Showing posts with label psychology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label psychology. Show all posts

Sunday, November 27, 2016

How Safe Is Your Character? Information for Writers with Jacqueline Ward

Jacqueline Ward is a Chief Executive Officer at the Safety and Reliability Society, in England. This is a membership based organization that deals with major hazards. She is a Chartered Health Psychologist and has done research into women's health, domestic violence, missing people, Alzheimer's, central nervous system, and disaster management & human factors in engineering. How cool is that?

(This article was edited for American spelling)

Fiona - 
Does any your work background show up in your writing, or do you use your writing to escape from these subjects?

Jacqueline - 
I have used my knowledge of missing people and domestic violence extensively in my writing, and I'm currently writing a psychological thriller where the central character is a psychologist studying psychopathology! Not based on me though - honestly.

Fiona - 
Let's chat about trauma psychology. I bet you've had some experience with TV, movies, and books, where you're thinking - in no universe is that how it happens. Can you start with some of the common mistakes creative types make when they're putting their characters into a highly charged atmosphere? 

Jacqueline -
I have a lot of experience of what happens step by step in major disasters. Part of my work is to read and evaluate major incidents reports and to draw out lessons learned, so I understand them at a deep level. 

It just happens that major incidents with lots of danger and fatalities are the subject matter for books, TV and movies. 
  • One of the most common mistakes I pick up is alarms. It's either no alarms at all, or all the alarms go off and everyone runs in all directions. There is never a procedure that everyone follows. Quite often this mayhem is portrayed as the cause of the disaster and fatalities, when it definitely isn't. 
  • Also, when one person is bellowing orders to lots of people in a noisy environment, I am shouting at the screen. It is usually massively oversimplified, in film and TV. I guess to save money, but in books it's usually lack of research.

Fiona - 
In some people, they follow the rules - you mentioned the alarms - surely there have been times when a group has practiced evacuation  and even though someone is new (perhaps visiting) but enough people know the process that the new players can be herded along.

But what happens when the way the populace has been taught to respond is thwarted? The exit they were aiming for is ablaze. Can you break down what kinds of reactions might happen - are there in your field specific "types" that you plan to accommodate or even depend on emerging?

Jacqueline -
A lot of this is cultural. 
  • Firstly, alarms. When an alarm is put into place and it has a process around it (alarm sounds, employees/staff exit and guide the public out) it is rehearsed. The problem comes usually at the first stage when the initial alarm goes off to indicate something is wrong. 
  • Quite often and a real problem is alarm desensitization. The person in charge of the facility or venue may have rehearsed the alarm so often that the populace is used to it and begin to perceive every alarm as a rehearsal. This is a direct reversal of what should happen biologically in the flight or fight. 
  • Then there is the reaction to an alarm by the crowd. This differs significantly in different disasters. 

That's so true, and obvious when you say it. I might have understood how one of my characters would act/react - but I also need to be cognizant that they are acting within a group that will have its own personality traits. Can you give us a couple of cultural examples?

Jacqueline -
Let's take the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster, the incident was caused by alarm desensitization. Alarms were possibly overridden by the survival instinct. The individualistic culture of the UK might have played a role. This is an example of the exit that is ablaze. In this situation, the crew had fairly clear instructions about how to leave the rig but fire blocked their way. So their fight or flight instinct was invoked. Their lives were threatened and their senses heightened to find any way to survive. Sensory amplification in hazardous situations in common. In this case, they had no choice but to jump into the sea that was on fire.

Alternatively in Japan with the Fukushima nuclear incident, all procedures were followed to the letter and fatalities were extremely low (from the nuclear incident, not for the natural tsunami incident).

Major hazards are so rare that there is not enough data collected to assign types to people who have survived or perished. This is also why there are very few prediction models.

Fiona -
Let's talk about prediction models - what elements are involved?

Jacqueline -
Taking infrastructure hazards as an example, a big focus has been on the safety and reliability of the engineering of things like trains, planes and buildings. Many prediction models focus on the performance of the complex system and its parts - how the materials have performed in the past. This is combined with the past incidents and near misses with similar vehicles or buildings.

It is only fairly recently that human error has been taken into account when predicting disasters. 

The people who design and operate prediction models to prevent accidents and disasters are just as much heroes as the people who act when the hazard happens - without their foresight there would be many more disasters. 

I'd like to see more of them in books, films and TV, but they are not as sexy as someone who (often unrealistically) runs in and rescues someone from a burning building. Believe it or not there are whole teams of people who are responsible for keeping military vehicles safe and reliability so as to protect the lives of the people who operate them in war zones. 

Part of my rationale for working in this field is to keep nuclear power safe. I used to be against nuclear power, but as it is here to stay we need to be able to manage it in order to prevent a major accident with lots of fatalities.

Fiona - 
I can totally see a lone hero on a planning committee trying to bring a flaw to the attention of those who'd rather turn a blind eye.

Okay ThrillWriters, we have a new hero! Maybe it's our beta heroine, who knew the risks the whole time. The alphas are in high gear, and she's running into the fray with blueprints in hand. "Listen to me!"

So Jacqueline, let's make you in your position into a character. What common qualities do you see in someone who is working in your field?

