Showing posts with label writer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writer. Show all posts

Sunday, May 22, 2016

How Can Military OODA LOOPS Help Your Readers Understand Your Character?

Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When I'm editing for clients, I often find myself putting in the comments: Help me follow this by using an O.O.D.A. loop. For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, let me explain.

The term O.O.D.A. loop was coined in the 1950’s by Colonel John Boyd. Colonel Boyd was an F-86 pilot and commander of a fighter group toward the end the Korean War, trying to train fighter pilots to be more effective. 

O.O.D.A. stands for:


I'm going to show you his diagram of an OODA loop, but please don't get overwhelmed. It's a great diagram that you might want to scroll back up and look at after you read the article - or just look at the second simplified graphic and call it a day.

Okay, first I'm going to overwhelm you:

Full diagram originally drawn by John Boyd for...
Full diagram originally drawn by John Boyd for his briefings on military strategy, fighter pilot strategy, etc (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let's look at that in terms of plot rather than in terms of shooting people out of the sky - 

  • OBSERVE - you write what is happening around the character.
    • unfolding circumstances
    • unfolding interaction with environment
    • outside information
  • ORIENT - This is the most important step in the concept. Here you must consider aspects of the character that would shape how they observe a situation. If you have several characters in a scene, each will have their own way of perceiving and thus deciding and acting. If you have a group, the orientation is the place where the conflict lies. No two people will ever have the same orientation. See? Important.
    • genetic heritage 
    • cultural tradition
    • previous experiences
    • education
    • gender
    • mental health (and so forth)
  • DECIDE - 
    • this is either a cognizant decision OR it can be reflexive. (The baby is falling the mom's hand shoots out, and she's caught the baby in the blink of an eye.) 
    • this is the time to walk the reader through the thought process - how did they decide to A over B? 
    • Was it a hard decision? 
    • What stood in their way? 
    • What was their most important tool in making that decision? Morality? Greed? Survival?  
  • ACT
Why is it called a loop? Once the character has cycled through these four steps, then the environment is changed. Their actions have changed things, and they and their fellow characters will be moving through the loop again and again and again.

Here it is simplified:

Wow - that seems incredibly simple. BUT now fill in the blanks
What about that scene would your character observe - what would catch your characters attention amidst what they are doing. Example: a robbery suspect-

  • An artist might remark of his facial features. His brow is furrowed. It looks like he's in pain. He probably needs money for a fix. Gives him her money.
  • A physical therapist might take in his gait. He has a limp. He can't chase her. She runs.
  • A soldier might be watching the guy's hands. He's not touching his shirt. He probably doesn't have a weapon. Dives in to tackle him.

How did your character align themselves with the information, what did they cognate?

What did they decide to do about it? Think hard - what in their life experience, age, cultural, temperament, current health, current relationships, and so forth, might impact this moment?

Humans go through this loop thousands of times in a day. If you lay them out in your writing, the progression makes more sense to the reader. 

Barbara went on a date last night with the guy whom she thinks is THE guy.

Barbara is called to reception at work. There is a bouquet of beautiful flowers waiting for her there. She smiles. She feels excited and happy. She beams as she walks back to her cubicle, grinning and blushing, accepting the comments from her colleagues about how lovely the flowers are. Yup this could be THE guy, and he obviously feels the magic too. She gets to her desk and puts the flowers down, picks out the card and sits, giving the envelop a kiss before opening it. Ruh roh! It's not from the guy she thought it was from. It's from some creeper who just won't leave her alone, and the card says. "You looked beautiful last night." She grabs the flowers and throws them in her trash.

She has a new observation. It changes her orientation. She makes a different decision. Which leads to a very different action.

If you are practicing show-don't-tell, then putting your characters into situations that show your reader walking through this loop, especially explaining their orientation (back story), you will help your readers to understand your characters so much better. 

I hope you found this article helpful.

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.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Schizophrenia for Writers - Her Problems Are All In Her Head


English: Image showing brain areas more active...
English: Image showing brain areas more active in controls than in schizophrenia patients during a working memory task during a fMRI study. Two brain slices are shown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In several of the books that I have read recently, schizophrenia has played a key role in the stalking and attacking of the stories' heroines. The volatility and changeability seen in the villains mental health make for interesting plot twists.  

