The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts

Monday, August 21, 2017

Drama Queen

English: Municipal theatre Baden-Baden, German...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Recently I was teaching an all day seminar in writing for high schoolers at a local library. 

A few of the participants were serious about pursuing a fiction writing career. One of the young ladies asked me what kinds of writing classes she should take. 

To be frank, writing classes are okay for learning the techniques of good writing but there are classes outside of the English department that I think serve the writer well. 

  • Psychology classes to learn about how humans tick. 
  • History classes that teach research and might spur some great ideas for  novels set in the past. 
  • Photography classes that help you to really look at the world around you and help you define what you want in that lens - what stories you can tell with a single shot, removing all of the extra information. 
  • Travel! I told them. 
    • Find semesters abroad. 
    • Find American businesses that will let you intern in a foreign country. 
    • Learn a new language so your language skills become deeper. 

"But right now in high school," I said, "become a thespian."

Janet Evanovich will tell you that she believes her smooth dialogue comes from her time doing improv. LINK.  Ms. Evanovich learned a lot from the stage, and as I write, I too credit much of my personal style/technique to what I learned in theater classes with Mrs. Baugher, especially studying Stanislovsky's Method. LINK.

Through theater I learned to ask:

  • What is my motivation in this conversation?
  • What body gestures make sense? 
  • Where do I place my character in the defined space allotted vis a vis the others in the scene?
  • Body language!
  • Facial expressions - don't just say it, think it. Oh wait! That means I have to think through what I'm seeing instead of just thinking, "what's my next line?" Writing the thought process helps the reader grow with your character.
  • What is the dynamic between my character and my fellow characters?
  • What about the lighting/the mood as compared to other parts of the story line?
  • How is this scene important to the overall composition?
  • What do I need to convey here? How can I bring my audience with me as I move them through the story.
  • What would my costuming look like? How would the way a character is dressed effect their movements, how they see themselves?
  • What kinds of things would be in the room to help give information to the audience? What props would be on hand?
  • How do you block a fight scene? How do you break a scene down in a physical or  emotional fight?
  • How do you throw in a joke when things are dark to surprise the audience and make it stand out against a dark scene? How do you place a moment of poignancy in a light/funny scene for the same reason?
  • When do you let a character riff - and when does that just muddle things?

Tons of wonderful things that you learn taking a theater class (available through parks and recreations in many communities) and participating in plays, that have a place in your fiction.

In the end, a writer should write what they know. The more they know--the wider and richer their experiences--the better their prose. This I truly believe. 

Happy writing!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Blind Date with Freddie Krueger and the Art of Thrill Writing with Chris Patchell


Grab a cup of something warm and let's settle in for a chat with my fellow Kindle Scout winning author, Chris Patchell.

Chris, please tell us about your background and how that brought you to writing novels.

Chris - 
I was a shy kid who didn't make friends easily. We lived way out in the country, so there were no kids nearby. I would escape into my own head for hours at a time, making up stories. Imagining I was somewhere else -- a flight attendant up in the blue sky flying to exotic places. I'd imagine shapes in the clouds. I'd act out scenes with my barbies. In the third grade, I was given my first creative writing assignment and discovered the magic of writing--of creating a new world, all of your own making.

It was awesome.

Better than friends.

I wrote on and off through high school and my early twenties and then quit. I got busy building a career in tech, and a family. 

I hit a point in my career where I was feeling burned out. My girls were little, and I remember thinking that there was no part of my life that was mine anymore. I needed a little piece of myself back. I thought about what I used to like to do, and I remembered that I used to love to write. But being type A, I didn't just sit down and open up a word processor. I researched some writing courses I could take. Found one through the University of Washington. Went to the information session. Loved what I heard and STILL, it took me a year to sign up.

My husband says to me, "did you ever sign up for that course?" Um... No...

"Why not?"

"I'd never have time to write. You know, with the job, the kids..."

He fixed me with this hard stare. "Stop making excuses. Just do it."

So I did. That was 10 years ago, and I've been writing ever since.

My analytical mind has served me well working in the tech industry. I set my first book in a tech company, and used some of my experience as a woman working in tech in building the book's main character, Jill. Little bits of tech make it into my plots.

I've managed a lot of projects from small mobile apps, to large scale, complex deployments. This experience--the ability to organize and deploy multiple projects simultaneously translates well into devising complex plots. I love weaving multiple story lines together into big bang endings.

I can remember a lot of detailed dependencies off the top of my head, which means when I make plot changes, I can go back and change all of the places in previous scenes where the info becomes relevant. It's handy.

I like the high-stakes and fast paced plot lines in suspense novels where characters struggle against external obstacles to get what they want. I also like creating their internal obstacles--the emotional baggage they carry with them that limit their actions. Fear. Anger. Rage.

