5 Forensic Tips for Your Fiction

I love getting caught up in a good, suspenseful mystery. I love losing myself in the world the author has created, book (or Kindle) clenched in a white knuckled grasp as the protagonist closes in on the villain. What I don’t love is when the author does a forensic See the source imagebelly flop.

Often times it’s a lack of research, a simple mistake caused by confusion, or a reliance on what is shown on TV shows, but it can jar readers right out of the pages of a story when they trip on a “that’s not right” moment. Conversely, going the extra mile by including some factual science can draw a reader deeper into the story because you’re constructing a more realistic world for them to get lost in.

I no longer work in forensics, and I’ll be the first to admit that my wheels are a little rusty, but here are 5 tips (based on my biggest pet peeves) to strengthen the forensics in your writing.

Image result for blood spatter analysis1) When referencing blood, it’s spatter, not splatter!!! This mistake drives me absolutely insane, probably because it’s so common. Seriously. From TV shows to books released by major publishing houses to those published by indie writers, I see this all the time, and it’s simply not correct. (On a side note, the cast off of a blood pattern can tell a detailed story of an attack – it’s worth a little research to bring this element of your story to life. ) Please, make my world a better place and tell everyone you know – blood spatters, paint splatters.

Image result for dna2) No matter what your sleuth’s connections, they’re not getting immediate DNA results. It just doesn’t work that way. If you need a way to provide a means of getting information into your character’s hands more quickly, check out what serology can tell you.

Image result for forensic burial recovery3) If buried remains are recovered in your story, either skeletal or in any stage of decomposition, the professional recovering the remains isn’t just after the body. Some authors include screening the soil, usually having the analyst recover rivets from jeans, zippers, etc. This is correct, but only a tiny fraction of what the process actually entails. The recovery person or team will pedestal the body, removing the soil from the top and sides of the remains, documenting the location of any artifacts found around the body, and screening the dirt. They will also be looking for insect casings, which can help determine the time of year a body was interred, and they’ll collect soil samples for volatile fatty acid analysis to help establish TSD (time since death). With a little quick research, you can make this scene in your novel or short story much more memorable and impactful.

Image result for fingerprint4) Any time I read a fingerprint scene, it’s so boring! And I’ll admit, fingerprint classification is tedious, but collecting them doesn’t have to be! Check out alternative methods (and the situations they are used in) to add a little spice to your scene. From superglue fumes to metal filings, there’s a more interesting way! (Also, don’t forget that other ‘prints’ can sometimes be lifted, like shoe prints.) But remember – fingerprints aren’t always present, and there are surfaces that do not lend themselves to collection.

Image result for evidence collection5) I’ve read too many books in which evidence collection is just a random handoff of plastic baggies. This is not true! First, the collection of evidence is a very detailed and controlled process. Besides everything being photographed in situ before collection, not just anyone on scene handles the collection. A chain of custody for the evidence must be created and maintained, with certain information either labeled or written on the collection container, including the initials of who collected it. Finally, the container will be sealed with a tamper proof sticker or tape that will not allow the evidence to be opened and contaminated without obvious signs. Also, what a piece of evidence is determines what is used to collect it. For example, a bloody shirt would be collected and packaged in a paper bag, not a plastic evidence container. I’d love to read a story where some really wild stuff is collected as evidence – imagine how creative you could get – or make your characters have to get to collect it!

What are your pet peeves that you hate to read in books? Do you have any items you’d like to add to the list? Any forensic question in particular that you need an answer to? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Please introduce yourself and what you write if you feel so inclined . . . we’re all in this together and I consider you a member of my #writingcommunity! I look forward to connecting with you here and on social media, and am open to guest bloggers who’d like to share their knowledge or experiences!

Write with Focus, Read with Purpose

Over the last few years, I’ve gone back and forth about getting into an MFA program. It certainly seems to lend more credence to an author’s work. Intensive work-shopping and guidance from a mentor also have a certain lure. On the other hand, I’ve already spent more than my fair share of time in the classroom, and I’m worried that if I tried to squeeze more time consuming commitments into an already packed schedule, it would be my writing time that would suffer, which seems counterproductive.

So, I did the next best thing. I just finished reading Gabriela Pereira’s book, diy MFA. (If you haven’t read it, I recommend it – for a tutorial it’s very engaging and reader friendly.)

I’ve been reading quite a few books on writing and craft developing lately, mainly to answer some questions that I’ve been unable to articulate into words. Am I getting my answers?

Yes.

It isn’t always fun, but I honestly feel like I’ve become a better writer. I’ve read dozens of times that the best thing you can do to improve your writing is to read widely. I’ve always been a voracious reader; while I feel like there’s certainly something to be gained from reading in general, reading as a writer has me seeing the words on the page in an entire new light. (A celestial light, limned with rainbows and glitter dust straight from a unicorn’s sneeze.) According to Pereira, “Reading like a writer means that you don’t read just to find out what happens next in the story. You must read to figure out what the writer is doing and how she achieves a particular effect.”

Image result for writing communityWhile I normally notice if the pacing is off, or there is too much exposition or too little character development in a story, I basically read to escape reality for entertainment and not to learn how an author is achieving certain feats of magic: How did the author make me so invested in the characters that I cried when they cried? How did the author ensnare me so deeply in his/her web that I had no choice but to stay up late reading, even though I was already dead tired and had an extra early morning the next day? How do the words on the page leave me breathless when I’m just sitting in place, reading? How? How? How?

Layer upon layer of intrigue in deftly crafted fiction doesn’t just happen by lucky accident or from reading a lot or because you caught a leprechaun and he gifted you an enchanted keyboard. One of the best things I got from this book is that writing is a form of manipulation. Your writing is stronger when you write with purpose – intentionally trying to evoke certain reactions, feelings and thoughts from the reader.

