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Building the scaffolding for suspension of belief by Angela Knight

I love writing thoroughly weird stuff

— vampires, werewolves, and other things that go bump in the night. The challenge is convincing the reader to go along on my magic carpet ride.

Yet I don’t want to create the equivalent of a unicorn pooping rainbows — a story so unbelievable my reader can’t get into it. I’ve learned the secret to creating believability is to construct a realistic foundation for the reader’s suspension of disbelief.

 

That’s why I like to blend paranormal elements with law enforcement storylines.

My husband has been a cop for thirty years, and I was a reporter for a decade. As a reporter, I covered several murder cases from the day the body hit the ground to the moment the convicted killer marched out of the courtroom in handcuffs. That experience has helped me understand a bit about how the justice system works.

A writer needs that kind of knowledge to write about police work convincingly. You can’t just wing it based on whatever you’ve seen on television. Cop shows are a lousy way to research law enforcement because they cut corners and oversimplify investigations. They must; they’re boiling weeks or even years of patient work down into an hour.

Novelists can’t get away with doing that. If you don’t know what you’re talking about in a novel, it’s a lot more obvious than in an hour-long TV show that just hits the highlights.

On the other hand, if you do your research well enough to know the techniques cops use, you can give the story the ring of truth even if the cop hero is a werewolf. A realistic foundation makes the book much more believable, especially if you incorporate details that aren’t common knowledge.

 

One such detail fell in my lap this week.

All I have to do now is figure out what to do with it.

My husband, Michael Woodcock, is a detective with the Spartanburg City Police Department. This week, he took a class on homicide investigation. Mike’s worked on just about every kind of case known to law enforcement over the past 30 years, but this class covered some facts about blood spatter that surprised him. (Note: It’s “spatter” not “splatter.” Getting the terminology right matters.)

The class involved hours of looking at gory photos of people who’d been beaten to death. In many of them, there was blood on the walls, the ceiling, and the floor.

And yet, very little blood got on the actual killers. In fact, one murderer commented on how surprised he was that he didn’t end up covered in gore.

This has to do with the physics of spattering liquid. Forensic scientists have conducted experiments where they dressed a guy in a white plastic suit, put him in a white room, and had him use a baseball bat to hit a tray containing a couple of inches of blood.

The blood flew out on both sides of the pan, and arced off the bat at the top of the swing to hit the ceiling. But very little of it hit the batter. At most, he ended up with a few spots of blood on his shoes.

 

That’s the kind of detail you can use in a story.

Maybe your bad guy is caught near the scene, but his lawyer claims he’s not guilty because he should be covered in blood. How does your hero prove otherwise?

Well, maybe through another little quirk of criminals: They often go to great lengths to dispose of their clothing, but almost always keep their shoes. Yet shoes are very likely to get bloody, either because a couple of drops fell on them or the killer walked through blood splatter.

Another surprising fact is that blood drops falling to the floor off the tip of a knife are surprisingly small. That’s because the blade acts like a funnel as the blood collects at the point.

What’s more, any time you have a knife attack, there’s a good chance some of the blood belongs to the killer. That’s because kitchen knives don’t have cross guards the way swords do. When someone stabs someone else, his hand often slips down the hilt and onto the blade, which cuts him. Such injuries can be the key to solving the murder—or not.

A good example is the most famous knife attack in two decades: the murder of OJ Simpson’s wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman. Nicole Simpson suffered fatal slashes to her head and throat. She was found slumped over with a large blood spatter on her back.

Because of the location of the spatter, some investigators believe it didn’t come from her own wounds. And because of the spatter’s size, it didn’t come appear to come from the knife. That suggests the blood was her killer’s, who must have been injured during the attack.

Trouble is, nobody collected a sample from that spatter, because the police botched the investigation. Had they collected blood from that particular spatter, DNA might have proved whether or not OJ killed his wife.

For more about using blood spatter evidence to solve a crime, check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mujZwFlDPDo. Another good video is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UV_moaF45I. (Please note that there are some disturbing images of a decomposing body in this video.)

YouTube Is a great resource for information on law enforcement techniques. You’ll find video of police demonstrating everything from how to fingerprint a suspect to the best way to handcuff a belligerent suspect.

These details can create the scaffolding to support your readers’ suspension of disbelief.

hearts and handcuffs logo

This in August, I’m presenting “Hearts and Handcuffs,” a month-long online class with Savvy Authors. The lessons are based on interviews I did withveteran cops on topics ranging from how officers are trained, to working narcotics cases and homicides.

I hope you’ll join me.

Angela Knight

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Angela KnightAngela Knight is the New York Times bestselling author of books for Berkley, Red Sage, Changeling Press, and Loose Id. Her first book was written in pencil and illustrated in crayon; she was nine years old at the time. A few years later, she read The Wolf and the Dove and fell in love with romance. Besides her fiction work, Angela’s publishing career includes a stint as a comic book writer and ten years as a newspaper reporter. Several of her stories won South Carolina Press Association awards under her real name.

In 1996, she discovered the small press publisher Red Sage, and realized her dream of romance publication in the company’s Secrets 2 anthology. She went on to publish several more novellas in Secrets before editor Cindy Hwang discovered her work there and asked her if she’d be interested in writing for Berkley. Not being an idiot, Angela said yes.

Angela has written over 50 novels, novellas and e-books. The latest is Arcane Heart, the story of a beautiful witch cop and her handsome partner, who can assume the form of a magical lion.

Angela lives in South Carolina with her husband, Michael, a detective with the Spartanburg City Police Department. The couple has a grown son, Anthony.

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[box] New Release

Master of Magic by Angela KnightMaster of Magic

Return to New York Times bestselling author Angela Knight’s Mageverse in this never-before-published novella about a man with mysterious abilities and a hidden past—and the woman who must help him decipher his secrets.

Olivia Flynn finds herself on the brink of death, unable to call upon her Sidhe magic, when a handsome stranger rescues her. But this male is no ordinary human, and Olivia wants nothing to do with him. The foreign magic boiling around him is far beyond the power of even the Sidhe.

Rhys Kincade has never been able to explain his magical abilities. Olivia is the first person he’s encountered who shares his gifts. But before he can ask her about them, they find themselves under attack by a pack of werewolf assassins. An even deadlier threat follows, and the pair is forced to rely on each other as they fight unknown enemies—and an ever-growing attraction between them.

Here’s an Excerpt.

You find the book for sale here:

Amazon, Barnesand Noble, Kobo

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