The minute I started writing my first thriller, I was hooked.

I also like creating strong female characters. Jill Shannon, the anti-hero in my first book is a great example. She's smart, fierce, and a little ruthless. Not what you'd expect lurking underneath her pretty face.


Fiona - 
What do you think makes a good thriller - what components do you try to include? What are you consciously aware of as you're putting your plot together?

Chris -
It has to be high stakes. Typically life and death, or loss of freedom. Both figure prominently into my plot lines. There also has to be a personal stake in the story. What motivates your hero to conquer the obstacles in the story and risk it all? Single mother, Marissa Rooney, will stop at nothing to find her missing daughter. Then there is the element of time (pacing). Everyone knows that the first 48 hours are critical in a missing person's case, but beyond that, what provides a ticking clock--the tension that moves your characters (and your readers) through the story? The kidnapped girl in In the Dark is a type 1 diabetic. She's got her insulin pen with her, but it's not ideal (she needs 2 types of insulin and only has one) and her supply is limited. When it runs out, she dies.

It's a compelling ticking clock. It's selection wasn't random. My husband is a type 1 diabetic, so I know a little bit about what happens (high blood sugars, low blood sugars, etc.).

If your hero has a good reason to care, your readers will too.

Fiona - 
Let's talk about that pacing. I find books that are written with the gas pedal being pushed down the whole time wears me out. I appreciate a few scenes with introspection or a little more quiet so there are highs and lows. Is that something you include in your pacing or is it go go go?

Chris - 
Like you said, it can't be go go go all the time. It gets boring. It's like the never-ending car chase scene.

There are moments when your characters are alone and they're struggling with their inner demons. The action isn't high, but the emotional tension is. I also like to inject a little humor where I can into the story.

That was probably more true of my first book than my second.

You also need to let your hero win every once in a while to keep people invested. There was this t.v. show years ago, about an Irish family. Modern. T
he Black Donnelys. But everything went wrong for this family. It went from bad to worse. I watched 2 - 3 episodes then quit. It was too depressing. They took it off the air before the season finished.

Another way that you can hold the reader's attention is with complex plotting. Beyond the pantser v plotter question, how do you develop the ideas for your plots and how do you refine so it's the Three Little Bears not too twisty not too straight?

Chris - 
Yes, I'm a big fan of complex plotting. I'm definitely a plotter. I start with the seed of a story. An idea. I spend some time nodding on the idea, growing it, to see if it's big enough to support a plot. Then I write a summary 3-Act Plot. This is maybe 5 - 10 pages long. Then I start breaking it into scenes--more of a formal outline. I usually start writing. Evolve the outline as I go. Major plot twists are built into the idea of the story. Part of how do you make it interesting or surprising. For instance, In the Dark has a big reveal in the prologue. Sometimes though, you delay a reveal to build tension, or a new idea comes to you during the writing phase that makes a reveal or twist better.

Good twists are part of my original story design. They're what makes the story interesting. So, while I do outline, I use my outline as a guideline and not a blueprint, so if my characters take me in different directions (deviate off the path), I go with it. If it works, I keep it, if it doesn't, I dump it and move on.

Each of my characters have their own story lines, even the secondary characters. While they play a role in the major plot, their stories weave into the whole making it richer.

Fiona - 
Go back to the original three parts. What does that breakdown look like?

Chris - 

The first act sketches out the main character. Who are they? Why are they here? The inciting incident that puts the characters on the path. My first act usually ends with the characters gaining momentum, they reach the point of no return on their journey, which propels them deeper into the story.

The second act is the bulk of the story. The obstacles they face, setbacks in the plot. Pushing against the obstacles to learn more about the case, battle with their own demons. You know. At the end of the second act, they acquire knowledge that moves them into the third act. In In the Dark, the investigator learns the identity of the kidnapper. The climax of the story. The showdown. Do they find the missing girl? Can they save her? Slay the demon? In a romance it's usually about whether the relationship survives the crisis and how.

The end of Act 3 is the resolution. I usually tie the ends of my acts with a big reveal or twist; a moment in the action that propels you into the next phase. You up the stakes.

Fiona - 
Do you apply special choices of words or sentence structures to encourage people to read in a section in a particular way? For example how would you change between the physical action high stakes pages v. the emotion angst introspection pages to change the rhythm?

Chris - 
Sentence structure is obvious. Shorter, choppier sentences for action scenes. Longer, more complex sentences for more introspective parts. Atmosphere plays a role too; setting the scene. Because I set stories in the Northwest, I use a lot of physical scene setting (barriers like mountains and mudslides, raining, flooding, typical things we experience in Northwest winters). Word choices are important--how you describe something reflects the mood of the character. Marissa Rooney has made a lot of mistakes with men. When she thinks about these mistakes, her inner critic calls her a loser. The voice of her inner critic is probably her mother's, and she struggles against her poor self-esteem the whole book. Only at the end does she accept her mistakes and move past them. Get stronger. Those emotional moments where she's waging her own inner battle use words that reflect what her inner critic (and by extension herself) believes.

