How to Dismember a Body
AND OTHER THINGS I’VE LEARNED AS AN AUTHOR
Recently I was watching Pretty Little Liars with my roommate. It was an episode where Caleb was jailbreaking phones before it was even a thing. After the third or so time I pointed out how utterly implausible it was for him to do whatever he was doing my roommate was like “IT’S. A. TV. SHOW. You’re thinking to hard. Stop trying to make it make sense and just watch it.”
But here’s the problem, Constant Readers. As a plotter and people maker, I can’t “just watch it.” It completely takes me out of the story and I sit there annoyed by a detail that, had the writer taken five minutes (or three hours, whatever it takes for your art, people!) to look up how something is done, wouldn’t have taken me out of the story. Most of the time this is not a make or break issue for me but for a lot of readers it can be.
Which is why I research the crap out of everything. Literally. Everything.
Honestly, it’s one of my favorite (and most infuriating) processes while working on a novel. I can’t write it if I don’t know it. I have been known to do hours of research to write a single sentence, which is absurd when you think about it but, for me, I cannot move forward unless I know where I’m going.
A few fun things I’ve learned through my writing.
Handedness in Twins
Sheriff Lockheed tells Alex that Kelsey used to be fascinated with twins. I was originally going to have an entire scene where Kelsey asked Alex if he and Drew were monozygotic twins and was excited to find that Drew was right-handed. She goes in to explain it confirmed research that she had done that showed if one twin was left handed and the other right, the second-born was the lefty, which Alex is. It was setting up a conversation where it would finally ring home to Alex that Kelsey, despite her ineptitude in his class and the everyday ordinary conversations of their relationship, really is a genius beyond anything he could fathom.
How to spell “banquette”
I was writing a scene in a swanky NYC restaurant and I was trying to describe the tufty, cloth covered benches often used in higher-end establishments. Google was absolutely ZERO help with it’s condescending ‘Did you mean “banquet?”‘ I tried searching for “fancy bench seat” “restaurant cloth bench” and “types of French seating” to no avail. Finally, after an hour of “I got a banquette full of broads, you got a table full of fellas” running on a loop in my head, I looked up the lyrics to Run this Town by JayZ, Kanye West, and Rhianna and fucking Genius Lyrics had the correct spelling.
Dragon Class Keelboats (and Sailing in general)
Ya’ll. I knew ZERO about sailing before I decided Alex loved to sail and let me tell you I have barely scratched the surface of that community. Do you know how hard I looked for the Echo Delta? I knew I wanted her to be a bit of a rarity, something that Alex’s dad would have to pretty much rebuild from the ground up in order to afford it, and something that would catch Samson Grath’s eye to set up that plot point. It had to be small enough to sail without any type of crew which narrowed it down to three styles. I looked for the Echo Delta for DAYS, pouring through pictures of boats for sale, making sure that the price was in the right range, it was the correct length for Alex to sail by himself and that it was old enough to have been bought in the 80s when Alex’s dad purchased her. This article was integral to my understanding of the Dragon Class of Keelboats and what actually goes in to restore one, even though virtually none of that information made the final draft of the novel.
The Marine Corp
This. This here was even more time consuming than researching the sailboats. Alex needed to be the exact opposite of Drew in that he’s a high achiever but they both have one thing in common: they hate their father. I wanted Alex to seem like he was going into the Naval Academy to follow in his father’s footsteps but by joining the Marines instead it was like a big fuck you to his dad before he escaped away to school and didn’t have to deal with the ramifications.
Alex is not your typical alpha male. He was raised to be that way so his dominance in the classroom (and with Kelsey) is all learned from his time as an officer in the Marines. I wanted him to be interested in something obscure (for American culture) as well as something that would likely piss off his father so given that he was an English teacher, making him a fan of Russian Literature wasn’t a huge leap. I wanted him to speak Russian, a difficult language that didn’t have much practical use as a civilian. I liked the idea of him choosing his MOS (military occupational specialty – yeah I know some acronyms now) based on something he enjoyed instead of practicality. I made him a Foreign Liason Officer (FLO) as opposed to a Marine Liason Officer (MLO) and honestly, I’m still not entirely sure of the difference. I had to plot out his boot camp schedule, 6 months at the foreign language center in California, six months at a base in TX, four years in service as a Liason officer.
Then I got to figure out what school he could go to for his Master’s degree.
And of course, how to dismember a body
Everyone knows you cut at the joints. Obvious. What I needed to know was how someone who was traveling across the country could dispose of his victims in an unfamiliar city while staying in a hotel room. Disturbingly enough I found what I needed to know from Bass Pro Shop. Turns out your standard field dressing kit has almost everything one would need for a hasty hack job on the go. However, I took a page from Dear Dastardly Dexter and included an electric bone saw in my killer’s murder kit. Dexter also provided me with the insight to include plastic sheeting, lawn and garden garbage bags, and bleach. Dismember body in bathtub, put in trash bags, insert trashbags into luggage, do a thorough clean up and then look for a remote place, preferably a body of water, to dump the parts. Easy peasy.
Writers, what is the most fun/weird/time consuming thing you’ve researched for a story? Readers, what is a huge inconsistency that you’ve noticed that could have been saved by the author doing a little research? Comment below or @ me over on Twitter @dianneinwriting