plastic milk crate, wearing layers of tattered clothing. In the windows behind and beside her, a few tubular neon lights advertise beer and cigarettes.

Burke’s words show me people strolling along sidewalks littered with faded, discarded lottery tickets and scraps of fast food wrappers. Both men and women avoid making eye contact with anyone. They’re going nowhere particular, just going. The fact that the character purchased a switchblade there indicates it’s a dangerous area, especially after the sun slips behind the skyline.

It’s quite possible that Burke visited this place at some point in his life, and at the time he needed the information he pulled it from that place in his mind where he stores such vivid detail. And this spot, a place we all have inside our minds, is where the dialog I posted remained in limbo until I dug it up.

So yes, details, even the tiniest of them all, can be used to bring life to an otherwise unremarkable three sentences. Imagine if Burke had written the passage without detail.

I drove her through a place I’d been before, where I once bought a knife. We saw some people, including an old blind woman. She was playing a guitar.

See what I mean? Same information, but absolutely no life.

So yes, details. Look for them. Store them. Write them. They are the heartbeat of a good book.

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Using common sense when writing about cops

Detective I. M. Manly here, and I’ve stopped by today to tell you about a serious situation concerning today’s protagonists.

We, the heroes of your stories, have attended numerous meetings in secret, trying to figure out ways to put an end to the torture you force us to endure. For example, and this is indeed a sad, sad, case. I ran into Biff Steele a few days ago and within a matter of seconds I knew I’d caught him at a weak moment.

He’d barely spoken two sentences when his emotions came spilling out. Right there on the sidewalk in front of the Piggly Wiggly, for everyone to see, including Pastor Ben Theredunthat who went inside to purchase a tin of foot powder for his wife. On the way out he offered a quick blessing, an act Biff sorely needed at that moment. Pitiful is what he was, I’m here to tell you.

Attack of the Killer Typewriters

I. M. Manly looking especially tough on the set of his new film, “Attack of the Killer Typewriters,” a gripping thriller based on the book of the same title.

Biff is typically a tough-as-nails protagonist. He rolls with the punches and quite often delivers a few hay-makers of his own. But on this day, Biff was pretty far down in the dumps. He was feeling lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut. Feeling blu … Well, you get the idea.

I asked him why he was sporting such a long face. His response was stunning.

He said he’d had about all he could take from his writer. She’d stopped conducting any real research and subsequently turned to the internet where she mined tons of crappy information. Then Biff paused a second before delivering the really big bombshell. He said he was thinking about leaving, maybe even killing himself off in the final pages of the next book.

I couldn’t believe it. Not Biff Steele! I asked what, if anything, could be done to make things right again. That’s when he told me everything. Then, shaking like a leaf on a tree during a hurricane, he drove straight home to confront his writer.

A few weeks later, while attending a popular convention for writers, Biff told a concerned group of protagonists that when he arrived home after unloading his burdens on me, he burst through the front door and found his writer sitting at the typewriter clacking away. He said his creator seemed irritated with the interruption but he started his rant anyway.

This, she said, is what Biff told yelled at his writer.

1. Quit having me smell the odor of cordite at crime scenes. For goodness sake, I’m not that old. Actually, even my parents hadn’t been born when they stopped making that stuff. No. More. Cordite!

2. I love tense moments in stories as much as the next character, but having me kidnapped in every other book? Come on, you know me better than that. Me getting abducted so often makes me look weak. And, quite frankly, a bit stupid.

3. Don’t you remember the discussion we had the last time you had me draw a chalk outline around a dead body? Oh, it’s coming back to you now … That’s right, they don’t do that anymore! Yep, doing so could destroy or alter evidence. Geez … pay attention.

4. For the last time, the FBI does not have the authority to take over my murder cases, my office, or my entire department. Stop sending them into my scenes!

5. Speaking of the FBI … NO, they don’t investigate all kidnapping incidents. So please let me solve my own cases. Your friends stopped writing that garbage years ago and their heroes are looking pretty sharp because of it.

6. So you insist upon writing me as a stupid, bumbling, idiotic clown who can barely find my way home at night, huh? Well, you’re showing a lack of knowledge there, Sunshine. You are aware that I had to pass a ton of tests and show an outstanding ability to solve crimes in order to land the promotion to detective, right? It’s not a job for dummies. Tell me, what are your qualifications that make you an expert on my career?

7. Let’s do this one more time. My sidearm is a Glock semi-automatic. It does NOT have any type of safety that I can “thumb-off.” No Way. No How.

8. Remember book three, back when I carried a revolver, a Chief’s Special? Think hard. Yes, that’s the one. Now think about the scene on page 87 where you MADE me say, “The sunlight reflected hotly from the brass casings as they automatically ejected from my revolver?” Remember that? Well, to this day I’ve never lived it down. Reacher and Bosch and the other guys bring it up all the time, and it’s embarrassing. Why, just the other day I overheard sweet little Kinsey Millhone cracking a joke about it. For the last time, revolvers do NOT automatically eject spent cartridges. I have to push them out manually, using the extractor rod.