The emotional stuff is harder for me to write.

Takes longer. I have to dig pretty deep to get it out.

Fiona -
For me sex is hardest to write -- I can write emotion all day long.

Chris - 
I hear ya!

When I'm writing a sex scene, I have to block out the idea that anyone else will ever read it. If I didn't, I would never be able to write one.

Fiona - 
Amen to that one -- especially the idea of one of my kids reading it! Ha!

Chris - 
I'm in denial about my kids reading my stuff. I started to write again about the time my oldest daughter was in kindergarten. That's when I instituted the rule, you never read mommy's stuff. Eventually though, they will. Luckily we're still years away from that.

Fiona - 
Let's talk about staying motivated.

Chris -
I think the hardest thing for me is finding ways to stay motivated during the edit cycle. It always feels endless to me. Ripping a scene apart. Rewriting it, until you get it right, or as close to right as you can while not over-obsessing to the point you can never let it go. So, one of the things that helps motivate me is getting feedback from my writing group, or other sources that I trust. When I'm struggling with a scene and I think it's a piece of crap, getting feedback helps identify what's working, what's not, and provides an opportunity to brainstorm how to fix what's there. Writing is solitary. Building a community of support will help motivate you when the going gets tough.

Tracking what you do also keeps you motivated. Tracking word count in the initial draft, watching your manuscript grow. And then keeping track of where you are in the edit cycle. While it may feel like slow going, just being able to see progress helps. Remembering that there is an end in sight. I know there's a point during the edit cycle where I want to burn the manuscript, or kill myself. Or both.

Having finished several books, I know that this is part of my process. I need to keep pushing to get past it. Eventually I will and the book will be finished and I can write something else.

The promise of writing something new is the carrot at the end of the string fore me.

Fiona - 
It's time! We want a good scar story, please.

Chris - 
My favorite scar story...

Well, I've got a three-inch scar at the base of my throat. One of my coworkers asked me how I got it and this is what I said...

I was working in Vancouver, BC, in an area of the city called Yaletown. It was late. Winter. Raining. I was meeting some of my friends downtown and stopped at a bank machine to pick up some funds. Vancouver is an interesting city--parts of it are upscale, pretty. Safe. But step one or two blocks out of the "zone" and it can get a little sketchy. So there I was at the bank machine, paying no attention to what was going on around me when a man approached from behind. I felt the cold chill of metal against my throat and..."

"Whoa," he says. "Is that what really happened?"

"Uh, no. But it makes a better story."

The real truth was that I had surgery to remove a cyst. Apparently the surgeon was either drunk, or used popsicle sticks. Maybe both. 

Afterwards, I had a drainage tube and a long row of staples closing the wound. I looked like I'd gone on a blind date with Freddie Krueger. I should have been horrified when I looked in the mirror. Instead, I burst out laughing. That was 20 years ago.

Fiona - 
Ha! You got me -- I totally thought you were a crime victim. Thanks so much for coming and hanging out!

Readers, you can stay in touch with Chris:
Website -
Twitter - @chris_patchell

I hope this was 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.

Chat Conversation End

Sunday, October 23, 2016

I Haven't Got a Clue: Clue Awareness for Crime Writers

English: Pensacola, FL, September 19, 2004 -- ...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Do you have a character looking for clues?

It is important for your investigators to be calm and in the right frame of mind to be effective. So by adding distractions - personal or professional -- your investigator can make mistakes.

This article can pertain to a search because of a crime (for clues or perpetrator), a severe weather event, or a missing person. 

Your investigator is a human being. And humans, even the best of the best, can and do miss clues along the way.

Negatives to successfully finding clues might include:
  • fear
  • stress
  • grouping (when searchers cluster together)
  • some medications
  • noise
  • chatting
  • speed
  • ego***
  • preconceived ideas - for example, you're looking for a missing toddler who wandered off; you discount the beer can and cigarette. The baby didn't use those, but maybe this is a crime scene not a missing person.
  • alcohol
  • nicotine
  • caffeine
The larger the search area, the harder it is to contain, protect, and find pertinent data. GO HERE for a blog article to understand more about this and to understand means such as vacuuming that can be employed to find every possible piece of evidence.

  • Knowing about the subject helps
  • The investigator needs to open all of their senses, including their intuition.

But let's say you're in a larger area - a state park for example. Weather, bugs, animals can all work to degrade evidence. AND it is extremely hard to find.