When I worked as an emergency interventionist for the courts, I had a few clients who were diagnosed with schizophrenia. They were all non-compliant with their medications for varying reasons. This made some of my clients very scary individuals - but not all.

Schizophrenics do not all have voices in their heads telling them to "Kill her! Stab her! Hurt her!" Indeed, people with schizophrenia are not all violent towards others or themselves. But schizophrenia is fluid and changes in symptoms should be expected. This means that one never knows if the schizophrenic with whom they are interacting is safe or not.

If you are writing a plot line in any genre that includes someone driven by mental health issues, here is some information to help you develop a character with schizophrenia.

Characteristics of schizophrenia  include: 

* Delusions
* Hallucinations
* Disorganized speech and behavior, symptoms that cause social or occupational dysfunction.

Diagnosis can only be assessed after  symptoms have been 
* Present for six month
* Include at least one month of active symptoms.
   Video Quick Study (1:48) real footage of a mental health schizophrenic breakdown
   Link Quick Study (7:04)  Aileen Wuornos killed seven men and was executed. Look at her eyes.
   You can see the sclera  (whites of her eyes) all the way around. This is a KEY SIGN of high stress.

English: A schizophrenic patient at the Glore ...
English: A schizophrenic patient at the Glore Psychiatric Museum made this piece of cloth and it gives us a peek into her mind.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Schizophrenia symptoms are typically separated into 2 categories:

Positive symptoms
This photo was taken on January 15, 2010 in Ce...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* Extra feelings or behaviors that are usually not present.
* Delusions - believing that what other people are 
   saying is not true  - often leading to paranoia.
   This is the person who wraps their room in aluminum
    foil so the microwaves can't effect them,
    or thinks that the government has put tracking devices
    under their skin.
* Hallucinations - Hearing, seeing, tasting, feeling, or
   smelling things that others do not experience.
   So for example, one of my clients presented with a
   friend who happened to be a dragon. This dragon
   would fly around the ceiling. She didn't like to stand up
   in her house and would often duck down and drag
   me with her because the dragon was flying around and trying to hit her with its wings. On occasion, the
   dragon would become angry and frighten her; she would take all of her medications at once to make
   the dragon leave her alone. She'd call me to tell me - then we had to have her stomach pumped. She
   was very sweet and in my experience never caused harm to anyone else, but she was tormented by the
   images - no sounds - just the very-real-to-her image of the dragon.

   Video Study (14:00) TED Talk about a woman's  experience with auditory hallucinations. She was not
   violent or suffering - but this is her story of medical intervention.
   Video Quick Study (6:36) a first person view of various hallucinations - very interesting.
   Audio Quick Study (3:38) auditory hallucination simulation
   Video Quick Study (9:53) schizophrenia simulation
Disorganized speech and behavior
   Video Quick Link (9:22) four patients experiences various symptoms of schizophrenia talking. 

Messages covering the windows of a house from ...
Messages covering the windows of a house from a patient with schizophrenia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Negative symptoms: A lack of behaviors or feelings that usually are present, such as:
* Losing interest in everyday activities, like bathing, grooming, or getting dressed. Many of our homeless
   have this attribute.
* Feeling out of touch with other people, family, or friends
* Apathy - Lack of feeling or emotion.
* Having little emotion or inappropriate feelings in certain situations
* Having less ability to experience pleasure

Notice that many of the NEGATIVE symptoms mimic depression. LINK to Depression for Writers 
I was recently listening to the blogger/writer from a blog I read who was speaking on NPR. She was diagnosed with depression and was discussing her episode. She said that her anti-depressants were helping. But to my ear, boy did she sound like she was exhibiting negative signs of schizophrenia. She described her utter lack of emotion. The only piece that prevented her suicide was the idea that her husband would find her body. This was the only feeling she could conjure up. Depression and schizophrenia diagnoses often overlap. 

