Monday, 14 April 2014 20:07
“Write Well, Write to Sell” is pleased to welcome Kellee Kranendonk as a contributor. Kellee, a native of Canada (in case you’re wondering about the occasional divergent spellings of some words in her post), has been a frequent contributor to Silver Blade magazine, which recently changed its format. Karl Rademacher, Silver Blade’s publisher approached me about switching Kellee’s articles over to Write Well, where he felt they would be a better fit yet still remain a part of Silver Pen. I wholeheartedly agreed.
And it’ll give Scott and me a breather from time to time in addition to providing some new perspectives.
With that introduction, here’s Kellee.
We live in a fast world: fast food, texts on cell phones, and emails sent across the world in seconds. But one place you don’t want to be fast is in your writing. Slow down and let us live the story.
I used to write “fast,” but then I took my writing course and learned some things that helped me slow down.
Sunday, 13 April 2014 07:31
The television show CSI has moved fingerprint investigation into the forefront of many stories of crime fiction. It seems like on every episode of the popular TV series, the investigators magically uncover a fingerprint, and thirty minutes later the crime is solved. Unfortunately, reality follows a starkly different path. Fingerprints are hard to come by, quality fingerprints even more so, and usually at that point the print ends up belonging to the victim. That being said, this blog entry will delve into the world of latent print investigation.
The first thing I should do is break down that phrase: “latent prints.” I used the word “prints” rather than “fingerprints” for a reason. Palm prints are another means of identifying suspects, and they make up roughly one in three prints recovered at a crime scene. I’ll discuss them in depth in a few moments. When I say “prints,” I’m referring to both fingerprints and palm prints.
Monday, 24 March 2014 19:30
Last time, our discussion on death scenes included suicides, accidental deaths, and natural deaths. In this week’s blog, we’ll take a look at questionable deaths and homicide scenes.
The questionable death scene is a difficult one. Often, there are no obvious signs of trauma on the body and no obvious mechanism of death. It might even be unclear how the body came to be where it is. These cases are treated as homicides until we find sufficient evidence to decide otherwise.
Take for example the male body we found along the Illinois River a few years ago, just before Christmas. His body showed no signs of injury. Although the river had not yet frozen over, his clothing was dry, making it unlikely that he had drowned. He was lying face down in the sand, missing a shoe and wearing a jacket that wasn’t heavy enough for the frigid temperatures. A short distance to the west of his body was a seven-foot-high concrete wall, built to keep the river away from nearby homes during floods.
Monday, 17 March 2014 18:45
Once again, we’re cross-posting some great advice from the 13Thirty Books blog. This time, Rich Devin shares some tips on how to improve your sales at book signings. Now, we realize that these are somewhat rare events at bookstores for indie authors, but they don’t have to be at bookstores. And some of Rich’s tips can be extended and applied to marketing in general with the idea of improving your chances at getting noticed. It’s all about presentation. So, we hope that our readers will find useful information here.
Monday, 10 March 2014 19:57
At the end of the previous installment, I discussed various methods for determining how long a person has been dead. This time, we’re going to take a look at the manner of death: suicide, accidental, and natural.
In a typical case of natural death, the signs are obvious. In fact, our department policy is that if the death appears completely natural to the responding officer (and to the attending emergency medical personnel), the crime scene unit doesn’t need to respond. This would include cases of terminally ill patients, especially those who are home on hospice care, waiting to die. The elderly would fall into this category for the most part, but not always. I just watched a video recapping an 80-year-old and an 81-year-old, both of whom completed an Ironman race in Hawaii. Granted, that’s an extreme example, but it serves the purpose to demonstrate that just because someone has reached their elder years, it doesn’t necessarily mean their health is fragile. If the deceased was in their 80s but was in decent health and exercised regularly, I’d definitely want to take a closer look at the situation.
Tuesday, 25 February 2014 10:57
A commonly asked question, both at real crime scenes and at those from the world of fiction, is this: how long has the victim been dead? A variety of tools is available to investigators who are looking to answer that very question. However, sometimes the methods described by fiction authors fall short of reality. Let’s take a look at some ways we can get to the truth on this matter. Keep in mind that many of these methods are affected by temperature. The warmer the air, the faster all of these processes of decomposition will become.
One simple manner is by examining cell phones and other technology used for communication. This is a method I just used in the past week on a real case. A one-car, one-occupant accident occurred on a rural road, killing the driver. However, the wreckage wasn’t discovered for some time, so we had no idea how long the person had been deceased. We can download data from the Airbag Control Module (a.k.a. the “black box”), and while this will certainly tell us about the crash, the data doesn’t include a date and time stamp.
Instead, I checked her cell phone. By looking at her outgoing calls and text messages, along with her access to social media such as Facebook, I was able to determine that she was still alive at 1 a.m. She was found at around 3:00 a.m., so the time of death is down to a two-hour window. Not bad. If this had been a homicide, we’d have a great starting point for checking the alibis of potential suspects.
Monday, 17 February 2014 18:44
by Write Well, Write To Sellon February 17th, 2014 at 8:41 PM
Reposted with permission.
Last week I talked about head-hopping in terms of POV. As a refresher, head hopping refers to slipping out of the viewpoint of whichever character is narrating a scene and slipping into the viewpoint of another character in the scene, one whose thoughts and feelings the starting POV character cannot know.
I also discussed how this differs from the omniscient POV. In that POV, an external narrator is telling the story and is therefore able to enter into the heads of various characters because he knows what those characters are thinking and feeling.
