Sunday, October 18, 2015

Free Training Opportunities to Help Writers Write it Right

Writers hand with pen
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many writers I know flock to the Internet and YouTube to gather their information. And I am one of them. It's a great starting place. But I think we can all agree that reading something and experiencing that something are very different. 

I "try it" whenever I can find a way. This is a carry over from unschooling my kids - I looked for opportunities to let my children experience things first hand instead of reading about it in a book. Imagine, if you will, my getting a midnight call from the Herp Society saying the salamanders were spawning. Woohoo! I got the kids up, in the car, and there we were out in the middle of the woods with people who thought watching salamanders spawn was the beat all end all of entertainment. They were knowledgeable and just as important thrilled to share that knowledge. 

I always think that hands-on is the research way to go if you can at all swing it. Until you've crawled through mud, you can't really describe how it feels to crawl through mud. You're guessing, and it falls flat. 

Now I'm not saying you have to try EVERYTHING - I mean if you're writing a murder, please use your imagination. But when you safely and responsibly can, physically experiencing something makes the world of difference to your prose.

Here are some courses that I took that were absolutely free to me - all they cost was my time.

Community Emergency Response Teams

"The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations.

Using the training le

English: Emmitsburg, MD, March 10, 2003 -- FEM...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
arned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an event when professional responders are not immediately available to help. CERT members also are encouraged to support emergency response agencies by taking a more active role in emergency preparedness projects in their community." LINK

This can be done online - but please go try it. Put your hands in and really experience it.

The CERT training for community groups is usually delivered in 2 1/2 hour sessions, one evening a week over a 7 week period. The training consists of the following:

  • Session I, DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Addresses hazards to which people are vulnerable in their community. Materials cover actions that participants and their families take before, during and after a disaster. 
  • Session II, DISASTER FIRE SUPPRESSION: Briefly covers fire chemistry, hazardous materials, fire hazards and fire suppression strategies. However, the thrust of this session is the safe use of fire extinguishers, sizing up the situation, controlling utilities and extinguishing a small fire.
  • Session III, DISASTER MEDICAL OPERATIONS PART I: Participants practice diagnosing and treating airway obstruction, bleeding and shock by using simple triage and rapid treatment techniques.
  • Session IV, DISASTER MEDICAL OPERATIONS, PART II: Covers evaluating patients by doing a head to toe assessment, establishing a medical treatment area, performing basic first aid and practicing in a safe and sanitary manner.
  • Session V, LIGHT SEARCH AND RESCUE OPERATIONS: Participants learn about search and rescue planning, size-up, search techniques, rescue techniques and, most important, rescuer safety.
  • Session VI, DISASTER PSYCHOLOGY AND TEAM ORGANIZATION: Covers signs and symptoms that might be experienced by the disaster victim and worker. It addresses CERT organization and management principles and the need for documentation.
  • Session VII, COURSE REVIEW AND DISASTER SIMULATION: Participants review their answers from a take home examination. Finally, they practice the skills that they have learned during the previous six sessions in disaster activity.


This took place for 2.5 hours weekly for seven weeks plus one whole day of hands on FUN!

Here are some of the things I learned/did:
  • Home fire prevention and using a fire extinguisher.
  • Fire science and fire dynamics
  • Fire station tour
  • Engine and Truck company display
  • Live fire demonstrations
  • Technical rescue demonstration
  • Residential protection systems
  • Hazardous materials lecture and HAZMAT team demonstration
  • Mobile Command Center tour (this included crawling through and escaping a smoke filled mobile home).
  • EMS
  • CPR skills
  • Medflight
  • Modern EMS  vehicle display and demonstration
  • SCUBA team
  • TRT (technical rescue team)
  • Chat with a fire marshal responsible for fire investigation
  • Hands on day! We got to go up in a hook and ladder truck, cut open a car with the jaws of life, lift a car using blow up cushions, block a car to keep it from rolling, watch a house go up in flames and the roll-over fire. Wear the fire turnout suits and equipment, and on and on...


I am the BOMB baby! I got to try on the 100 lb bomb suit and try to walk.