I recently was on a training weekend where I followed a clue trail. This trail was bound by markers and we walked at normal pace, using searching techniques to try to find the hidden clues. I found the two bottles, the stuffed dog, the golf balls, and wrapping papers. I missed the brown glove laying in the brown soil under the brown log. I missed the pile of bullets at the end of the log in the leaves. I missed the weathered map caught in the tree branches. 

I hit 65% of the possible clues from the beginning of the trail to the end. And that's when we knew exactly where the person of interest had travelled.  That meant 35% of the clues I passed over. As a matter of fact, everyone missed the bullets and casings. 15 trained searchers following the same trail, looking for clues, and not one of us found the bullets (Or the rubber ducky who was sitting in the yellow leaves). 

Clues are going to go unfound. Every time someone goes into that area, details change. Bring a trailing or tracking dog in and that's going to have it's own set of changes. 

Another task we were sent on was to clear large areas for clues when we didn't know if someone had gone in that direction or not. We bagged, tagged, and GPS identified locations on a whole lot of trash. Some of the garbage in our sweep we could identify as weathered to a time period prior to the timeframe we were working with. But still, if you're sweeping large areas, it's a mixture of luck and experience that's going to find something of importance. I found two golf balls and a pair of glasses. Turns out the glasses weren't part of the clues that were laid -- sorry to the guy who lost his glasses, I hope he got home okay.

How you go about a sweep:
You have a search team of say 4 people. You place a paper on the ground and person A goes as far right as they can until they are just catching that paper in their left peripheral vision.  Then the middle person B puts the paper in their right peripheral vision and a second paper in their left peripheral then person C  puts that paper in their peripheral. So hopefully as the eyes are sweeping, the whole area is seen. (x = paper). 

Person D is the Field Team Leader and is watching navigation and communications.

A        x          B         x        C


Person C is tying a piece of marking tape every few feet on the right. At the end of the tsked search area, they reconfigure so that they return to base searching the next space over. 
^ and v = direction of travel.

^                        ^                   ^
^                        ^                   ^

A        x            B         x        C           x

      D                                                                                                    D
                                                           x               C        x          B         x        A

                                                                             V                   V                   V                                                                                                                                                      V                   V                   V

Teams of 6-9 are the norm. The team can be bigger and work this way. However, more than nine, and it's a problem.

What are your investigators looking for?
  • signs - indications that someone has passed that way.
  • tracks (a track is a sign that is identifiable to a specific person/animal)
  • clue - is an indication of a subjects passage through an area. These might include:
    • physical items - personal items, campfire, foot prints
    • occurrence - like noticing that the animals are spooked. Birds suddenly taking flight.
    • information - such as interviewing. "Sure, I saw Billy-John on the trail today. He were about say two miles east as the crow flies. You ain't gonna find him round here no more. He was hot footin' it up the mountain."

What happens if a clue is found?
The person who finds something calls a halt to the search team. The team leader examens the item, and will call it in to command and command will inform the team what to do. 
  • Bag it, flag it (put marking ribbons in the area. 3 ribbons is the signal), and get GPS coordinates.
  • Leave it in place. If it is to be left in place then the searcher must do their best to protect the clue from further degradation. For example if it's a footprint, a cage of sticks might be set in the ground to stop others from walking over it. A plastic bag might be placed over the top of the cage to preserve against wind, rain, dew. . .
Speaking of tracks - they are often the most numerous clues. The average human leaves more than two thousand steps in a mile. That's a lot of clues (direction of travel etc.) to be found. The best place to look for tracks are in track traps. A track trap is any area that can hold an obvious track if someone steps in it. (So those on the search for clues need to NOT step in these areas.)
  • ant hills
  • mud 
  • stream bank
  • snow
  • crop fields

I hope this was 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.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Under the Weather? How to use Mother Nature in Your Plot

I'm blog hopping from ThrillWriting over to Thriller-Writer in this article.

BTW, I wanted to name my blog Thriller-Writer but someone beat me to it. And then, I found out it was my friend Eric - great minds and all that. So join me as I hop.

My Guest: Fiona Quinn

My Guest this week is a little under the weather...  in fact, we all are, as are the characters in the novels we read, and she's going to show us some clever ways authors can use this to immerse readers into scenes on the page. Ladies and Gentlemen...

Fiona Quinn

How’s the Weather? 
In Your Novel, 
It Makes a Difference.

Last weekend, I was out in the woods on an Evacuation Team with Search and Rescue. It was ninety degrees (32º C). Things had cooled down quite a bit from the last time I was out on a manhunt; that day it had been over a hundred (39º C) with a wall of humidity. 

Amazon Link
Since I write Romantic Suspense/thrillers, I always try to note my experiences so I can bring my written words to life. In the case of searching for someone in the woods, weather matters. And I want to make the broader point that weather matters in all of our writing scenes.