weird place! tries to reproduce what it's like...
weird place! tries to reproduce what it's like to have Schizophrenia. Don't stay in there too long. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* Schizophrenia affects different people differently and
   symptoms can vary from person to person.
* Some people may have many symptoms, while others
   may only have a few.
* Men diagnosed with schizophrenia usually start to

   show symptoms between their late teens and early
* Women usually develop symptoms during their
    mid-20s to early 30s. LINK

It used to be that schizophrenia had sub-types like paranoid schizophrenic, but in the the new DSM V (the psychiatric bible) these have been done away with because the illness is so fluid and changeable that these specifications were not helpful to the treatment. They are now noted as displayed symptoms.

Want to see this article in action?
Check out this Fiona Quinn novel Chaos Is Come Again

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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Monday, November 18, 2013

The Death Investigator - A New Character Arrives On the Scene: Information for Writers


Manuel looked at the dark holes in the men’s foreheads. Felt the silence. Dead. Yes, must be dead. They were dead. Manuel’s mind tried to grasp this simple fact. 
 ~  Missing Lynx

 So you're writing right along, thrilled that your fingers are tripping over the keys when shock of all shockers your heroine stumbles on a body. She toes it, hoping maybe it's just a drunk, but the smell tells her she's not so lucky. Shoot! Not only did you give your heroine a very bad day and the seeds of her future nightmares, but now your romance has turned into something else. Who should she call?

Well, 911 to begin with. But they will send out a group of people who are not all playing on the same team. One of the players MUST be the coroner (if it's a small town or rural area) or the coroner's investigator/death investigator.

Well who is that? They've never shown up in any of the books you've read.

Death Investigators or Coroner's Investigators - 

* are specialists who become involved in all deaths that
   were not expected. 
* They help determine if the death should 
    be further considered for criminal review or if the cause was
   natural or accidental in nature. 
* These are the people who show up to represent the coroner and communicate with the coroners office. 
* If necessary they take photos and start to gather information for a forensic death investigation.
* Focuses on the pathology. They assume foul play until it is proven otherwise.
* Develop cases for criminal acts of murder or manslaughter
* Develop cases for civil suits such as product safety failures
* Coroner's Investigators are called to testify in court.
    Video Quick Study (4:53) Testifying as to her job
    Video Quick Study (1:38) death investigator talks about how many deaths he handles and talking with

PLOT TWIST POTENTIAL - the death investigator tries to document EVERYTHING because a body can change in transit. For example, the hearse could be in an accident when the murderer pursues them and forces the car off a cliff! The body could be jetted out the back. Now the body looks very different and perhaps the tell tale markings were abraded away...  

There are no federal laws that govern death investigation. The Model Postmortem Examination Act 1954 LINK to Act gives states guidelines for their laws. So you'll need to figure out the laws for the state your body is found.

Deaths must always be reported (though not necessarily investigated) when there is a:
* homicide (or possible homicide)
* sudden or unexpected death
* suicide
* in any institution other than the hospital
* work related
* public

1. Once a death investigator arrives they start documenting the basic questions:
* Who found the body BUT NOT who killed the person
* What was the condition of the body (clothing etc.) this includes stains, tears, and markings
* Where was it found - this includes the temperature and humidity levels as well as objects in the vicinity.
* How was it placed

Notice that there is no WHY? the "why" belongs to someone else. Though they might gather information that would help with an autopsy such as evidence that the person was depressed/suicidal.

2. They will then make decisions about preserving and transporting the body
3. Try to identify time of death
4. Up close and personal - a death investigator will
* Interview family and friends for clues into the death.
* Search the dead person's home to include reading materials, computers, read their journals etc. trying to get
   an understanding of what might have happened. They might, for example, collect the medical bottles to see
   if there was an interaction that killed the person. Or there was a possible overdose.
   LINK to blog article on Forensic Toxicology

Need a plot twist???