There are things I was already doing in my own writing – but I wasn’t consciously doing them. I wasn’t writing with the intent or purpose I should have been. I learned them from reading, included them in my writing, but if you had asked me the how or the why behind why I was doing it, I would have been lost to explain myself. By paying attention to the how and the why, I can craft a scene with much more impact which will hopefully resonate more strongly with readers.

Some of the information gets redundant, but I get at least 10-20 pages of highlighted notes from each book, which I then paste into a word document, print them out, and put them in a three-ring binder so I can read them again and again (yes, I am the nerd queen, but I’m okay with that).(Kindle is awesome enough to help you quickly find all of Image result for writing communityyour highlights in a book. I save PDFs of books (often cheaper to buy, especially from sites like Writer’s Digest) to the cloud to get it on my phone to read and highlight.)

The final section of this book is about creating a writing community. Having a support network of other writers, attending events and conferences, and networking is a recurring theme in the books I’ve been reading, and one I plan to return to in later posts. I’m attending my first conference this November, and I’m already hard at work researching how to get the most out of the experience (what else would an introverted nerd queen do?).

If anyone has any tips or personal experiences they want to share, I’d love to hear them!

Please introduce yourself and what you write if you feel so inclined . . . we’re all in this together and I consider you a member of my #writingcommunity! I look forward to connecting with you here and on social media, and am open to guest bloggers who’d like to share their knowledge or experiences!

 

 

 

 

Making the Connection: Investing Your Readers

Have you ever read a book that is well written, has an interesting premise, a solid plot with plenty of twists, yet it leaves you feeling either unsatisfied or it simply fades from memory as quickly as you read the words ‘The End’? Ever wonder how an author spun the magical web that left you thinking about a story days, weeks, months, even years after you finished reading the book?

The second is the kind of author I want to be. I want to haunt readers with my characters, I want to plague them with my plots, I want my words to linger in the recesses of their minds to revisit them again and again – in other words, I want my stories to be memorable. (It’a really not as creepy as it might sound, I promise!)

Question: How do you crack the code? How do you create a fictional world that captures your audience?

Answer: You create an emotional connection between your readers and the story, forging a bond that resonates at a deeper level than mere casual reading.

Image result for the emotional craft of fictionFor some writers, this may be instinctual, a natural click of the keys or flick of the pen. For the rest of us, it may take a bit more effort, in which case, The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass is a priceless resource. This book illuminates the many ways in which you can make your readers care. Best of all, many of these tips can be used during the editing process to help flesh out scenes that lend themselves naturally to the different methods presented in this book.

I’ll be sharing some of my favorite quotes from this book over the next several months.

Do you have any recommendations for strengthening the connection between your readers and your writing? Any tips, tricks or tutorials you find useful? Sharing is caring, and caring creates community. I’d love for you to be a part of my #writerscommunity!!!

 

The End of An Era . . . But a New Beginning, So Hooray!

When I started this blog almost seven years ago, it was because I wanted needed to write.

I’ve always loved writing, always wanted to be a writer, but I’m also a realist, so I knew that the chances of making a living as a writer were slim. So the question was, what would make me find time to write, enable me to sharpen my skills, find my voice, and discover my direction without requiring a time commitment I couldn’t make? This blog was the answer.

Image result for pen and inkIn the beginning, I blogged about hiking, cooking, DIY projects, whatever I had going on in my life that might be of interest to someone else. I wrote non-fiction articles and queried magazines, jotted down a short story (mostly for my own amusement) when striking inspiration aligned with a few hours of spare time, and finished a manuscript I had started in my early twenties during my lunch break, alternating between sweating and freezing as I furiously typed behind the wheel of my Image result for typewritercar during the changing seasons.

I had no luck with articles, which was probably because I didn’t enjoy writing them as much as I enjoyed creating a piece of fiction. I casually sent out a few short stories (I love mystery and suspense, but my early work often took on a dark slant, leaning more towards horror). To my delight, some of my stories found homes.

Fast forward to the present . . .

Image result for writing picturesI have found my direction. I am a novelist. I have four manuscripts in various stages of editing. I’ve been going through the query process with agents, and have had a few near misses. I have learned what my work was missing. I have found and developed my voice. I’m ready to do this!

. . . But, during this time, my blog has suffered. There’s no one to blame but myself and the limited number of waking hours in a day. How can I expect others to enjoy content that I myself find uninteresting? So, this blog is getting a revamp and a new direction.

Image result for writing picturesThe content will focus on writing – dialogue, pacing, suspense, character development, basically anything and everything that has to do with developing the craft and navigating the ropes of publication. I’m open to suggestions, and hope to get some good conversations going! Consider this an open forum. I’d love to create a writing community and to connect with other scribblers. Are you excited? I’m excited. Let’s do this!

 

 

My Awesome New #Author T-Shirt

A few weeks ago I shared a great new website (https://literarybookgifts.com) that offers gifts for book lovers, as well as a promo code (SHANNONHOLLINGER20) to help you save 20% off your order. I couldn’t resist using the promo code and ordering a t-shirt for myself.

I love my new shirt!

Between the quality image and the soft fabric, what’s not to love! Since the website said that the shirts run a bit small, I ordered an x-large because I’m tall and hate anything too tight. It fits perfectly, which is great, because I’m planning on wearing this shirt all the time!

If you haven’t been yet, head on over to the website and check out what they have to offer! Feel free to share the promo code far and wide! If you order something, I’d love to know what and how you feel about it (I’m trying to pare down my Christmas wish list 😉 )!