Let’s start with my evac event as an example. In order to go into the woods, rescuers need to dress out; that is, we’re required to wear certain clothing to maintain our safety: boots, wool socks, long pants, long sleeved shirt, eye protection, helmet, heavy leather gloves. I was covered from head to toe except for the three or so inches between my glasses and my shirt collar. On top of that, I carried a rescue pack and equipment like rappelling webbing, a backboard, and a litter, as well as first aid bag, water for the victim and food. Water weighs a lot. Especially the amounts carried in for the heat. Ninety degrees. Remember that.

Amazon Link
In ninety-degree weather, a rescuer can quickly need rescuing. Rescuers are human beings, too. While often portrayed as heroic and never being aware of things like heat, Mother Nature really isn’t that kind. In ninety-degree heat, with or without the extra equipment, in that clothing, your character will be sopping wet with sweat. The sweat will make the dirt on the skin muddy. It will bring the bugs a-buzzing. It will make the character thirsty, tired, and probably a bit irritable. It will make the clothing cling uncomfortably to the skin, will increase the friction on the feet, forming blisters. Physical exertion in that weather will increase the need for water. Increase the chance of heat stroke. Use the weather to increase the misery of your character (nothing should be going well for them anyway.) 

Think about all of the wonderful ways you can describe the event once you take into account the weather: heat, cold, rain, drought, wind – it’s all plotting fodder.

The weather gives a writer plenty of ways to add beats into conversations instead of tags. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term 'beat', what I mean is that I would give environmental information or physical activity to the scene. It’s very important to resituate a reader. . . 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

12 Steps to Getting Your Heroine Laid: Info for Writers

Twelve steps - that's it.

Really, it's pretty easy from a physical signalling point of view.

Just how far your heroine lets things go before she throws up a block is up to you. I mean -- she is acting a little stressed out. A little wild monkey sex might just be the thing...

It's going to take some plot-thought, though. There are lots of decisions that influence the 12 steps to getting your heroine laid.

Consider your characters - both partners of the potential hot and steamy scene. Things can go very very fast or very slow. It can go smooth as silk, or you can take them on a turbulent ride.

Who's involved?
  1. What are their personal moral backgrounds?
  2. What have they experienced in their intimate pasts? What would help? What is a roadblock?
  3. How do they see intimacy? What is the import? Is she using him to gain state secrets? Or does she have too many cats and too little human affection?
  4. Where do they want this relationship to go? Is this a wam bam thank you, man; or is this heading to a lifetime of commitment.
  5. How about the cultural norms of the region, the time period, and the families?

This information is based on scientific study. Desmond Morris in his seminal book Intimate Behaviour: A Zoologist's Classic Study of Human Intimacy laid out 12 simple steps. 

The 12 Stages of Physical Intimacy
1. Eye to body – The girl is in the power seat.

The female will take in the body structure, clothes, bearing and other clues. If she is attracted, she will seek step 2.

But it doesn't have to produce attraction. All primates follow these same patterns so either person can re-route the interactions at any point in the continuum. Someone might be walking in and meeting their boss for the first time or their whomever. Eye to body - prejudging happens first.

2. Eye to eye –
Eye to eye for the first time is a very important stage setting for their interactions. What does your heroine see there? Safety? Menace? Disinterest? What does she offer up in her gaze as a return? Self-preservation? Intelligence? Cunning?

In attraction-interaction the woman will hold the gaze for a nano-second longer than is the norm, and then flick her hair or give some other preening body information, allowing the male to approach (see this blog article on attraction).

Ah, potential studmuffin passed the test. He got a hair flick offered up. Now the ball is in HIS court.

Stud-muffin likes what he sees; she has merriment in her eyes. He'd like to know what's put it there. He weaves his way through the crush.

3. Voice to voice – Holy smokes - someone has to start the interaction, typically the approaching male. Please, nothing schmarmy...

Let's keep it simple. How about he says, "Hi, I'm Reed," and then offers his hand for a greeting handshake?

4. Hand to hand (or arm) – She accepts the shake, and they are 1/3 of the way to bed!

Well a handshake isn't really going to get him past #4. This is walking hand in hand, or her resting her hand on his forearm, possibly her taking his arm as she totters along on her high heels.

How's your hero doing in his wooing efforts? If he jumps around the continuum, I'm not saying he's not going to get any. I'm just saying there's kind of a plan in place for all primates and if he moves from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 and so on up the charts, it's going to be a smoother ride. (He did hold back that schmarmy pick-up line, right?)

5. Arm to shoulder

So they leave together walking arm in arm, things are looking up from your heroes dry spell.

"Wait," you're thinking. "What if it didn't work this way? What if things jumped from steps 0-6 in 1.2 seconds?"