What is a coroner? Video Quick Study (1:49)
Coroners are sometimes elected and may have no idea what they are doing.
In many places, the person tasked with making the official ruling on how people die isn’t a doctor at all. In nearly 1,600 counties across the country, elected or appointed coroners who may have no qualifications beyond a high-school degree have the final say on whether fatalities are homicides, suicides, accidents or the result of natural or undetermined causes.LINK  
Video Quick Study (3:49) Untrained coroner and Michael Jordan's father's murder case.
Video Quick Study (3:24) Recommended standards that would make the death investigation accredited and peopled by doctors run by medical examiner not a coroner.
This is long but very interesting and informative. Video LONG study (1:09:37)

See how this article influenced my plot lines in my novella MINE and my novel CHAOS IS COME AGAIN.

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.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Duct Tape 101 for Writers


          Excerpt from WEAKEST LYNX:

          “Where did you find her?” Gavin asked.
          “The adjoining bedroom, on the floor, bound at the ankles and wrists. No signs of struggle. She was out when he tied her.” Dave’s voice sounded hollow and tight at the recounting. “At some point, she must’ve started to come around.  He gagged her with duct tape, wound it around her head a bunch of times. She worked it loose with her tongue - that’s what saved her life.

English: A roll of silver, Scotch brand duct tape.
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like the idea of duct tape.
I can't tell you how many times it has come to my rescue - from taping my brake light back onto my car after I was rear-ended, to making this nifty pair of shoes. Kidding!

Found on FB, creator unknown
In novels and films, duct tape is a staple go-to for gags and binding. And why not?
* Duct tape is convenient
* The villain doesn't need to have a lot of  fancy-schmancy knot tying skills.
* It doesn't look strange to have duct tape in the car trunk where chains, cordage, and cloth strips might
   need an explanation.
* Duct tape doesn't leave marks like rope burns or handcuff bruising.

Sadly for us writers, duct tape does not live up to its reputation. Duct tape is actually a very poor choice. Since we here at ThrillWriting like to write it right, I want to debunk some of the duct tape myths.

Found on FB, creator unknown

So you're writing along and, oh no! Your heroine is in trouble! She was captured by the bad guy, and he wants to make sure she is secured and silent. He pulls out his roll of duct tape and sets to work.
* Duct tape mainly works on a psychological level like this horse tied to the plastic chair.
* Duct tape really does not provide much in the way of restraining capacity.
* If your character has a military or police background, it is highly doubtful that your character wouldn't
   know how quick and easy it is to escape from duct tape.
* If, on the other hand, your character is naive, young, and lacking in enough self-preservation to TRY to
   escape then perhaps your use of duct tape makes more sense.
* Maybe it's not your victim but your villain who is naive. Maybe the bad guy thought that the duct tape
Found on FB, creator unknown

 scenes in the movies were accurate. Well, then your heroine can laugh as she frees herself and makes her
* If your character is drunk or otherwise drugged, duct tape might just do the job.

Video (2:22) This is a newscast of a man restrained to his seat in flight to maintain the safety of the other passengers. The announcer asked a good question, why was someone on the flight traveling with a roll of duct tape? I see a plot twist.

Duct Tape Gags:
Found on FB, creator unknown

* A single piece of duct tape across the mouth has o effect, except perhaps as an irritant.
* Duct tape will not silence the victim; it will merely muffle the sound, no matter how many times you wrap it around.
* Duct tape gags can be be an asphyxia hazard.

   Please don't go playing with duct tape gags to
   test a plot point without proper help at hand.

* If your villain puts something in the victim's mouth to prevent sound or to increase the victim's tension level - such as a sock, rag, or panties - it is a high-risk choking hazard.

  Note: cloth in a taped mouth absorbs saliva, increasing the gagging reflex. This is a survival reflex and will trigger the limbic system to fight for life. Adrenaline and other hormones will flush the body. Cogent thought processes will be overridden as the victim panics. And as we know from Spyder McGraw in WEAKEST LYNX, "Panic will kill you. It makes you unable in mind and body."

Video Quick Study (3:17) Excellent demonstration of duct tape gags and their efficacy.

