Sunday, April 24, 2016

Caught in a BOOBY TRAP: Information for Writers with Chris Grall

English: An animated GIF of a wood carving of ...
English: An animated GIF of a wood carving of the subject 'Three Wise Monkey' (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I knew a man who was robbed. Not once, not twice, but again and again over the years. It was the nature of his business. People see a quick fix for their financial needs when there are gold and diamond pieces on the other side of the oh-so-breakable window. 

Tired of going through the rigmarole associated with insurance claims and police reports, this guy took matters into his own hands. He booby trapped his shop. 

Every night before he locked up, he laid plywood boards side by side across the floor. Into these boards he had hammered long (extra sharp) nails. Each night, he pulled chains across the jewelry cases at ankle height, so someone coming into the store would trip and impale themselves on the nails. Oh, and to make sure that the would-be robber didn't see any of this and thus avoid it, the shop keeper bought and set up a film-making grade fog machine set to go off with any movement. If all that should fail to take down the bad guy/gal, well he had a back up plan. Hanging from the ceiling at about the average guy's head level, he hung dozens of monkeys made of pecan resin. Pecan resin, in case you didn't know, is very dense and very heavy. The theory was that the bad guy would walk into one of those monkeys and get a concussion - or at least be disoriented, lose his balance, and (you guessed it) impale himself on the spikes in the floor boards.

Yup.

It really happened.

The subject of this article is BOOBY TRAPS. Let's lay out the basics first. It is ILLEGAL to booby trap -- your home, your car, your place of work, etc. So please remember that this site is for plot research only and this information is meant to further your story line ONLY. Right Chris?

Chris - 
CHRIS GRALL - TactiQuill

AMEN

Fiona -
Chris Grall take a moment and give everyone a glimpse at your background and why you're one of my finest "go-to" guys when I'm trying to write tactical scenes right.


Chris - 
I graduated the U.S. Army Special Forces Qualification Course in 1995. My Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was 18C, Special Forces Engineer Sergeant. 

Basically, I was taught how to build stuff and then… blow it up. I had that job for five years before they moved me into an Intelligence slot and then, eventually, I became the Team Sergeant for an Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA). I was fortunate to be in the National Guard for most of my Army career. This gave me the opportunity to put my demolition skills to work as a building demolition contractor for a couple different companies. So I got to live the 18C dream… Blowing up buildings and bridges. 

I eventually took a full time position in training for the National Guard. I got to work with many SWAT teams and other Law Enforcement organizations passing on to them knowledge on a number of subjects, including the best way to deal with booby traps. Now I’m retired, and I consult for writers to improve the quality of their work and avoid errors both technical and tactical. And how I backed into this line of work is a tale all it’s own.

Fiona - 
Let's start with a booby trap definition, please.

Chris -
A booby trap is some device meant to kill, injure, or slow the enemy's progress. 

Injuring is always best. If you injure one you've removed two maybe three, because the injured will require aid and evacuation.


A booby trap is also a an anti-handling device meant to discourage use of an item by another party.


Fiona - 
So by that you mean, for example, a briefcase could be booby trapped so that only the person intended to see the contents could open it without blowing up?

Chris - 

Yes. Your character would have to know the sequence to open the brief case safely.

Fiona -
As part of your training, you learned to set booby traps. 

What kind of character would want to lay a booby trap and why would they do it?

Chris - 
First, look at what a booby trap is supposed to do. Sure they can be used to kill, but often times they are used to deny an area, restrict movement, or cause confusion...

In Sword of Gideon (movie) they were used exclusively by terrorists to kill.


In fact in most movies they are designed for that purpose, but in war, a mine field is nothing more than a bunch of manufactured booby traps used to channel an enemy force

There is a scene in Uncommon Valor (movie, Gene Hackman) where the character "Boomer" explains using booby traps in depth. channeling the enemy from one device to the next

So, I guess to really answer the question... A character who is either desperate or doesn't care about collateral damage would be the best bet. Booby traps have a random lethality... they don't care who they hurt, they just want to be triggered.

Fiona - 

Obviously one's mind goes to terrorists and the good-guys fighting the terrorists. But what about Joe's Mama who is escaping from a hoard of zombies, and she just needs a means to give herself time and space to run away? (Joe's Mama is an average modern woman with average skill sets.) Could someone with no tactical training rig a simple booby trap?
Chris - 
I like to divide booby traps into two basic categories... hunting style and explosive. In the case of Mom fleeing zombies...
Consider the character's target.

Zombies, being the unsophisticated creatures that they are, would very easily fall prey to a series of tripping hazards. So, rope or some other strong line would be perfect if anchored sturdily at about shin level. This would pile them up nicely and give plenty of time to escape. This is a simple trip trap similar to a stumble step used for castle tower defense in the dark ages.

Fiona -
"Trip trap" is fun to say.


I asked that question to point out that when writing a booby trap you have to consider a characters skill sets. Even if the only way to save my family from roving werewolves was to set up explosives, I couldn't do it - I don't know Jack about explosives. 

Chris, obviously our soldiers are schooled in booby traps But who exactly receives this training?