Jacqueline -

  • Someone in my field would probably have a science background and a deep concern for the safety of people and for the environment, so they'd be compassionate
  • There is a certain amount of confidence needed as 'speaking up' is part of the job description, but also being able to operate on a national level, as the work involves understanding and reporting on the National Risk Register to government. So resilient also.
Fiona - What would you like to teach us about your world that I would never guess or know to ask about?

Jacqueline -
That major incidents are a lot less frequent than we think they are and that they can almost never be predicted. There is a book called Black Swan by Naseem Nicholas Teleb that anyone interested in risk and disasters should read.

Fiona - 
In the ThrillWriting tradition, it's now time to share your favorite scar story.
Jacqueline -
It's horrible. I've never been good with electric knives and one day when I was heavily pregnant with my third child I was chopping cabbage, and I cut my arm open with the electric knife I was using. As if that wasn't enough, I ran to the bathroom to wash it and even though there was no one in the house I locked the door behind me. I couldn't get out as the lock stuck. I was bleeding badly and then I felt labour pains. It took three hours for my partner to come home and find me, and the ambulance was accompanied by the fire brigade who had to break the bathroom door down. I was OK, my baby son was OK, but I have a big scar on my arm to remind me of that day. People sometimes ask me about it and ask if I tried to commit suicide, which is ironic as I was actually giving birth, but it gives m an opportunity to open a conversation about mental health and have been able to facilitate healing through it. So all's well that ends well!

Fiona - 
Thank you.

I'm sure you are all anxious to learn about 
Jacqueline's writing.
Why not check out her work RANDOM ACTS OF UNKINDNESS

DS Jan Pearce has a big problem. Her fifteen year old son, Aiden, is missing. Jan draws together the threads of missing person cases spanning fifty years and finds tragic connections and unsolved questions.

Bessy Swain, an elderly woman that Jan finds dead on her search for Aiden, and whose own son, Thomas, was also missing, may have the answers.

Jan uses Bessy's information and her own skills and instinct to track down the missing boys. But is it too late for Aiden?

Set in the North West of England, with the notorious Saddleworth Moor as a backdrop, Random Acts of Unkindness is a story about motherhood, love and loss and how families of missing people suffer the consequences of major crimes involving their loved ones

Her website,, is a great way for you to get in touch with her also her Twitter - @jacquiannward

Cheers! And thanks for visiting.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Domestic Abuse and the Counselors Who Try to Help: Information for Writers with Donna Glaser

Today I welcome to ThrillWriting Donna White Glaser. Donna is the author of The Letty Whittaker 12 Step Mystery series and the Blood Visions Paranormal Mystery series. She is a psychotherapist and lives northwestern Wisconsin. As if that weren’t enough, she and her husband own a residential construction company where it’s Donna’s job to deal with any overly emotional, what-do-you-mean-you-can’t-put-roof-trusses-up-in-a-thunderstorm? clients. Strangely enough, she often comes up with ideas for creative murders and hiding bodies during business hours. Currently she is at work on the fifth Letty Whittaker 12-Step Mystery, The Lies We Tell and is plotting the second in the Blood Visions series,  Scry Me A River.

Fiona - 
Would you please tell us a little more about your psychology background?

Donna - 
I'm a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in WI. My degrees are BS in Psychology and MA in Human Relations, and I've been working in the mental health field for thirty years. Much of that time has been working with children and adolescents. 

Early on, I worked in residential treatment centers with kids who had been removed from their homes and foster homes for severe neglect and abuse. Those that were placed in the RTC after their own behaviors had gotten dangerous, either to themselves or to others. 

Domestic violence is so horrific because it happens in families, the place where we should feel safest. Not surprisingly, the children who are trapped in these situations react with what they see and experience.

I shifted out of working in RTCs after marrying and getting pregnant with my first child. The kids' stories and the intensity of treatment grew too close when I had my own babies, so it was time for me to step back and let others carry that particular burden.

That's also when I began to write. Prior to leaving that field, I think my energies were too focused on pouring into others for me to have any leftover for creative purposes. I did stay working as a therapist, though when my kids were young I kept it part-time. I worked (and still do) with outpatient clients, both adults and children. 

Five years ago, I was hired by an agency that does Children and Adolescent Day-treatment, so I was back working with kids again. In CADT programs, kids remain in their homes, but come to daily treatment during school hours. The particular program I work for is only a half-day program, so the kids head back to school when they're done with our group. During the time they're with us, we provide group therapy and help them deal with traumas and issues that are overwhelming them. Many come from homes where domestic violence is, or has been, common.

Fiona - 

If writers want to see the influence of your work with domestic abuse in literature they can read some of your early stories. Can you tell us a bit about those works?

Donna - 
Description for my first series, the Letty Whittaker 12-Step Mysteries: Letty is a psychotherapist, a recovering alcoholic, and a bit of a smartass. The themes in the series are loosely connected with Letty's journey through her own 12 Step program as well as the tough issues she faces in her own career. In the first book, The Enemy We Know, Letty is attacked by the boyfriend of one of her clients after Carrie leaves their abusive relationship. When Wayne (the boyfriend) can't take his anger out on his usual target, he turns his focus to the person he blames for Carrie's escape. 

The second book in this series also focuses on domestic violence. It's set in a women's shelter where Letty uncovers the fact that several women have been murdered or gone missing over the last several years.

Fiona - 
Let's start with a definition. What is considered abusive by a mental health professional?