Duct Tape Handcuffs:

* Quick and easy to release.
* Can be done by slipping one hand out. This is easiest when the victim is sweating from adrenaline and has
   stretched the tape a bit. Video Quick Study (:36) Young boy duct taped to a tree wiggles out in less than
   30 seconds.
* Popping using the same technique I described in Breaking Out of Zip Ties LINK
   Video Quick Study (:19)
   Video Quick Study (:09)
   Video Quick Study (:19)
* Notice the length of the above videos. We are talking a matter of seconds to freedom. Granted, the last
   three were by rugged manly men. But the first was a young kid.
* Here's one where the man uses a twisting motion.
   Video Quick Study (2:13) Breaking the duct tape takes seconds.

Well, you say, they just didn't use enough duct tape. Here is a video quick study showing a man wrapped head to toe in duct tape like a mummy. Of course he knew he would get more oxygen in by breaking the gag first, but I guess his panting added to the drama.
Video Quick Study (2:40)

Taping someone to furnishings has the same effect.
* If the person is sober and willing to try (and willing to feel discomfort) then escape is a matter of minutes if
   not seconds away.
* Use the same techniques as with handcuffs, either rotate or pop.
* Duct tape may remove some hair and the top layer of skin, it doesn't even leave much of a red mark.
   Certainly not a welt.
* It is not particularly painful. When I was experimenting with this - and yes, you know I had to - it didn't
   bring tears to my eyes or even make me say, "ouch." If your character has experienced a salon eyebrow
   waxing, she's pretty much inoculated.

Found on FB, creator unknown
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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Monday, September 30, 2013

Walking Through Forensic DNA Basics: Information for Writers


Animation of the structure of a section of DNA...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This week I had the opportunity to go down to Richmond to visit the FBI headquarters. A handful of Sisters in Crime Members were being hosted by the FBI Evidence Response Team. I want to thank the team for sharing their expertise. (Names and images are withheld for security purposes)

That night I learned a lot about processing the scene of a crime, collecting everything from foot prints BLOG LINK - Footwear Evidence to  fingerprints BLOG LINK to Fingerprint Evidence to fibers.

But the gold star belongs to DNA. DNA has risen to be THE  best available evidence because the laboratory results are statistically linked to a single person and exclude all others.

Did you know that with the improvements in science, they can now trap enough DNA in a fingerprint to create DNA profile?

If you are writing a story that involves a crime, it's likely that your investigation team will be looking for DNA to collect and use to solve the case.

Processing Blood Samples, FBI
Forensic analysis of DNA can be confusing so let's walk through this together.

STEP ONE - What Is DNA? 

First the bilology basics. I know. I know. It's the spinach on your plate. But it's important, so I'll try to make this as quick and as painless as possible.

DNA - Deoxyribonucleic Acid -
* All cells have DNA (except red blood cells)
* DNA is the genetic material making up our chromosomes
* Gene – the basic unit of heredity; a sequence of DNA nucleotides
   on a chromosome.
* Genome – the sum total of an organism’s genetic material.
* DNA encodes the instructions for when and how to make
   proteins. These proteins tell the cell how it will
   function - is it a brain cell? a liver cell?
* It looks like a twisted ladder. The uprights are made out of
   phosphates and sugars. rungs are pairs of
   smaller particles called nucleotides.

You're doing great! Hang in there!

English: DNA replication or DNA synthesis is t...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
* All DNA is made up of a combination of four letters
  G - Guanine
  C - Cytosine
  A - Adonine
  T - Thymine
* G and C got together A and T go together
Happy Valentines Day - Relationship Mitosis
Mitosis (Photo credit: id-iom)

Mitosis -
* DNA replication
* A cell splits by dividing like a zipper
* The new cells contain an identical set
   of cells as were present at conception
* This only changes when there is a
    random mutation
* All cells in the whole body contain the
   exact same DNA

Video Quick Study of Mitosis (1:29)
VIDEO QUICK STUDY (8:03) basic info on DNA and Mitosis - might be more information than you need, but the presentation is thorough and easily understood.