Chris - 
Almost all soldiers are trained to a VERY small degree to avoid traps, but emplacing traps is usually performed by "engineers" and sappers (specialized soldiers whose business is explosives).

This means Army MOS 12 series and Special Forces.


Fiona - 
Avoidance. That's important. What kinds of things would our military characters (and veterans, perhaps) be aware of as they move through a scene to avoid losing life or limb?

Chris - 

  • First and foremost, trip wires. any string or wire - could be camouflaged - is the primary threat...
  • Objects that are out of place or don't belong - the stuffed bunny in Full Metal Jacket.
  • Objects that have or appear to have value - the ammo can full of "Intel" in Platoon.
  • Anything that draws the curious
  • Any place that channelizes access to an area is a likely spot.
But! Camouflage is the big killer. If you're going to take the time to set in a device, you'll take the time to camouflage it.

And your characters have to think, if there's one... there will be more than one.

Fiona - 
Circumvent /disengage or clear/deactivate? What goes into that decision making process?

Chris - 
9 out of 10... disengage. Clearing is time consumptive dangerous work.

If I encountered a trip wire and absolutely had to continue, I would mark the trip wire and move on.

Fiona - 
Mark it with...?

Chris - 
Colored tape, toilet paper, Kleenex... something obvious and easily passed on to others in the group.

Fiona - 
From reading and watching TV shows and the movies - what do you wish authors knew about booby traps so they could write it right?

Chris - 
The big one is the old "step on the mine" trope. The character steps on something, hears the click, and thinks, "oh crap!" Devices don't work that way... EVER!

Why would anyone design a trap with a means of escape?
It's dramatic, but nowhere near reality. The device will work, or it won't... that simple.
Then it's just a question of character experience with booby traps and how they interact with the device in question... example follows:
This is the standard "grenade on the door" trick -
Your character would pull a pin on the grenade. The weight of the grenade laying on the spoon keeps it from activating. If the door is opened the handle will turn and the grenade will fall to the floor, the spoon will fly, and 5 seconds later... boom!

That is, if you came at it from the other side of the door...
If I saw it from the grenade side, I'd say, "thanks for giving me a grenade!" I would grasp the grenade and spoon, not allowing it to activate and put a paperclip or clothes pin in through the pull pin hole rendering it safe.

An inexperienced character wouldn't necessarily know this

Fiona -
What does a soldier have on them in the field that would help them make an impromptu booby trap?


Chris - 

Readily at hand items: 
  • grenades(smoke/flashbang/explosive) 
  • parachute cord (550 cord) 
  • tape 
  • claymore mine 
Possibly:
This was Chris sitting on a spool of detonating cord when he was... younger.
  • C-4 
  • blasting caps
  • a booby trap device like the M142 firing device
The possible items depend on the mission the soldier is to perform and what equipment is organic (not specialized). I take most of this for granted because I always had a demolition kit with me... filled with all sorts of toys.

Fiona - 
A Quick C-4 tutorial if you please?

Chris - 
C-4 is a plastic explosive. It is very stable and can only be initiated with a military grade blasting cap, or detonating cord tied into the appropriate knot. C-4 can also explode if you apply pressure to it while it is burning. it is very stable and can be dropped hammered and molded without fear of detonation.

Fiona - 
When an author is setting up a scene, we're going to say this is a special forces operative, tell me about their perspective what are they thinking? What is the process they are going through?

Chris - 
First, think objective, what do I need to accomplish, then what do I want to accomplish. Next come the how.

Remembering that traps are random and people are even more random still...
I will need to set up devices in depth. If the first trigger is missed, where do I set the next one to ensure I meet my objective? I would analyze the terrain (floor plan) and look for the most likely traffic areas. Trap a doorway, not the corner of the room. Trap the latch side of a gate, not the hinge side.

If I really wanted to get you at a gate in the woods, I'd have one or two pressure plate devices by the gate. And a device on the gate itself.

  • If I get you with the pressure devices as you approach, YAY! 
  • If I miss you with those, maybe I get you with the device on the gate, YAY! 
  • If I miss you with that, and you kneel down to defuse the device, maybe I get you with another pressure device where I know you'll have to kneel to disarm it, YAY! 
  • And, if I've had time, I'd put a secondary trigger or ant-handling device on the device on the gate, so when you breathe that big sigh of relief... you forget to look for more... and I get you YAY!
Of course all of this takes time... and your camouflage needs to be good.
OR

I camouflage one device poorly and/or use a false device and channel you to the real device.

It's like chess.

Fiona - 
Define pressure plate. 

Chris - 
There are 4 types of simple mechanical activation method: 
  1. Pressure: pressure activates a mechanical or electronic trigger (think switches here). 
  2. Pressure Release: the removal of a weight activates the trigger.
  3. Trip Wire, Pull: pulling the wire activates the trigger. 
  4. Trip Wire, Tension Release: cutting the wire releases the tension holding the trigger in a safe position.
There are other electrical permutations, but they all follow the same basic formula of applying a load or removing it to create an event.