9. While we’re on the subject of Kinsey, why can’t I have a steady girlfriend? You know, someone nice, like her? I’m pretty tired of living alone and drinking by myself in dark, dreary bars. I want to have some fun for a change. What don’t you ever let me go dancing, or to a movie? Anywhere where I don’t end up fighting or blasting someone’s brains all over the ceiling. That’s no way to live.

10. You never take me anywhere. I’m tired of living on dusty bookshelves. So I have an idea. I heard the Writers’ Police Academy is launching a brand new series of online courses. Why don’t you do us, and your readers, a favor and sign up the second registration opens? Then you’ll see first-hand all the things you’ve been writing WRONG all these years. All the other writers will be there.

Reacher has been to the WPA. So have Bosch, D.D. Warren, Dance, Rhyme, Jordan, Longmire, Brennan, and, well, the whole gang has been. It’s where all the cool kids go to learn how to “get it right.”

By the way, I heard from a reliable source that the first online session is a killer daylong seminar called “Mystery and Murder: Transforming Reality into Fantastic Fiction.” My source tells me this session features really cool behind the scenes tips, tactics, and techniques used by top crime scene investigators Lisa Provost and Lisa Black. Also, forensic psychology expert Dr. Katherine Ramsland is scheduled to teach a fascinating workshop about staged homicide scenes, something we fictional detectives should know.

Then, in a rare learning opportunity, #1 bestselling author Tami Hoag wraps up the event with her class “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am.” Hoag’s amazing workshop details how to carefully weave all your newfound knowledge of police and forensic work into your story.

I can’t wait until the Writers’ Police Academy Online website goes live so I can sign up to attend the classes. I heard that there’s a limited number of “seats” available, though.

I hope you’ll join me and take advantage of this exciting opportunity!

 

 

Using common sense when writing about cops

Today, when your keystrokes guide your police officer/detective/protagonist through the perils that go hand-in-hand with saving the world from total devastation, pause for just a moment and 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 your action scenes believable?

I read a lot. A whole lot. Book after book after book, including tons of stories written by readers of this blog. Think about what you’ve seen on this site for the past few years—cordite, uniforms, handcuffs, Miranda, Glocks, Sig Sauers, edged weapons, revolvers, defensive tactics, etc. Where do I get my ideas? Well … mostly from the mistakes writers make in their books (smelling cordite, thumbing off safeties when there aren’t any, etc.).

The same is true at the Writers’ Police Academy and our exciting new venture “Writers” Police Academy Online” that’s scheduled to go live in October 2020. We present workshops mostly based on questions we hear from writers. We also develop sessions that stem from the inaccuracies found in various books, TV shows, and film. Several of the activities at the WPA are based upon actual events that occurred during the year , such as the Boston bombings, school shootings, etc.

Not so long ago I was reading a wonderfully written book when a paragraph stopped me dead in my tracks. So I backed up to re-read a 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 ways to kill ever written (I won’t go into detail to protect the author’s reputation). 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 reality, and it was obvious that reality was the intention.

This was a problem for me. I really liked this author’s voice. It was fresh, new, and exciting. However, I doubt that I’ll pick up another of this author’s books. Why not? Because he/she didn’t bother to check simple facts. They didn’t even make an effort to use common sense. I wondered if they’d ever seen a real-life cop.

Writing Reality

One of the top thriller writers of our time, Lee Child, writes some pretty 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. I once asked Lee how much research he conducts before writing his books.

His answer was, “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 Reacher’s actions believable? Simple. He uses common sense. Well, that and more talent in his little finger than I have in my dreams.

By the way, in response to Lee Child when he contacted me to ask what what a rural police chief might have in the trunk of his car, I sent him this photo (below).

I took the shot while visiting a sheriff’s office in Ohio. Yes, you may have read the scene that was based on this very image, along with the description I provided to Lee.

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The trunk of a patrol car is for the storage of evidence collection material, a defibrillator (not all departments issue defibrillators), extra ammunition, rain gear, flares, emergency signage, accident and crime scene investigation equipment, extra paperwork, riot gear, etc.

Department regulations may determine the contents of the trunk. And common sense will tell you that there are no bazookas, portable helicopters, rocket launchers, or inflatable speed boats inside the trunk of a police car.

However, you might find a baseball bat and glove, a football, or a few teddy bears. Cops often come in contact with children who need a friend.

So please, if you’re going for realism, use common sense.

Common sense will also tell you to ask an expert before plunging into a topic you know nothing about, such as “what might a rural police chief have in his car trunk?”


Lee Child teamed up with his brother Andrew Child to write the next Reacher novel, “The Sentinel.” Andrew, though, will take the reins from that book forward to continue the Jack Reacher series.

On a personal note, Lee Child has been a great friend to me and my family. We are blessed that he has been a part of our lives.

I wish Andrew all the success in the world.