Donna - 
I can't answer what is abusive by law. I know there have been many times when I've reported what I felt was abuse to CPS (Child Protective Services), and they've labeled the situation "unfounded." Unfortunately, it's a lot like the old "porn" definition: it it looks like porn to you, it is. But that's so hard to make objective. 

In a therapeutic setting, I let the client decide what is abusive in the context of their lives. As far as reporting goes, as a mandated reporter, I have to report instances where physical or sexual abuses of certain population types, eg. minors, the elderly, mentally ill. Neglect is also reportable, but emotional abuse isn't.

Fiona - 

When folks think about abuse they often imagine bruising and broken bones but abuse also includes

  • emotional abuse
  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • medical abuse
  • neglect

Abuse happens at all levels of education and socio-economic situation, what kinds of personalities and what kinds of triggers might begin the cycle of abuse?

Donna - 
You're so right about the generalization of abuse. It's not confined to any one demographic or victim personality type. That's because the abuse starts with the abuser. I know that sounds stupid but what I mean is that there is nothing about the victim that triggers the abuse to start. It's all about the abuser, and is born out of inflated insecurities which spawn the need to control. As an example, I've noticed that when a person, any person, is feeling out of control in some (or several) areas of their life, they often turn to another area and overcompensate. For instance when my work as a therapist starts to feel overwhelming, I come home and plot murders. I can control what happens in my books. I can decide every little piece and interaction in my characters. On a much larger and significantly more horrific scale, abusers follow the same pattern. They feel out of control, or less than, in some area--usually public--and they turn to something they can control to compensate.

Fiona - 
And the victim's are frequently not people that we would think could ever become victims. Can you tell us a little about victim cycles and how things escalate?

Donna - 
You're right that victims are often people we would least expect. That's because we have a preconception of the kind of person we think would become victims. Maybe that's because we'd like to think we are safe from falling into that trap. But we aren't. 
Most of the women (and some men) that I've seen are strong, capable personalities. Ones that lead and make decisions in their jobs. I think sometimes it's their very strength that leads to the entrapment. Knowing and believing in her own strength, the victim

  1. has a difficult time seeing herself as such
  2. believes that her very strength can "make a difference" in the abuser's life. Her love will be strong enough to weather this storm. Compassion is also another trait that victims have in plenty. They want to help and they want to be the ones to heal their partner's wounds.

Regarding how things escalate: 

  • THE TEST - an abuser starts with a test. Usually a threat, but a real one. Maybe he'll bring a gun home one day, or maybe it'll be a push or a drawn back fist. Some action that will test how his partner will (or won't) react. And then he'll apologize, often quite sincerely, for losing his temper while at the same time casting whatever he did as his partner's fault. He's sorry, but she shouldn't have. . .whatever.
  • ISOLATION - is key too, and happens at about the same time. Isolation can be physical--maybe a move to a location where the partner doesn't know anybody, maybe he'll encourage her to quit her job. Or it could be emotional. He makes her choose between him or her friends/family. He makes it an issue of loyalty and often couches it as an action that will help heal him and prove her love.

The actual triggers, once that prep work has been put in place, can really be anything that adds stress to the abuser. Life. Whatever. His job isn't going well. Financial burdens. Relationship conflicts in other areas. Anything really.

Fiona - 
Upon the initial threat - the test -can you give me three responses? 

  1. A counter move on the would be victims part that would curtail further abuse. 
  2. A neutral act that would lead to a second test 
  3. A response which would solidify the abusers new role. These are simply examples - obviously each situation is unique.

Donna - 

  1. The most effective counter move would be for the partner to leave the relationship. From what I've read, most of the women who've been abused state that there were clear signs and situations prior to getting married. Just leave. We're taught that true love forgives all, but it doesn't have to. 
  2. A neutral act would be one where the potential victim sets a boundary. One that she thinks will clarify acceptable and unacceptable behavior to her partner. Unfortunately, in the world of human interactions, words mean less than actions, and the action taken was, in this case, inaction. He might exert more self-control, which will extend the time between the threat and the next, but if a man is going to be an abuser he's going to abuse eventually. 
  3. A response that would solidify the cycle would be if the woman accepts responsibility for being the trigger and, in turn, apologizes for causing it.

I also want to stress that while I'm using he = abuser and she= victim, that's definitely not always the case. Especially in terms of emotional abuse. The same patterns apply there and in those situations I've seen a 50/50 ratio of men victims as women.

Fiona - 

That's an interesting plot twist.

There are also people who are abusive by nature, and they are looking for victims. Can you talk about some warning signs that -- let's put this in the context of a male looking for a female victim to -- a woman could be aware of. And what kinds of traits might an (psychopath, sociopath, narcissistic) abuser be seeking out in a mate.

Donna - 
If we're shifting to the more extreme personality disorder of an Antisocial Personality (psychopathy,) then he would probably be looking for a malleable, gullible person. 

APDs (antisocial personality disorder) don't feel love, but they are often charming and have learned what people, in this case, a woman, wants to hear. They'll use manipulation before aggression, because over-aggression might make the woman leave. 

If an APD marries, there is going to be an ulterior benefit for him. He might recognize that being married is a kind of screen for him; maybe he gains access to money or her kids, if he's a pedophile.