STEP TWO - There Are Two Kinds of DNA
Prokaryotes are primitive cells, without a nuc...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nuclear DNA-
* It is found inside the nucleus packed
   into chromosomes
* It is inherited from both parents
   50% from our mom and 50% from
   our dad.
* Each parent contributes 23
   chromosomes for a total of 46.
* The dominant and recessive qualities
   gives us our traits
* A DNA profiles belongs to an
   individual and ONLY that
   individual and no one else in the world    UNLESS we have an
   identical twin. Plot twist!
* The closer we are in genetic
   relationship to someone else, the
   closer the DNA configuration.
* Each cell has one copy of nuclear DNA

Mitochondrial DNA-
* Is found in mitochondria
* 100% of mitochondrial DNA is inherited from mom.
* The mitochondrial DNA is the same in our brothers and sisters
    regardless of who fathered each child.
* All mitochondrial DNA came from your mom which came from 
   your mom's mom which came from your
   mom's mom's mom etc. How cool is that?
* Is not housed in a a set of chromosomes
* This DNA is smaller than Nuclear DNA
* This DNA is present in larger numbers than Nuclear DNA
   (nuclear DNA has just one copy per cell)
* This DNA tends to be more stable than Nuclear DNA over time.

VIDEO QUICK STUDY (1:58) Two Minute Science Lesson: How DNA Testing Works

STEP THREE - Collecting DNA Evidence

Maryland V. King Police can collect DNA without a warrant Video Quick Study (1:55)

Biological evidence is perishable
* DNA will fragment
* The best shot at getting useful DNA is in a fresh sample
* Fresh tissue has more nuclear DNA and an older sample has less

Things that cause DNA to degrade

* UV light
* Acid
* Bleach
* Hydrogen Peroxide
* High humidity
* Heat and Fire
* Anything that oxidizes biological molecules

Handle with Care:
Video Quick Study (2:16) Mentions the changes in technology and the importance of properly preserving the sample.

* If the evidence that is being collected is wet it should be air dried.
* The evidence should be stored in a PAPER BAG that can release
* Store in low temperatures (this prevents bacterial or fungal
   growth that has its own DNA)
*  Avoid as much as possible environmental contamination.

Crime Scene Techs:
* Need to understand that they can be contaminated by the crime
   scene (pick up bacteria etc.)
* Can contaminate a crime scene with their own saliva, dander, hair
* The FBI Processing unit that I visited this week uses full Tyvek
   suits to prevent contamination of the scene.
* People who were on the scene will often be asked to give a DNA
   sample called an "ELIMINATION SAMPLE"
* Most often reference samples are taken from a buccal swab. A
   square piece cotton is swabbed over the
   inner cheek. This is placed in an envelope. Why not a vial?
   Because a closed container encourages the
   growth of other life forms. 
   VIDEO QUICK STUDY (3:07) How to collect a buccal sample.
* DNA elimination samples are collected from victims and
   witnesses etc.

English: A forensic scientist at the U.S. Army...
. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PLEASE NOTE this elimination sample does NOT get run through the system. It is merely there for the scientists to compare with the sample they are analyzing. Your character will NOT be located and charged with a previous crime. There are all kinds of privacy laws that prevent this from happening, according to the FBI agents we were interviewing.

Death Investigators: What if you have a body to identify?
If the investigators have an idea who this might have been they can get a swab from a blood relative and try to find markers that they share. If no relative is available, then they could go to the person's home and try to collect DNA there from a toothbrush or razor, etc.

What if the house burned down and DNA from that location is not available? Well, investigators could try to find stored DNA samples, for example a woman's pap smear might be stored or perhaps your character had given blood to the Red Cross.

Here's a VIDEO QUICK STUDY (6:09) that gives a simplified description - good overview. 
STEP FOUR - Extracting and Processing DNA

Extracting DNA isn't hard you can do it right now in your own kitchen. Don't believe me?
Video Quick Experiment for You to Try (2:46)
Video Quick Study - Separating DNA from Blood (6:37)

In extracting DNA from Crime Scene or reference samples, the goal is to find the 1% that differs from everyone else. This gives an individuals DNA Fingerprint or DNA Profile.