A variant of head-hopping is the POV slip. This happens when the author inadvertently slips out of the POV character’s head to reveal something the character cannot be experiencing directly. Often this will be some reaction on the character’s own face (such as blushing) that he can’t see unless he’s looking in a mirror. However, the character can know what blushing feels like (warmth in the face or neck), so the author can (and should) express it this way.
Monday, 10 February 2014 19:08
on February 10th, 2014 at 8:55 PM
In two previous posts here (July 9, 2012 and July 23, 2012), I talked a little about point of view (POV), specifically first person and how to choose the best POV for the story.
Point of view is a lengthy and complex subject in writing, in part because there are so many possible POVs one can write in. Every story is told from the perspective of one or more narrators. Whoever is narrating the story at a particular time is termed the POV character. Moreover, a story does not have to be restricted to a single POV. Many novels are written using multiple POVs, although most short stories are restricted to just one, although this is not a requirement for short stories.
In an effort to simply this topic, let’s for the moment consider two broad POVs: omniscient and limited omniscient.
LIMITED OMNISCIENT POV is called limited because the narrator’s knowledge of the story is limited to the knowledge, thoughts, and feelings of ONE character. This narrator’s knowledge of other characters is based solely on what he/she knows of the other characters, but that knowledge cannot involve the thoughts or unexpressed feelings of any other characters (because the narrator cannot be inside the heads of those other characters–only in his/her own head.
Tuesday, 04 February 2014 19:24
Last time, I talked about the functions and duties of the Coroner’s office, including the work done by the Forensic Pathologist. In this installment, I’ll move forward into police procedures when investigating the death scene.
First, I would like to take a moment to discuss what we call the “CSI Effect.” The popular television series, which has spawned its share of spin-off series, demonstrates the capabilities of the crime scene investigator. But in the process, the writers take great liberties with the entire process. No lab in the country is as well-equipped as the television crime lab. The scientists who work in real crime labs do not typically go to crime scenes, although they do go on rare occasions. And they don’t go out interviewing and arresting the suspects.
The other problem is that, in the interest of making the show more interesting, they play free with the abilities of the technologies in the crime lab. An example is the use of a chemical called Luminol, which is used to detect the presence of blood, even if the surface has been cleaned. I saw an episode where, in broad daylight, Luminol was used to detect blood on the metal blade of a shovel. My issues with this are many. The main problem is that the glow of a positive reaction from Luminol can only be viewed in near-total darkness. The other major issue is that metals will produce false positives for Luminol, making their positive result useless.
Monday, 20 January 2014 18:36
on January 20th, 2014 at 8:18 PM
As a police officer and a crime scene investigator, I often find errors in the depiction of crime scenes in thriller novels. In prior blogs, I’ve discussed the mistakes I’ve seen writers make with weapons, such as Tasers and pistols. Today, I’ll begin a series on ways to avoid common crime scene pitfalls. One thing to note: a few of the things I’m writing about are specific to Illinois. Although much of this information is simple biology and physics, certain procedures may vary by jurisdiction.
One such procedure is the Coroner’s office. In Illinois, we utilize the medical examiner system. The County Coroner is not necessarily a medical doctor. In fact, the only requirement to hold the office is to win the election. It’s entirely possible for a Coroner to not even have a high school diploma. Typically, the Coroner holds more of an administrative position and will send a Deputy Coroner out to death scenes.
The Coroner’s Office serves multiple functions. One is to notify the deceased’s next of kin. Usually this comes after positive identification has been made, either through ID cards, fingerprints, or even by someone present at the death scene who knows the decedent. At times, the Coroner may have to contact the family to have one of them make the identification.
When a death is reported, the police have first jurisdiction over the scene. Depending upon the police department’s policy, they may allow the Deputy Coroner to examine the body before the crime scene investigators have finished their investigation. Other departments will require the Deputy Coroner to wait outside the crime scene until their initial investigation is complete. Once the Deputy Coroner is allowed on the scene, the police relinquish custody of the body to the Deputy Coroner.
The Coroner will determine if there is to be an autopsy or not. Should that be deemed necessary, it will be performed by a doctor called a Forensic Pathologist, who serves as the medical examiner. Everything is carefully documented and photographed, both by the doctor’s assistant and by the police officer who witnesses the autopsy, or Post-Mortem Examination. A small tidbit of information: the police slang shorthand for autopsy is “post” (short for post-mortem).
The autopsy itself starts with an external examination. The body is cleaned and photographed before all scars, injuries, and tattoos are documented. If there is some question about the deceased person’s identity, the police will fingerprint the body, either at this stage or once the entire autopsy is finished.
For the internal examination, the assistant makes a y-shaped cut on the chest and abdomen, removes the front of the ribs, and excises the internal organs. The pathologist will dissect each organ, checking for injury and disease. He takes blood samples, both for DNA and toxicology. Vitreous fluid from the eyes is tested for the presence of drugs and alcohol. The last step is the removal and examination of the brain.
The pathologist will issue a preliminary cause of death, with a typical stipulation that this diagnosis is pending the results of the toxicology testing. In rare cases, there may be no immediate indicators of the cause of death. Once the test results are in, the Coroner holds an inquest in front of a Coroner’s Jury. The jury will decide if the cause of death was homicide, suicide, accidental, or natural. However, this ruling is non-binding. They could rule a death accidental, but a prosecutor could still charge the death as a homicide.
In my next entry, I’ll move into police procedures at death scenes. This series will also include information on specific areas of police investigations, such as fingerprints, footwear, and blood spatter, as well as ways to determine how long a person has been deceased. Stick with this information and these scenes in your novels will be much more believable.