It's difficult to say what to look for in order to avoid an APD, because they often are highly skilled in getting what they want. They're conmen, and they're usually very good at it. Unless they're dumb, and then they get caught and put in jail. The very, very smart ones go into politics.

Fiona - 
So we are nearing the end of our interview - what did you think I'd ask/want me to ask you about this subject in terms of what a writer needs to bare in  mind when writing this kind of plot line?

Donna - 
One thing I wanted to point out is the #1 question so many people ask about or to the victim: Why do they stay? 

  • They stay, not because they are weak, but because they are strong and compassionate and those very qualities work against their instincts to flee. 
  • They stay because they've been isolated and cut off from resources. 
  • They stay because they've been told that nobody else will have them and nobody else understands what they really are and nobody else will believe them. 
  • They stay because they've been isolated financially or because they have kids together and he's a good father (sometimes). 
  • They stay because they know the most dangerous, unpredictable period for them to be serious hurt or killed is after they finally do leave. Leaving is necessary. It's ESSENTIAL. But it's not easy.

Fiona - 
If an author has written a plot that includes abuse, and characters outside of the situation are becoming aware that there is an issue, what helpful response could the other character offer the victim?

And what can a victim do to get out especially when they're leaving has been threatened with retribution?

Donna -
If you see someone in the situation, encourage her to leave and don't judge her when she is afraid to. Try not to be frustrated when she goes back and forth in her decision or when she gives you the excuses for him that she tells herself.

For the victim? 

  • Tell everyone. Get out and tell everyone. 
  • Tell the police 
  • Tell your friends and family 
  • Tell your coworkers. 
  • Be alert and aware of self-protection strategies and do what you have to do, including move, to keep yourself safe. 
  • If you need to find a safe place like a women's shelter for a while, do it. As heartless as this sounds, feeling ashamed won't kill you, but the abuser might. It's awful, but it's not fatal and it will get better.
Fiona - 
Awesome! Thank you.

You have a book up on Kindle Scout - Folks if you go over and vote, and Donna is offered a contract, you will get the book for FREE a week before anyone else gets to a chance to see it. That's a no-brainer win-win situation!

Donna, can you tell us about the story - I think it's so intriguing.

Donna - 
A SCRYING SHAME Book One in the Blood Visions Paranormal Mystery series. Following a near death experience, twenty-five-year old Arie Stiles decides she might as well take the job nobody else wants: a crime scene clean-up technician. It’s good money, which she could use, and death doesn’t hold a lot of mystery for her. Or so she thinks. Arie isn’t on the job long before discovering she’s been “gifted” with a new psychic talent—the ability to scry. Whether she wants to or not, Arie can read the memories of the dead in their blood. When she is assigned to clean the crime scene of Marissa Mason, the socialite author of the best-selling gold-diggers' bible, Rich Bitch, Arie finds herself haunted by blood visions day and night, and to her shock discovers an unexpected family connection to the victim. With her brother suffering the unwanted attention of the police as the primary suspect, can Arie face her fear of the blood visions long enough to follow the trail of clues left in the murdered woman's memories and find the real culprit?

VOTE NOW - and (hopefully!) GET A FREE COPY

Fiona - 

And now for our traditional ThrillWriting tell all :)
Can you tell us one of your harrowing stories?

Donna - 

The first one that pops to mind was when I was still in college and I started working at a residential treatment center for developmentally disabled adults. I filled in as a substitute at the school. Most of the classes were designed to teach life and work skills--some as basic as sorting buttons to learn counting, colors, and differences in size. At the other end of the spectrum, was the wood shop. Residents there were quite skilled and made craft items like lawn ornaments and birdhouses, which were sold at fundraisers. The men and women who worked in the shop were quite proud of their independence and enjoyed having a real job.

For some unknown reason, I started subbing in the wood shop, despite the fact that I knew nothing about wood-working or tools. Or anything, really. But ignorance is bliss and I was making good change so I toddled happily along. The shop was a cavernous room filled with bandsaws, routers, drills, and various other tools that made a lot of noise and had the potential to slice off important body parts. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is every body part. The room housed three different classes-nearly forty people, teachers included.

The plus side was there were two other teachers to help me figure things out, although their interactions with me started out fairly crabby because they were essentially doing my job since I was so CLUELESS. But I was all they had. Eventually, when they saw I was going to stick around, they lightened up a bit and gave me some tips about how to run the class. I kept my students away from the scarier tools and we stuck to sanding and painting wooden tulips in messy but cheerful colors. And I got to know several of the residents, especially a very dapper middle-aged man named Ernie who wore a faded plastic rose in his lapel and called me "mama."

Things were going well.

Until, that is, the school administration decided to prohibit smoking. Keep in mind, this was twenty-five years ago, so smoke-free environments weren't as much of a given as they now are. A further complication was that the residents were adults. Working adults, as they saw it, and they wanted their cigarettes.

Oh, my.

The announcement was made in the morning and it caused a stunned silence in the shop. For about four-point-two seconds, anyway. Then the dam broke and a steadily building roar of consternation and anger began to rise. The other teachers promised to find out what was going on and we split the classes up and set everybody to work. A few protesters had trouble moving on, but the majority, although still frowning and sullen-looking, got to work on the day's chores. After a while, things seemed to settle back into a routine of sorts. But the air felt tense and brittle.

