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Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction: Episode #47: Amnesia and Trauma

Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction: Episode #47: Amnesia and Trauma

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/episode-47-amnesia-and-trauma

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES:

Amnesia has been a part of fiction for many years. Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity is a classic example. The character was apparently based on the real-life case of Ansel Bourne, who in 1887 was likely the first documented case of amnesia. Even Agatha Christie suffered her own brush with amnesia—or maybe not. This one has been the source of argument and conjecture for decades.

I frequently receive questions from crime writers about amnesia so it remains a common topic. In fact, amnesia questions were included in my Question and Answer books. One of the best:

Can A Blow To the Head Cause Unconsciousness and Amnesia?

Q: How hard do you have to be hit on the head to be knocked unconscious? Is there a particular place on the head, that if struck would be more likely to cause unconsciousness? How long does it usually last? How hard do you need to be hit to cause partial or temporary amnesia? What sort of things do people forget in these situations? How long does it usually last? Are there any other physical symptoms a writer should be sure and include in a scene with head trauma?  

A: In medical terms a blow to the head, or anywhere else, is called blunt force trauma as opposed to sharp force trauma as would occur with a knife or some other cutting instrument. When the blow is to the head, it is called a blunt head injury.

The degree of force required to render someone unconscious is completely unpredictable and varies from situation to situation and from person to person. Though a minor tap on the head is not likely to cause unconsciousness in anyone, almost any blow of significant force can. It makes no difference where the blow strikes the head as far as causing unconsciousness is concerned. That is, a blow to the front of the head is no more likely or less likely to cause unconsciousness than would one to the side or back of the head.

The period of unconsciousness in a simple concussion, which is what loss of consciousness due to blunt force head injury is called, is measured in seconds or minutes. Unlike Hollywood where the bad guy is slugged in the jaw, knocked unconscious, and then written out of the script after that — or at least the hero no longer has to worry about him — is not what happens in real life. Think about every boxing match you’ve ever seen. One guy smacks the other one, knocking him unconscious, and 30 seconds later the guy is awake and complaining that it was a lucky punch. This is what really happens. 

Unconsciousness from a simple concussion can last several minutes and maybe even up to 10 or 15 minutes, though that would be unusual. Typically the person wakes up with a minute or so but might be slightly groggy or confused for a while, again for several minutes. But if he is unconscious for longer than a few minutes, the odds are that a serious injury to the brain has occurred or that bleeding into and around the brain has happened, Both of these situation are true medical emergencies. It doesn’t sound like that’s the situation you are posing with your questions.

Amnesia can indeed follow blows to the head. Typically the blow has to be powerful enough to render the person unconscious or at least woozy before amnesia enters the picture. But I should point out that other than the time period the victim is actually unconscious there is no loss of memory in the overwhelming majority of people who suffer head injuries. Amnesia is not rare but it is not common. But amnesia can occur after head injury, so you can absolutely use this in your story.

Amnesia comes in many flavors but they are usually divided into retrograde and anterograde types. Anterograde amnesia is very rare and is a situation where the person cannot form new memories. This was the subject of the excellent movie Memento. I won’t dwell on this since this is not the type of amnesia your questions deal with.

Retrograde simply means whatever came before. This type of amnesia is the most common in that the person forgets things that happened before the injury. This amnesia can cover events that occurred for only a few minutes before the injury, a few hours, a few days, weeks, or months, or can go back to forever. The person can forget some things and not others, such as he might not remember his name but might remember his address and phone number. He might remember some people but not others. He might recognize people but not be able to recall their names. 

Or he could have what is called global amnesia in which he remembers nothing, not his name, not where he is, not where he came from, and virtually everything else. This type of amnesia can be temporary or permanent. It may only last for a few minutes, hours, days, or months or in some people it can last forever and be a permanent loss of memories. 

When memories begin to return, they can come back suddenly and completely, partially, or in fits and spurts. The person might remember some things within a few minutes but other things might be lost in the cloud of amnesia forever. Virtually anything can happen so this means that your story can be crafted in almost any way you wish.

The other symptoms that can be associated with a concussion of this type are headaches, dizziness, poor balance, nausea, blurred vision, and generalized weakness and fatigue. These symptoms usually are minor and only last a few hours but they can become more problematic and last for many days and in some people for many months. There is no real treatment other than time and perhaps medications for headaches if they become chronic.

LINKS:

Ansel Bourne Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ansel_Bourne

The Real Bourne Identity: The Psychology of Ansel Bourne:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/mind-brain-and-value/202010/the-real-bourne-identity-the-psychology-ansel-bourne

Mysteries of the “Mystery” Author Agatha Christie’s Disappearance in 1926: https://historycollection.com/mysteries-of-the-mystery-author-agatha-christies-disappearance-in-1926/

Mayo Clinic: Amnesia: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/amnesia/symptoms-causes/syc-20353360

My Q&A Books:

MURDER AND MAYHEM

FORENSICS AND FICTION

MORE FORENSICS AND FICTION

 

Cain/Harper #1 and #2 Bundled for Kindle

SKIN IN THE GAME and PRIOR BAD ACTS are bundled for Kindle.