The Citizens Police Academy was 4 hours once a week with one full hands on day. Here I got to learn about and TRY:

  • Criminal investigation and doing fingerprinting.
  • Vice and narcotics (no samples given)
  • Special investigations
  • Uniform Operations
  • Traffic unit - we got to go out and monitor traffic speeds
  • Forensics
  • SWAT (including trying on everything from ghillie suits to bullet resistant vests and got to put hands on all of their weapons and equipment.
  • Fraud and scams
  • MILO (which used to be FATS see my article about that HERE)
  • K-9 unit where we got to meet the dogs and see them in action - both drug detection and take downs (See my article on that HERE)
  • Crime Analysis fundamentals
  • Our day at the training center talked about how the recruits were trained and we got to see them in action.


You can request to go on a ride along in a ploice cruiser. I did mine on a Saturday night shift. I was one on one with an officer for hours and hours, and we got to talk books, plot, and about my officer's job. A fabulous experience.



This is me at the FBI learning how to do presumptive tests at a crime scene.

I have not yet taken the academy course because it has conflicted with my schedule but I've done 2 whole day events with the FBI one in NYC as part of Thrillerfest and one through Sisters in Crime. Their curriculum includes such topics as:

  • Practical problems involving evidence collection and preservation.
  • FBI jurisdiction and congressional oversight.
  • Structure and operation of FBI field offices and resident agencies.
  • Fingerprint, forensic, technology, training, and other services
  • Policies and issues: ethics, discipline, communications, civil rights, and criminal trends.
  • Firearms training.

Whew! That's a lot of free hands-on training that not only gives you a feel for what you might be writing about, but also gives you points of contact so you could follow up with your specific questions.

Learning how the professionals speak, move, and interact is great character development, too. Also, please note that once you've been through these opportunities you will be informed when special learning opportunities arise. A friend who went through FBI recently was invited to a special talk on child trafficking. I am getting ready to go to a special training in weather watching only available to CERT members. So advancing your knowledge is possible.

So get out there and TRY IT!

Also, there are several events that teach writers at a pretty low cost - especially if you live in the area:

  • In April, I will be presenting at AUTHORS COMBAT ACADEMY where fighting and writing experts teach classes and offer hands on experiences with all types of fight scenes as well as the chance to rent your very own ninjas. I KNOW! Total awesomeness. It'll be held in Nashville.
  • SilverHart with NY Times and USA bestselling author Lilliana Hart and retired Police Chief and former SWAT Leader Scott Silverii will hold a four day SWAT Academy
  • Writers Police Academy - is an opportunity I've taken advantage of three times. Very excellent, and they have a discount for Sisters in Crime members. This is a picture of me at Writers' Police Academy learning to fight while my hands are cuffed.

So that should get you started! Look for upcoming articles from my experiences.

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.


  1. What is your favorite thing you ever learned doing research (if anything stands out)?

    1. Oh that's a really hard question. I'll tell you, though, the hands on things rather than the tours and lectures really spark my imagination and my writing. The things like going up in the hook and ladder, putting on the bomb gear, fighting in handcuffs, crawling in mud and going over the walls, trying to clear a building, doing the lab tests (Rather than watching the lab tests being done)...

    2. Do you ever think about some of the things you've researched when they come up in books, movies, etc? Occasionally I'll see something that'll cause me to think of an article you wrote. I'll admit I've been thinking about the site while reading your books, trying to see which articles went into the stories.

    3. When I'm watching/reading I find having a better understanding and that understanding makes the mistakes stand out; but also, the nuances of what they got right stand out too. I absolutely do my research to help me write my books. It might be a whole article that I cull one word from to add in a conversation - but I think it makes the conversation better. I hope that I hide my research well enough that you never think - oh, I know what article this came from. My hope is that the try-its and other research just shows up as genuine and helps put you right there in the story with my characters.

    4. Oh I wouldn't have thought about the research at all if it hadn't been for this site. I don't think anyone who didn't know about it would have thought about it.

  2. Oh, so jealous. Wish they did stuff like this in the UK.