At first break, the resentment rebounded. The smokers were used to having a cigarette or two on their breaks, and the fact that they couldn't was brought back to them. The wood shop seemed divided into two camps: the angry and the anxious. I was firmly in the second camp. Things were not looking good. But the other teachers stayed calm and professional, and kept the groups moving through their schedules.

And then, lunch time. Nicotine withdrawal and the indignation of trampled rights combined into an unholy cataclysmic event. They rioted. And, by riot, I mean, the adult residents started chucking two-by-fours and Sawzalls and metal stools. Open cans of tulip paint sailed through the air, leaving streamers of red and blue and yellow in their wake. I grabbed several pacifists who were frozen in fear and shoved them under the work tables. I dove behind the lumber racks. This, I decided, was going to be my new home.

Except from across the woodshop I heard, "Mama! Mama!"

"Ernie? Ernie, get down!"



I started crawling. When I got to Ernie, he was standing fully upright in the chaos, clutching his fingers and sobbing as hammers and birdhouses whizzed past his ears. I hauled him down beside me and dragged him under a table where we shivered and cried together for a while. Eventually, the police and several teachers from other classes showed up and restored order. When they finally found Ernie and myself, he was drawing pictures of kitties in the sawdust and I was curled in the fetal position sucking my thumb. (Actually it was the other way around, but I promised him I wouldn't tell.)

Over the years, I've been involved in many other precarious situations, but this one helps keeps things in perspective. Having survived the Cigarette Wars, everything else is cake.

Fiona - 
Donna would love to hear from you via her website at or on Twitter: @readdonnaglaser.

Thanks so much, Donna.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Rational and Irrational Behavior in Your Characters: Info for Writers with Dr. Vivian Lawry

Dr. Vivian Lawry
A big welcome to Dr. Vivian Lawry. Vivian holds a BA, MS, and PhD in psychology and was a professor of psychology prior to her retirement.

Today, Vivian,  we are going to wrestle with a complex part of the human psyche. In our plots, we try to make the story conform to what a rational person would do, but the truth is that given the right circumstances, motivation, and perception, anyone is capable of anything. Would you help us to understand this concept?

Vivian - 

Circumstances refers to options and constraints.
Motivation refers to what drives the person.
Perception is what the person thinks is going on. 

All of these offer writers lots of room for making anything happen—believably.

Fiona - 
Can you describe the famous Zimbardo prison experiment to give context?

Vivian - 
The Zimbardo prison experiment is classic! Here's a quick and dirty overview that hits the highpoints:

The basic question was whether ordinary people would/could be as cruel as Nazi concentration camp guards, or whether the Nazis were truly aberrant. 

So they advertised in newspapers around Palo Alto, CA, for people to participate in a paid psychological study. Volunteers were screened with all the psychological tests they could think of to make sure they were healthy, stable personalities. Then they were RANDOMLY assigned to be either prisoners or guards. The guards were issued uniforms and reflecting sunglasses. 

The prisoners--all men-- were picked up from their homes by real police cars, sirens blasting, handcuffed, and taken to the "jail", which had been created in the basement of a campus building. They were stripped of their street clothes and issued night-shirt type garments, flip-flops for shoes, and stockings on their heads to simulate a shaved head. The prisoners were given no directions (as far as I recall). 

The guards--also all men--were told to maintain order. 

In a matter of days the prisoners were depressed, plotting a break-out, weeping, and compliant with the guards. The guards, for no apparent reason, had become controlling and abusive. They told the prisoners to stand in line and count-off repeatedly, or do push-ups till they collapsed. One guard made them do push-ups while pressing his foot on their backs. The experimenters terminated the experiment early. And I should mention that everyone involved got counseling and so forth after. But the strength of this work is demonstrating the incredible power of circumstances in shaping behavior. These two groups of people differed only in which circumstance they were randomly assigned to.

Fiona - 
I know the researches were astonished by the outcomes. Do you have information about how the students felt following the experiment and if there were lasting effects?

Vivian - 
As I recall, not all of the participants were students—not that that's important. All were distressed and were given group and individual counseling. I haven't heard of long-term negative effects. But it definitely shook the foundations of certainty about what ordinary people would do when thrown into extraordinary circumstances. 

You don't know how you will behave till you are there. Within each group there were variations: some guards were noticeably nicer than others, though they didn't stop the abuse. Some prisoners had sleep disorders and some became aggressive themselves. And the whole thing caused a huge upheaval and contributed to the dialogue that led to the creation of ethical standards for research in psychology. 

Fiona - 

Reasonable man theory refers to a test whereby a hypothetical person is used as a legal standard, especially to determine if someone acted with negligence. This hypothetical person referred to as the reasonable/prudent man exercises average care, skill, and judgment in conduct that society requires of its members for the protection of their own and of others' interests. This serves as a comparative standard for determining liability. For example, the decision whether an accused is guilty of a given offense might involve the application of an objective test in which the conduct of the accused is compared to that of a reasonable person under similar circumstances.
The above "reasonable man" definition is often used as a court standard. Now imagine if you will an unreasonable circumstance - an out of the ordinary event - a man standing in your room, and you have to chose to shoot or not. According to science, unreasonable circumstances lead to unreasonable outcomes. Can you talk about the ability to think/process/and react reasonably under high stress circumstances? When is "reasonable" unreasonable to ask of our characters?