99.9% of our DNA is the same in all humans. Only .1% differentiates us

* DNA is stiff and brittle. In order to avoid damaging it, a

   technique is employed that breaks down the cell around it.
* In a crime scene laboratory being meticulous is paramount.
VIDEO QUICK STUDY - (6:19 - but go right to 3:00 mark) this
   process is better explained through this video than writing the
   steps because of the equipment


RFLP Analysis - Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism not widely used since the mid-90s
* A large sample is required
* Results are not compatible with major DNA databases
* The proces uses molecular scissors to cut where a TA next to a
   CG combos. Since everyone has different DNA profile's the
   material created will be of different lengths. (15-35 repeating
   base pairs)
* This is then processed with Gel Electrophoresis
   Video Quick Study (5:18) Frankly this is the quickest, easiest
   way of understanding the process

To correct the problem of sample size, scientists developed PCR - Polymerase Chain Reaction
* This was developed in 1983 as a method for replicating DNA
VIDEO QUICK STUDY (3:32) sorry this has no audio, but it is
   the best quick study I could find
* PCR takes advantage  of the DNAs double strand and its simple
* Uses a thermocycler to double the amount of DNA with every
* Only one strand of DNA can make a billion copies in four hours


STR - Short Tandem Repeat
* It still uses PCR to make copies
* STR focuses on the smaller repeating units in DNA
* STR uses only about 3-7 repeating base pairs (where RFLP
   needed 15-35)
* Can be used on much smaller samples than RFLP
* Can be used on more degraded samples than RFLP
* Only 18 cells are needed to get a DNA profile - this is why they
   can pick up DNA from a fingerprint, according to our FBI
* Uses Capillary Electropheresis -  done in a column (not in a flat
   gel as in electrophoresis)

THERE ARE 13 DIFFERENT CORE LOCATIONS WITHIN DNA that captures most of humans variability in STR

CODIS FBI Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

* Each core location has its own
   established probability of being
   found in the larger population.
* When all 13 different probabilities
   are added together the statistical
   probability are in the quadrillions.
* These can be put into the CODIS
 (Combined DNA Index System)
  developed by the FBI in the late
  90s. Pay attention to this date if
  your story happens before this time

Recently they've developed a way to tell if the DNA comes from a man or a woman by looking at the sex chromosomes. (XX or XY) They do this by looking at the amelogenin gene on the sex chromosome. It is longer in a man than woman but this is enough to tell the difference. This is important because sometimes there is a mixed sample of DNA, for example if they do a vaginal swab for sperm.

STEP FIVE - Is It a Match?

Reading the computer output is outside of the scope of this article - though I will address this in the near future.

CODIS 13 point profile
CODIS 13 point profile (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The information gathered is analyzed and a statistic is assigned.
Population Genetics gives us
    statistics about the likelihood of this
    profile occurring in a population. It is
    a PROBABILITY that the same
    profile is replicated in the population
    and not coincidence.
* The more stretches of DNA that are
   compared between two people the
   statistics possibility of error narrows.
   It can become so narrow that it
   EXCLUDES everyone
   else from the pool of possibilities
   EXCEPT an identical twin.

Okay how was that? Not bad right? We made it to the end of the DNA pathway. Now as you sit on the bench to catch your breath, let's review some points at which a plot twist could mess everything up:

* Has the prosecution kept tight control of its chain of who has
   custody from collection to end result?
* Was the biological material from which the DNA was extracted
   identified? For example, in a rape case was it semen that is being
* Is the testing laboratory accredited?
* Has the testing laboratory  been audited by an outside agency?
* Has the testing laboratory  undergone a proficiency test - and was
   it a blind test?
* Did the laboratory run the required control samples?
* Was there examiner bias? Did the tech talk directly to the
   investigator or was it blind?
* How large was the DNA sample? Was it from a pool of blood?
   Or was it from a fingerprint?
* What if your character -- either victim or accused -- has a relative
    involved in the research (or an ex-wife eek!)?
* Was more than one DNA profile mixed in the sample?

So many ways to play with DNA evidence! 

See how this article influenced my plot lines in my novella MINE and my novel CHAOS IS COME AGAIN.

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