Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Controlling Conflict With Words: A Cop's Perspective

Law enforcement officers often interact with people who don’t want to participate in polite conversation. It’s part of the job. Officers are trained to react to resistance and redirect it when it is encountered. Writers are quick to portray an officer jumping to a physical confrontation, but what if the resistance is only verbal? Officers can’t shoot every person who disagrees with them. The easiest way to achieve voluntary compliance is often overlooked in novels, but the truth is that an officer’s most effective weapon is his mouth and it’s loaded with attitude.

Bottom line? If it felt good to say, it was probably the wrong thing.

I know the importance of words. I spent twelve years as a crisis negotiator, I’m certified as a Tactical Communications instructor, now I’m a writer. Cops tend to be a sarcastic lot. It’s in our DNA. Fortunately, there’s a five-step program to help us cope.

Let’s look at a traffic stop. While assessing the scene for safety concerns, the officer greets the driver, identifies himself and his agency and informs the driver why he was stopped. Now the officer needs something from the driver—his license. So begins the five steps.
1.  Ask
The vast majority of people cooperate with law enforcement officers. When asked for a driver’s license, most individuals will produce it with a smile.
But if he doesn’t…

2.  Educate
People want to know why. Why should I give you my license? This is where cocky officers go off the rails. “Because I said so” rarely produces the desired result. Instead, explain that driving is a privilege and not a right, and the law requires drivers to present their license to a peace offer upon demand.
But if he doesn’t care…

3.  Present Options
This is the fun part.  Think of the worst-case scenario and present it. A simple driving infraction has escalated to a misdemeanor. The driver will be arrested, his car towed, he’ll accrue tow yard fees, not to mention he’s going to miss dinner. Let your inner rhetorician run amuck!
But if he remains unmoved…

4.  Confirm Their Response
This is critical for court. The officer reiterates that the driver would rather be subjected to the stated options than simply provide his license. Common sense normally prevails by this point.
But if he lacks common sense…

5.  Act.
Cops don’t bluff. Knucklehead is going to jail.

What does this mean for writers?

Only 7-10 percent of communication is accomplished by the actual words that are spoken. Need proof?  Read the following sentence aloud and emphasize “I.”

I never said he stole the money.

Now read it out loud five more times, each time stressing another word (you can skip “the”). Hear how that changes the dynamic of the sentence. Voice intonation communicates 33-40 percent of the message.

Body language communicates meaning—even when it contradicts the words being spoken. A whopping 50-60 percent of communication occurs by recognizing non-verbal cues. These cues are what writers use to convey what’s really happening between two people. Imagine how your character stands, her facial expressions, eye contact, what he does with his hands. These are all clues to your reader about how open or disingenuous your character is being at that moment.

We’ve all said things in anger. Cops can’t afford to do that. Controlling situations with words that are defensible in court coupled with command presence means not having to fight someone into handcuffs. In real life this is good. For your fiction? Maybe not. You may be writing a character who reacts badly toward anyone who challenges his or her authority. Or just maybe you want to give that character the skills to stay on track, remain unruffled, and get the job done. 

If so, you’re only five easy steps away.

Controlling Conflict With Words was first published in The Florida Writer.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Law and Disorder

Cops and counselors form a special bond with each other, but that doesn't mean they always play well together. Check out my guest blog Conflict in the Courtroom at Law and Fiction, the Blog.

Special thanks to Agatha award-winning author, Leslie Budewitz, for extending the invite!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Crash and Burn

So. I crashed my computer. The hard drive spun out of control, and when the dust settled, I sat slack-jawed and reeling as I stared at a black screen of death that used to be my desktop.

Amid my wailing and gnashing of teeth, I had an epiphany. Okay, that last part was a lie. I just wanted to say that something good came from the experience. The truth? Life sucks without a computer. Which, I suppose if you want to be technical, is an epiphany of sort. Not on the level of a manifestation of Christ, but still a coming to Jesus moment.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am a multi-device wielding person. So while my desktop languished in the emergency room hooked up to diagnostic machines, I read email on my iPhone, composed work documents on my MacBook, and listened to music on my iPod. Some people drink Kool-Aid. Me? I ate the apple.

But it wasn't the same.

I didn't know the extent of my loss. Was it superficial? Or did that black screen hide internal injuries that would lead to a full system failure? Waiting truly is the hardest part.

To keep busy, I jotted notes about the scenes I had written before the crash. It had been a stellar day of writing. My external hard drive held a backup of my files from the six days prior, so even at worst, I'd only lose about five (gulp) thousand words (the BEST damn five thousand words I'd ever crafted, I'm certain). I picked up my pencil--a blue mechanical Pentel, with 0.7mm lead and a squishy finger rest--and started writing. Plus, I had a whole package of lead that didn't require an electrical outlet for power, which, in light of recent events, struck me as particularly prudent.

Writing longhand taps a different part of a person's brain. In some ways it's similar to how fear activates one's limbic system. Everything is simplified. Fight or flight. Write or don't. There's no solitaire, no Facebook, no tweets, no distractions. Just a white page awaiting little marks that eventually coalesce into words.

And the words came, and the sentences flowed, and the stories formed. Ye, even without a desktop, life was good.

Which in retrospect, I suppose is the real epiphany.

Here endeth the lesson.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The First Step for Wreckage

The Cover Reveal

New York Times & USA Today bestselling novelist Mary Burton selected her top ten picks from the sixty short stories slated for inclusion in the Florida Writers Association's annual anthology.  I'm proud to announce that my story "Wreckage" placed third!

The book will be available for purchase later this year.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

First Place for The Watchman!

The results are in!

I'm pleased to announce that my novel, The Watchman, took first in the Thriller/ Suspense/ Mystery category of the Sandy Writing Contest sponsored by the Crested Butte Writers.  Stephany Evans, of Fine Print Literary, judged the final round.

Congrats to all the finalists!  To see the awards, go to the Sandy Contest.