Vivian - 
High stress increases the likelihood of the dominant action. If a behavior is well-learned, as in the case of a professional athlete or musician, the stress of a command performance at Madison Square Garden or Carnegie Hall would actually improve performance. For the less skilled athlete or musician, it would increase the likelihood of mistakes. In the sort of situation you are describing, people when frightened tend toward either fight or flight. Whichever is the dominant pattern for your character should predict the outcome.

Fiona -
That is a very interesting point. What are some other ways that we could predict the outcome even if it were out of character. I will give you an example I recently read...

The mother, in a John Gilstrap book, was kidnapped with her son. The son wanted to be proactive. The mom wanted to conform to whatever the kidnappers wanted them to do - she thought safety came from docility. She was docile by character.

What might spur someone to act "other than"?

and by that I mean other than their nature would predict

Vivian - 
This goes to the point of what is the best perceived alternative. If the son can make the case that active is better, Mom would go along. Or if she does something as told and then she or her son is punished anyway, she might see the light. She might see or hear something that says the kidnappers/guards/whoever can't be trusted to reward docility, that could do it, too.

Fiona - 
In this vein, can you talk about Stockholm Syndrome?

Vivian - 

I'm not an expert on Stockholm Syndrome, but here goes: there is a lot of evidence from a lot of sources that victims tend to identify with their abusers. For example, children who are abused are more likely to grow up to be abusive themselves. 

In a somewhat related vein, there is evidence that when a powerful or popular figure espouses a point of view/attitude/action, others do the same. (The whole basis of political endorsements or celebrities in commercials.) With Stockholm Syndrome, you have a person who is under complete control of some other person or group, everything from food, being allowed to sleep, physical abuse or the threat of it. It doesn't get much more powerful than that. Under such circumstances, people start to doubt themselves and their view of reality. The younger the person is--the less formed his/her sense of self—or the more unstable the personality, the more likely that person is to accept the reality as given by the authority figure. 

Often victims of abuse have low self-esteem and come to believe that they deserve whatever happens to them. 

Fiona - 

Here at ThrillWriting, it is traditional to ask you for a story. Can you tell us how you got your favorite scar?

Vivian - 
I was a young child, 5-6 years old. My younger sister and I were staying a couple of days with our young aunt and uncle, who had no children. They spoiled us a bit. She took us to the big department store in town and bought matching red Jensen bathing suits for my sister and me. We were going to the pool as soon as the dishes were done. 

I was handing a bowl to my aunt to put in the cupboard. I thought she had it, and I let go. It broke on the edge of the sink and a chunk cut the artery in my right wrist. My aunt nearly panicked, pushed her thumb into the geyser, and ran out to the driveway, yelling until the neighbor came out and took us to the emergency room. I remember everything being very bright and white, except for my sister's red bathing suit as she clung to my aunt's skirt—and, of course, the blood. 

I cried so at not being able to go swimming that we went anyway, my aunt carrying me around the pool while I held my white bandaged wrist aloft like the Statue of Liberty. I now have a scar on my right wrist about half an inch long, with three small scars crossing it perpendicularly. In college, I was sometimes asked whether I'd tried to commit suicide—which might have been a much more interesting story!

Fiona - 
Last question - How can we apply what we learned today to our character development (for good or bad) and our plotlines?

Vivian - 
I think the most basic tip is to take the reader inside the character's head/heart, to see the world as s/he sees it. 

Behavior is believable when it flows from the character's perceptions. In my recently published collection of short stories, DIFFERENT DRUMMER, one story involves a man who feeds parts of his body to his cat. I invite you to decide whether his behavior was believable, in context. 

Thank you so much for your insights, Vivian. ThrillWriters, if you want to stay in touch with Vivian you an reach her on her 
website, and you can follow her on Facebook.

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. Cheers,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.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Forensics of Forgery and Handwriting Analysis: Information for Writers


Writers hand with pen
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Your character stands accused. We all know she's innocent, but she makes an awfully compelling fall-gal. And this gives your hero a reason to ride to her rescue. (Even if she doesn't believe she really needs his help.)

The investigators think that your heroine has forged the documents, and now she's pacing in the investigation room, wringing her hands.

What's happening next in your plot?

Enter the QDE!

Questioned Document Examiners (QDE) might analyse such plot points as:
* Wills
* Medical information
* Passports
* Contracts, including life insurance policies
* Letters, including suicide notes
* Threats:  ransom notes, hold up notes, blackmail etc.
* Financial papers:
   `Stocks and bonds

Video Quick Study (3:36) QDE discussing his work

But the two main areas of forensic analysis can be grouped as:
1. Handwriting
2. Material examination

In materials examination a QDE will have specialties that include:
* Paper
* Ink
* Toner
* Typewriters (for older cases or older evidence)
* Other document producing machinery or apparatus (like rubber stamps)

The -foot ( m) diameter granite CIA seal in th...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Examples of employers include:
* Large corporations, auction houses, etc.
* US military
* Larger police agencies
* US Post Office
* ATF and E
* Secret Service

Video Quick Study (2:11) FBI unit talks about their work.