Your hero, chasing the villain is running down the street. The villain turns and pushes the girl into the hero's arms and vaults through the doors as they close on the subway. The heroine has not assessed hero's body, not caught his eye, didn't give him the "you may approach" signal, never heard a word from his lips directed at her only the "Stop!" that he was shouting at the bad guy. All of a sudden without the benefit of hand to hand then arm to shoulder, he's got his arms wrapped around her waist.

That, my friend, is going to take some unraveling. It could be a really fun piece of writing. She may be moving through the steps to quickly catch up - but since she didn't get to signal, things are not going as biologically planned. It's going to be awkward. They're going to flounder to get back on the path - whether their aim is to take all 12 steps or not.

6. Arm to waist, or back –
Read this as a man signalling that this is his (potential) mate. Back off, buddy.
It is also read as a protective gesture.
Think about how the couple walks into the room/restaurant/event. Does your hero stake his claim so all of the other men glancing up know the girl's not available?
Also think slow dances and whispered conversations.

7. Mouth to mouth – the kiss. Sigh. Do you see that they are more
than halfway down the path BEFORE the kiss can happen.

8. Hand to head – This can start with something like tucking a stray piece of hair behind her ear. Or she puts her head on his shoulder, and he strokes her hair. Maybe she is attending to his head wound. Lots of creative ways to do this. Think about it, since you've grown up, how many people besides your hairdresser, do you let touch your head? There has to be a special connection for this to feel okay.

Don't skip this step as you write the ramping up of a romance - for some reason it's one that often gets overlooked. Your audience may not know why they didn't buy into the scene - but on some biological level, they know a step has been missed. If she's a spy who needs the flash drive - that's okay; it's not about an emotional commitment. But if this is your main romance, slow it down studmuffin and do your due diligence.
9. Hand to body – This is the first step to foreplay. This is decision making time for your characters - how far are they willing to let this get in this scene?

10. Mouth to breast –Either partner can make a decision about calling it a pass, and moving toward the door. Feelings are going to be hurt. Frustrations are going to be ramped. Sure, she can say "stop" and "no" at any point. But really this is kind of the polite time to give the partner a heads up - "This is fun, but I'm not the kind of girl who does it in the back seat of a car with a stranger -- no matter how well tasks 1-9 were performed."

11. Hand to genitals - The further the characters move towards coitus the more difficult/frustrating/plot-twisting it will be if they are suddenly stymied. His anatomy isn't cooperating. The husband bursts into the room. They hear a window break downstairs.

12. Genitals to genitals – TAH DAH!!!!!

On stage or off stage. Fast or slow. Bumbling or smooth - lots of wonderful decisions to be made here. Coitus Interruptus. Completely content. Raisin in the sun - in desperate need of rehydration...

Now to write the ramifications.


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.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Can I Pour You a Cup of Tea? Rituals and Your Characters with Miriam Ruff

How do we humanize our characters? How can we make them three dimensional - someone we'd like to know and maybe even hang with? You can give them interesting hobbies, you can give them pets with great personalities . . . Have you considered giving them a ritual? In my writing, I often like to counterbalance volatile and physical with composed and mental.

In my Lynx series, Lexi Sobado's mentor taught her to meditate on phrases as a child. It was a daily ritual. And now here is a quick blip from a scene where she is using that ritual to help her get through a harrowing moment:

    Spyder pulled back on the yoke, easing the corporate jet up through the cloud bank. “John Quincy Adams said, ‘Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.’ I wish you to apply that quote to this moment and tell me your thoughts.”
    I peeked out from under my eyelids. I didn’t want to apply quotations; I simply wanted to survive the next five hours with Spyder piloting this Cessna. He was a competent pilot, but this was a blustery day and the turbulence severe. I was experiencing a big old helping of déjà vu from the last time I had been in a plane. It had crashed…
     “Come. I wish to hear what you have to say,” Spyder prompted.
     I licked the dry stickiness from my lips and tried to think past the drumbeat of my heart. My joints had locked and my muscles braced. I shoved my feet into the floor, pressed my back flat against my seat, and pulled the safety belt so tightly that it denied circulation. “The difficulty I am experiencing right now is fear of dying,” I finally managed; my voice not much above a whisper.

I find it interesting when a character leans on ritual in times of crisis like a good friend. Or perhaps even as a means of forging friendships.

I thought today you all might enjoy meeting my friend Miriam
Ruff. Miriam is a ritual tea drinker. So let's explore that a little, see how she talks about her ritual; how her ritual appeals to all of the senses; how she uses it in her life. I find this intriguing in terms of character development. I'll be interested to hear in the comments section what your take away from this interview was and also if you have rituals in your life and/or use them in your writing.

Fiona - 
Welcome, Miriam. I'm wondering how you found your way to loving tea and the ceremonial way that you prepare it.