Chris getting ready for an operation in Iraq


Fiona - 
Under pressure when adrenaline reduces fine motor ability how do professionals compensate?

Chris - 
Oh Fiona... you opened a big can of worms there.

Fiona - 










Chris - I've studied a lot about neurology, and I've come to a few conclusions and will point out some flaws in the loss of fine motor skills... "myth", for lack of a better word.

By definition, any operation performed with the fingers or hand is a fine motor skill. Any operation performed with the larger muscle groups is gross. If you've trained to perform an action, you will be able to perform that action under stress.
So, imagine that you are a civil war soldier, and you are standing in the front line of a formation of 100 men. Loading and firing a civil war musket is a ten-step process which included pouring powder into a little tube, ramming the ball down that tube with a metal rod, then re-stowing that rod in it's keeper, and so forth.

The average Civil War Soldier could perform this action 3 time in a minute. Now imagine, standing in front of you, 25 yards away is a group just like yours, they are also shooting at you, there are cannons blowing huge holes in your line AND... at any moment those guys over there could charge and try to ram a three foot long knife through you guts... were they under stress? Could they perform the fine motor skills required to load and fire a musket? 

Anything can be trained.

Stress is mitigated through training.

Fiona - 
Speaking of stress, we always ask for a harrowing story - or the story behind your favorite scar.

Chris - A harrowing Story. . .
You can’t spend 26 years in the Army without acquiring a few interesting tales, but my favorite explosives story was not harrowing for me as much as it was for the Bolivians we were training. We had been tasked with a training mission and as luck would have it, one of the topics was explosive safety and field expedient devices. Basically, building bombs out of materials on hand. The Bolivian Army at that time did not have much access to C-4 and had to use Dynamite.

Now, Dynamite in the U.S. has become a much safer explosive. The newer stuff is not as unstable as it is sometimes portrayed in the movies… The old stuff, DANGEROUS. The new stuff, not so bad. Of course the Dynamite they had in Bolivia, well, let’s just say the Bolivians had a very healthy respect for the stuff. So we were going to build devices out of their dynamite, but we also had some C-4 so we could teach them the differences.
The big day arrives and one of our guys is standing at a table with about 100 Bolivian soldados standing around him. He picks up the Dynamite, “Muy Peligroso…” (Very dangerous) They all nod. He hands off the dynamite to one of our guys and picks up the C-4. Then he tells them how safe it is. (English Translation) “In fact, It’s so safe I can beat it against this table…”

As he struck the table with the C-4, I detonated a pound of the stuff out on the range.

It took us about half an hour to collect them all back to the class and I think a couple had to go change their pants.



Fiona -
Ha! 

BTW  According to Today I Found Out:
[Booby trap, as it  turns out,] has nothing to do with the mammaries of the fairer sex, but rather has its origins in the Spanish word “bobo,” meaning “stupid,” “fool,” or “na├»ve.” This Spanish word in turn comes from the Latin “balbus” meaning “stammering”, which to the Romans was thought to be a sign of stupidity.
So, essentially, a “booby trap” is a trap that “boobies,” or idiots, are the victims of. Around the same time this first popped up, we also had expressions like “booby prize,” meaning a prize given to a fool. 
Okay, my dear fellow readers and writers all know that I'm a great big HUGE advocate of trying out the scenes to make sure they work, getting hands-on working knowledge of the subject matter, etc. 

OBVIOUSLY when we are writing things like C-4 and "grenade resting on a spoon" tactics, this is the point at which I say STOP! Consult a professional. Let them help you write it right.

To this end, Chris, you are a resource for writers through your business TactiQuill. Can you give us a basic breakdown of what your service provides and the costs?

Chris - 

TactiQuill Rates: (TactiQuill.com)

TactiQuill provides firearms and tactical advice at the following rates: (For items 1 & 2, whichever is cheapest)

1. .015 Per word / 2000 word minimum ($30).
2. $3 per page / 10 page minimum ($30)
3. Phone/Video conference $125 per hour. (Plot / character / scenario development / firearms advice)

Services:
  • Analyze and critique action sequences - Armed and unarmed combat
  • Identify firearms mistakes 
  • Weapon specs
  • Weapon manipulation by characters
  • Weapon usage
  • Weapon pronouns 
  • Character actions vs level of training
  • Plot / action / scenario analysis
  • Review of all rewrites to the submission 
  • Mention anything that raises a question from the point of view of our experience and training.
  • Written review of the work (Manuscript only)
Fiona - 
Thanks, Chris, for all of this wonderful information. 


You all can catch up with Chris Grall on Twitter @dtn8or. 


And as always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, 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.

2 comments:

  1. Extremely helpful and interesting to boot. Who knew about 'Bobo' traps?

    ReplyDelete
  2. My favorite anti-theft story is from South Africa where, years ago, stealing a car was the national past time. A doctor finally had it after his sixth new car was stolen within a year so he started leaving a bottle of booze laced with a deadly poison in the glove compartment. When the body of the thief was found in the car, he'd claim the poison booze was for mice or something at his home. He got away with it. Doubt he would today.

    ReplyDelete