A handwriting expert is not a graphologist. A graphologist's job is to analyse a person's personality by their handwriting.  A graphologist might say things like, "Do you see how the writer slants their sentence upward? This means that they are optimistic. And see how they cross the lower case "t"s at the top like a capital letter? This shows that they are strongly focused." Though a graphologist might be a fun character to entwine into your plot - especially if they got the personality all wrong and lead the authorities on a goose chase - it is not what a hand writing expert does.

Video Quick Study (8:11) Does your character need to hire a QDE to help them through the plot line? This is a video that includes costs, questions, and information about hiring a QDE.

The handwritten document is authenticated by comparison with samples called exemplars. There are two types of samples: requested and collected.

A requested sample:
* A suspect will be asked to write out the same words as were found in the evidence.
* The words should be dictated to the suspect.
* The writer will make several copies so that the examiner can understand the full  scope of the
   writer's range of variation.
* It is optimal to give the suspect the same writing tool as was used in creating the questioned document.
   ex. No. 2 lead pencil or black gel pen.
* Same kind of paper should be used
* Same type of writing (block, cursive, print)

Cursive handwriting from the nineteenth-centur...
. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A collected sample:
* Is one that is taken from the suspect's surroundings
* This might be done if:
   `The suspect is uncooperative with the
   `The investigation is covert
   `The suspect is deceased or missing
* Examples might come from:
   ` Checks
   ` Handwritten letters
   ` Diaries
* The QDE MUST be sure that the documents
    are authentic. An employer (etc.) might
    protect an employee because - they are
    lovers, family, they are being blackmailed...
    your plot twist potential is endless here.

Handwriting by the subject is informed by:
* Size of the individual's fingers, hands, and arms
* Muscular makeup
* Physical or mental disability
* Schooling (young people entering college now most likely did not study cursive writing in school)
* Individualization of how the writer thinks a letter should look

Characteristics that a QDE considers include:

* Beginning, connective, and ending strokes
* Pen lift
Ocey Snead suicide note
Ocey Snead suicide note (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* Pen pressure
* Line quality
* Spacing
* Proportion
* Dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s
* General overall appearance

The QDE might also look at:
* Tear marks
* Watermarks
* Other paper manufacturing characteristics
   that might identify age, for example
* Changes in ink.

Video Quick Study (4:33)

Document Collection

* Handle as little as possible
* Never fold, crease, or staple, the samples
* Keep the sample separate from other documents in that ink, handwriting, and other qualities can easily
   be transferred.
* Burned or charred documents are fragile and therefore must be hand delivered
* When possible collect: typewriters, check writers, rubber stamps or seals to be examined for microscopic


* Magnification
Injectie spuit & Injectienaald
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* Micromitors - measure paper thickness to
   thousandths of an inch
* Ink
   ` UV lighting and other non destructive tests
   ` Chemical analysis: chromotography tests
     (destructive test but they can take a
     sample with a hypodermic needle.)
* Electrostatic devices - can be used to check for writing that has left and indentation
* Specialized computer analytics

Once they have conducted all of their tests, the QDE offers their interpretations to the investigators and, if necessary, testifies in court.

Perhaps you remember the Alyssa Bustamante case where the teen strangled and stabbed her nine-year-old neighbor:

The most poignant part of Monday's testimony came when a handwriting expert described how he was able to see through the blue ink that Bustamante had used in an attempt to cover up her original journal entry on the night of Elizabeth's murder.

He then read the entry aloud in court:

-Alyssa Bustamante's diary entry
'I just f***ing killed someone. I strangled them and slit their throat and stabbed them now they're dead. I don't know how to feel atm [at the moment]. It was ahmazing. As soon as you get over the "ohmygawd I can't do this" feeling, it's pretty enjoyable. I'm kinda nervous and shaky though right now. Kay, I gotta go to church' news article link

From that testimony, Alyssa was sent to prison for life. Another psychopath removed from the streets.

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.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

FREEZE! Information for Writers

The Brain Limbic SystemImage via Wikipedia
Do you remember the old cop shows? “Freeze! Police! Put your hands in the air!” Now it’s “Stop Police!” - It’s weird that I have a bone of contention with this change. But I do. I understand why the change was made; “stop” is a universal word, a word that is recognized in most languages - along with “T-shirt,” “cool,” and “okay.”

That last one, “okay,” is why we’re taught to thump our plastic CPR dummy on its shoulder and yell, “Are you okay? Are you okay?” The presumption being that if the possible victim were from Northern Siberia or the African !Kung Tribe, they would still understand what was being asked. And so if the person had just decided to take a nap on the sidewalk, they could open their eyes and say “Okay,” and I would know to leave the napper alone - that an intervention with my crack CPR/Artificial breath skills was not needed. However, I would suggest that if I were being chased by a police officer yelling at me in a language that I did not understand - I’d still get the gist. A figure with the authority to lock me up is yelling at me? I have some choices to make.