Miriam -
I really don't remember when I started avidly drinking tea - I know I was very young, six or seven I think. At that time most of what I liked about tea was the taste and the calm feeling it gave me.

It wasn't until I was grown and had the opportunity to drink "quality" tea - loose leaf tea from a specialty tea preparer or tea importer that I began to understand that there was more to tea than just taste.

I was in my thirties, I guess, when I began switching over to only imported teas and making a ritual of the process. There was care in the boiling of the water, the smell of the tea in the tin before it was brewed, the aroma as it was brewing, the "mouthfeel" as I sipped slowly, and the final enjoyment of the cup (a very large one, naturally). I began to read more about tea, ask questions, and was finally driven to my current favorite importer by a letter to the editor in the Washington Post. I cold-called the guy and got great information. Now I try to pass all that along - pay it forward, so to speak.

Fiona - 
Can you take us through your ritual step by step?

Miriam - 

  1. Select the tea. First, whether I feel like black, green, oolong, or white, and second, which type of the category I've chosen appeals to me most at that time.
  2. Put the kettle on to boil the water.
  3. Place my tea of choice into a filter bag (my pot doesn't have its own infuser), measuring it out more by art than by science. It's generally considered best if you use one teaspoon for each person and then "one for the pot," but I adjust according to how fast I know the tea will brew. A bolder, larger leaf will take much longer to brew than a small leaf because of surface area.
  4. I watch the kettle. Only black teas should be steeped with boiling water. You wouldn't believe how many people I've run into who say they hate green tea because it's so bitter. The problem is that they've been using boiling water, which pulls out all the bitter in a green tea, which is an un-oxidized tea. You should use about 195 degrees for a green tea, between 180-190 for an oolong, depending on if it's a black or a green oolong, and about 175 for a white tea. You can get a tea thermometer to test the water. I just have a sense of it now, so I don't bother.
  5. Don't follow the instructions that say steep 3-5 minutes - way too strong!! I first waft the steam from the pot by my nose to get a hint of the aroma, which is also an indication of how much it's steeped. I start tasting a small amount at about one minute then every 30 seconds after that until it's done.
  6. I should mention that I set aside a period every day to do this and make sure I'm not checking e-mails, looking at my phone, etc. Tea is a meditation, and it should be treated as such.
  7. Then I set aside a half hour or so to drink a couple of cups, first rolling the brew around my tongue to taste it fully, then just enjoying the tea with my mind clear.

The tea in its triple-foil-lined package (a Darjeeling GFOP) and the accessories needed to make it.

Putting the filter with the tea into the pot to prepare for brewing.

Pouring the water over the tea in the pot to allow to brew. Water should always be poured OVER tea - tea should never be added to hot water or it won't steep properly.

There is an option for people who only want a small amount of tea at a time. I have a "tea duckie" that's good for infusing a single cup at a time. It has an infuser basket at the bottom that you fill with tea leaves. Then you pour the water over the duckie in the cup and let it steep until it's done. If people are interested in getting them, they can contact me on social media for information. 

Fiona -
You have a scientific background, I can see bits of that as you describe the art of creating a beautiful cup of tea.

Do you feel that balance, aesthetics and science in your preparation? Is that part of the appeal?

Miriam - 
I like to think of tea as the mixture of science with art to create a beautiful environment.

Yes, it is definitely part of the appeal. At first, I did everything by the book. Then I assessed where that didn't work and determined how to change those things. Now, especially when I'm introducing someone new to "good tea," I tell them the science of it but make sure to let them appreciate the aesthetics. When done properly, they're completely hooked by the experience, and I feel rewarded.

Fiona -
If I was writing you as a character, what kinds of thoughts would you engage in as you sip your cup? Are you being mindful and meditative? Do you allow your mind to free-roam and give you new ideas? Do you really really struggle to keep from checking your e-mail?

And thank you for introducing me to good tea.

Miriam - 
You're very welcome.

I really try to be mindful and meditative, but I find I do great thinking when I let my mind wander where it wants to go. I let the experience of relaxing with the tea fuel my thoughts and my creativity. I get really, really annoyed if the phone rings or if someone comes to the door, and I'm very good about not checking my mail while this is going on. I find I'm much more productive after a tea session than before.

Fiona -
How frequently is this a private ritual and when might you share this special time with others, or do you? How does that change things?

Miriam -
I make this my private ritual every day, but I do have times when I invite friends over for tea. I walk them through the process if they're not familiar with it, and if they already are, we try to steer the conversation toward positive things, thereby reinforcing that tea is a positive ritual. I even make tea when I'm tutoring for my students, so they can learn something new and share my appreciation. I find it is an excellent method of helping us communicate more easily.

