It’s all in the details, someone once said and that is true, especially if you are a writer. What is trivial to you may be someone else’s livelihood, and they know everything there is to know about it, so when you gloss over what you think is an insignificant bit of description in your novel, someone out there is ready to put you straight. The thing to do is check with someone who knows and add the extra bits of information you learn. It will enrich your writing.
I am in the middle of an excellent DVD course on forensic investigations produced by The Great Courses Company. Each course segment provides a glimpse of crime scene details and the staggering number of databases used in identification. Take fiber found at a crime scene. Animal, vegetable or mineral? Carpet, clothing, or insulation? Cotton, polyester, or wool? The list of possibilities is seemingly endless. Forensic investigators use a set protocol to pick up, store and analyze such things.
In my cozy mystery, The 90s Club & the Hidden Staircase, I needed to describe the rural county West Virginia sheriff who investigates the crime. But what color was his uniform? Gray? Blue? Black? Khaki? What kind of hat did he wear? Did he wear leather lace-up boots or a businessman’s wingtips? I called a friend who lived in West Virginia, but he couldn’t recall any details. Finally, I googled the West Virginia Sheriff’s Association and talked to its executive director, Rudi Raynes-Kidder, who graciously did supply the details. There is a standard dress for a West Virginia sheriff and probably a similar standard for every sheriff in the country.
For my next novel, The 90s Club & the Whispering Statue (available Dec. 1), Frank Hazzard, Deputy Chief/Shift Commander, Baltimore City Fire Department, provided details about the protocol for responding to a 911 medical emergency. For instance, when a caller reported an injury, the call taker would probably ask, “What happened?” If the caller said “I think he was beaten,” the police would be sent along with the EMS team in a “dual response.” When the paramedics arrived, they would first ask the patient and bystanders what happened. If the patient can communicate, the paramedics would assess painful areas for injuries first. If the patient can’t or won’t answer, they would do a head-to-toe patient survey to check for injuries. They would also take vital signs (pulse, respiratory rate and blood pressure) and listen to breath sounds with a stethoscope. They would also ask about allergies, medications and medical history. They would treat any injuries and transport him to the closest appropriate hospital. If the patient refused hospitalization, the paramedics would have to establish that he has the “capacity of consent.” Generally, if people are “oriented times 3,” meaning they can tell the paramedics 1) who they are, 2) day of the week and date, and 3) time of day, then they have the right to refuse treatment.
Since my beating victim in the novel was a crusty old codger who refuses treatment, Frank’s information was extremely useful indeed.