The choices that can be made in the cop yelling scenario come down to the
limbic system. Your rational brain may be saying one thing, but your primordial self, the self that kept your genes swimming in the pool and not dinner for a mastodon (okay mastodons were herbivores, but you get my point). Your limbic brain can say three things:
1. Flee! In our collective backgrounds, this was a bad, bad idea. We’re slow and weak compared to the other animals on the survival show called Earth. Mostly it was a feline that was trying to eat us and movement set off the “MmmmYummm!” response in our predators that rarely turned out well.
2. Fight! Again, we are slow and weak. What’s a human to do? Even with our incredible brains developing incredible weapons, chances are still bad for the human. The last choice - which is actually our brain’s first choice, since it is the most effective - is…

By yelling FREEZE! The police officer bypasses the intellectual brain (which probably isn’t engaged at this point anyway) and speaks right to the inner caveman (or woman). “Hey. I see you. I’m an authority who can put you in jail. You have three choices. Run. Bad choice. Fight. Really bad choice. Freeze. Ah, that’s the ticket. You freeze and we’ll do things the easy way with no one getting anymore hurt than required.”

STOP! To me sounds like a yellow light - a choice. I could try to run it; I think I have enough momentum to make it. Or, I will put on the brakes and come to the asked for stop. “STOP!“ is an intellectual choice - and the intellect is not engaged, so why do it? Because the !Kung tribesman might not understand? Please. (I’m not picking on !Kung tribesmen - I just love the clicking consonants, and it is as far from English as I think we can get.)

FREEZE! Is not always our friend. I’ve experienced the limbic freeze on occasions when I thought that maybe it was a miracle that my genes made it this far. I remember going to Connecticut to learn how to drive our Land Cruiser over rocks and such. I wasn’t really all that jazzed about doing this, but it was a learning opportunity that had presented itself, and I’m addicted to those. Even though I had been almost a week without sleep, and knew that I was an idiot to go forward, there I was, for six-hours straight, driving down the side of a mountain using the engine brake. At the end of the day, my intellect-self was all used up. I sat at the top of yet another hill. My instructor wanted me to drive between the tree and rock at the bottom. My eyesight was so blurry that I couldn’t see the rock and tree.
”I can’t see. I think I’m done for the day,” I said. “Just this one last run and we’ll be done for the day,” said my instructor.

Bad choice. I started down the hill and my limbic system went into overdrive. I screamed like a girl. My body froze. I remember thinking that I wanted to hand the steering wheel to the instructor, so he could drive. My foot froze on the gas peddle. I tried with every part of my intellect to override my limbic system and lift my foot. The best I could do was to edge my left foot onto the brake slowing us down. My instructor was laughing his head off beside me thinking I was whooping it up as the last hoorah of a productive day of scaling rocks in a car. Yeah. Not so much. As we started to hit trees, it dawned on him. “Hey, this chick is not in control of her body.” He reached over - and this is the part that I don’t get - grabbed my legs and pulled BOTH of my feet off their respective pedals. Now, personally, if I had my brain still functioning, and I was the instructor, I would have left the brake foot down and only pulled up the gas pedal foot. But I have to give the guy a break - he probably was battling his own limbic system as his 50,000$ car hit tree after tree. Sigh. Sometimes these things don’t work out quite like our ancestors might have hoped.

The limbic system does not only engage in instances of imminent danger. Our brains are always searching our environment to try to keep us safe. Our limbic system is always engaged. And to this end is always making little adjustments to our bodies. These show up in our body language. If the limbic concept is interesting to you, may I suggest a book?

What Every BODY is saying - An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People by Joe Navarro

In his book, he talks about the limbic system and how it controls subtle behaviors. Applying this information would add nuance and authenticity to characters’ reactions.

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.

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Book Review: The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds

The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds by Katherine Ramsland

Available at Amazon for 10.20 new and from 7.35 used

Rating: Recommended with reservations

Katherine Ramsland is an engaging and interesting speaker, and I very much enjoyed meeting her at the Writers' Police Academy, where I bought her book on Forensic Psychology. In my thriller series, A Wrench in My Toolbox, I have a severely
mentally ill criminal, and I wanted to do my due-diligence in making sure the crime scene was reflective of the inner workings of this man’s brain. This was not the correct book for me to accomplish this. It was quite different from what I had anticipated from the title and my quick leaf-through at the book table.

I am not a TV watching fan; I don’t have enough time in my day. I have never seen the show Criminal Minds and this was a problem for me. The points made in this book are made in reference to various specific episodes of Criminal Minds. Ramsland does paint a quick picture as a reminder - or for those of us who are not CM fans. I’m sure that if I were reading along and then watched the noted episode on the net, this would all be very rich in further understanding. I would recommend this book as a companion to the CM show. If you are a CM fan and would like to leave a comment about this below, I invite you to do so.

I have a degree in psychology and an MS in counseling and so much of Ramsland’s clinical information I knew; or, it was a different application for what I already knew. I would suggest that someone would get the most from this book if she already had an interest in, and therefore a grounding in, this subject matter. It is not a book for someone to pick off the shelf as a starting place.

Ramsland starts the book with a brief history of
criminal profiling. She continues on to give some information in brainstorming and the development of a profile. Though this section alludes to the process, the process is never revealed. She talks about varieties of deviance, victimology, and risk assessment.

The part that I found most interesting was geographical profiling.
Geographical profiling uses a complex computer analysis system to include the crime scene and the victimology to try to predict the comfort zone of the perpetrator, where he or she might strike next or where s/he might be found. That would be a cool component to add into a writers’ arsenal.

There is a glossary of terms at the end of the book. There is also an extensive bibliography, which might prove helpful. From a writer's perspective of gaining useful, applicable insight, to bring scenes into alignment with science, I would probably go a different route.

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