Fiona - 
Do you feel a kinship if someone says they are a tea drinker? Do you then question them and put them on a tea drinking hierarchy -- for example I was drinking Yogi tea before you "fixed" me. Did you feel I was rehabilitatable? Do you just prefer to move on to other topics if people tell you they drink Lipton sweeeeeeeeet tea?

Miriam - 
Yes, I do feel a kinship, and I love to swap tea stories with people who already know about how to brew and drink good tea. And, yes, I'll admit I do put people in a sort of hierarchy. Funny story: I was at my boyfriend's a couple of weeks ago, and one of his roommates was reaching for the Lipton bag. "Hold on!" I told him, "we're about to make some real tea." Turns out he loves tea and really appreciated the good stuff when it came out. Now I do this routinely for the house.

And, yes, it's very gratifying to see my students pick up tea drinking habits. It's a lesson you can't learn from books, only from experience, and it's part of the way I show them that you can learn in many different ways.

Fiona -
After the tea ritual is over how do you feel and for how long does this feeling last? And piggybacking on that thought, what would disturb this feeling and how would that make you feel?

Miriam - 
It usually sets me up for several hours, and I may continue to drink small amounts of tea throughout the day to help boost the feeling. It's a tactile reminder of the meditative state. 

I get angry when something intrudes on my tea time, whether it's by myself or with other people. It's so important to my mental and emotional well-being to have that quality time, that I'm upset when it's disturbed. If that happens, though, I do try to repeat the process later in the day.

Fiona - 
Now we know how to agitate our tea drinking heroine.

Miriam -  

Disturbing any meditative or ritualistic process is agitating, I'd say. The sense of fulfillment comes from the completion of the ritual.

Fiona - 
Do you find that rituals permeate your life? Do you have systems that help to maintain inner quietude like - like a certain place you put your keys and a certain way you hang your clothes? If yes: did the tea ceremony help create the idea of ritual or did your natural rituals (read as habits) bring you to the tea table? So which came first the chicken or the egg?

Miriam -
Yes, I have a lot of rituals, and that's both good and bad. Too many rituals, and rituals that disturb a normal life, are unhealthy. People with OCD, for example, have ritualized behaviors that can be quite detrimental. However, rituals of studying and working were what got me through college successfully and with an Honors degree. I believe my tea ceremony came out of my natural sense of a need for order (kind of like why I'm drawn to science), which was then combined with my need for something that would bring about emotional well-being. It is also something that allows me to be artistic, too, and in a way that fosters my writing.

Fiona - 
Have you found similar personalities in those whom you've met that are ritualistic tea drinkers (meditative practioners)? If yes, can you name some, knowing this is a generalization and not a precise categorization?

Miriam - 
I have met similar personalities, and I find that it's a common ground that allows us to get along well together right from the start. One of my mother's old friends from college is a tea drinker, and I often go to her house for afternoon tea. The brewing (which she leaves to me), the pouring, the refilling of the cups has become a joint pleasure. A lot of the people I know, though, are from the importing companies where I get my tea, so I can't say that I really "know" them, and we don't do tea except for discussions about certain cultivars while I'm ordering.

I've found, though, that some of my friends and students whom I've introduced to the practice are eager to repeat the ritual when we get together, and I even made tea the centerpiece of my friend's parrot's birthday party, although the bird abstained.

Fiona - 
Too funny. How could we learn more about tea and ritual?

Miriam -
I've actually written an e-book on brewing and drinking the perfect cup of tea, that will hopefully allow others to partake of the same pleasure that I have. It's called "Tea-sing Your Taste Buds," and its available in the Products section of my website:

The guide has a lot of resources for people who want to follow up on where to buy tea, how to choose it, etc. I'm also absolutely willing to talk with anyone interested in discussing the topic. They can just e-mail me, and I guarantee I'll respond.

Fiona - 
At Thrillwriting we traditionally ask about your favorite scar.

Miriam - 
Define scar.

Fiona - 
It's for you to define.

Miriam - 
I'd have to say disappointment, probably, that some of the people I've introduced to tea have drunk it and said, "That's nice." Ouch, that hurt. It's like a writer being told their story is "fine." Fine. What does that mean other than you couldn't care less one way or the other?

Fiona - 

What have you written recently?

Miriam - 
I have a couple of stories that came out recently. "Shades of Black" is the most recent one, and it's a little bit different from most of the pieces I write in that it's a contemporary psychological horror story - I tend to prefer science fiction and related genres. I also have another story called "Inmish Taka" that will be coming out once the cover art is completed, and it's set in the same universe as "The Coup," which is also on my website

Fiona - 
How can we stay in touch?

Miriam - 

I'm on Facebook at and Twitter at @ruffmiriam.

Bumbershoot, Inc.
A full-service writing and editing company.

Thank you so much for visiting and sharing Miriam.

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.

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.


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


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 
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.

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 -

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 “naïve.” 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 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)

  • 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.