Only $10.94

Come meet Bobby Cain and Harper McCoy

ORDER: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08G1WFF4G

SKIN IN THE GAME

Raised as siblings by an itinerant “gypsy” family, knife expert Bobby Cain, trained by the US military in the lethal art of covert eliminations, and Harper McCoy, nurtured by the US Navy and the CIA to run black ops and wage psychological warfare, are now civilians. Of a sort. Employing the skills learned from the “family” and their training, they now fix the unfixable. Case in point: Retired General William Kessler hires the duo to track down his missing granddaughter, a Vanderbilt University co-ed. Their search leads them to a small, bucolic, lake-side town in central Tennessee and into a world of prostitution, human trafficking, and serial murder. The question then becomes: Will their considerable skills be enough for Cain and Harper to save the young woman, and themselves, from a sociopath with “home field” advantage, a hunter’s skills, and his own deeply disturbing agenda?

Terrific—truly sinister, scary, and suspenseful. Lyle never lets you down.—Lee Child, NYT Bestselling author of the Jack Reacher series

SKIN IN THE GAME hums like a tuning fork in perfect thriller pitch. Heroes Bobby Cain and Harper McCoy are skilled with blade and mind, and the villain here sent chills up my spine from page one on. This is further proof that Doug Lyle is at the top of his game.–T. Jefferson Parker author of THE LAST GOOD GUY

Details: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/skin-in-the-game.html

PRIOR BAD ACTS

“Prior bad acts predict future bad acts.”—Harper McCoy

Fear grips an isolated mountain town after drug dealer Dalton Southwell kills a rogue dealer and his entire family. Score settled; message delivered. But, Dalton’s best-laid plans go awry when his brother Dennie takes a bullet in the gut. In a panic, Dr. Buck Buckner is kidnaped from the local ER, a pharmacy is robbed and the owner murdered, and the killers melt into the rugged Tennessee hills. Buck’s physician father calls in Bobby Cain and Harper McCoy to rescue his son from killers who would have little use for him after he saves Dennie; or worse, the wounded man dies. But, which direction and how far did they run? What hideaway did they burrow into? For Cain and Harper it’s a race against time to locate the killers, safely retrieve Buck, and settle their own score. 

“A born storyteller”—Peter James, UK #1 Bestselling Author of the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace Series

Prior Bad Acts moves like a runaway freight train, thundering along from beginning to end and picking up speed until the very last page. D. P. Lyle’s second effort to feature Bobby Cain and Harper McCoy finds his stalwart heroes on the dark side of the American Dream, as they attempt to right wrongs that turn small-town Americana into a Shakespearean tragedy. This is a crime thriller of the highest order and an absolute must read.”—-Jon Land, USA Today bestselling author

Details: http://www.dplylemd.com/book-details/prior-bad-acts.html

 
1 Comment

Posted by on August 25, 2021 in Uncategorized

 

Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction: Episode #46: The Opening Scene

Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction: Episode #46: The Opening Scene

LISTEN: https://soundcloud.com/authorsontheair/46-opening-scene

PAST SHOWS: http://www.dplylemd.com/criminal-mischief.html

SHOW NOTES:

Your opening scene carries a heavy load. It must hook the reader, introduce the story question—and often the protagonist/antagonist, reveal the setting/story world, evoke emotion in the reader, and reveal the voice and tone of the story. That’s a lot of work, and pressure on the writer.

Why is the opening scene so important?

1—It must do all or most of the above

2—It’s all most people will ever read—-unless it’s compelling

3—It’s what grabs the attention of agents and editors

4—It’s you first—and only—chance to make a good impression

Things you must do in the first few pages:

Hook the reader

Introduce an interesting character or situation

Ask the story question

Set the tone and voice

Introduce the story world

Hints at what’s to come

Make the reader care, or at least curious

A Few Openings:

Red Dragon–Thomas Harris

Will Graham sat Crawford down at a picnic table between the house and the ocean and gave him a glass of iced tea.

Jack Crawford looked at the pleasant old house, salt-silvered wood in the clear light. “I should have caught you in Marathon when you got off work,” he said. “You don’t want to talk about it here.”

“I don’t want to talk about anywhere, Jack. You’ve got to talk about it, so let’s have it. Just don’t get out any pictures. If you brought pictures, leave them in the briefcase — Molly and Willy will be back soon.”

“How much do you know?”

“What was in the Miami Herald and the Times,” Graham said. “Two families killed in their houses a month apart. Birmingham and Atlanta. The circumstances were similar.”

“Not similar. The same.”

“How many confessions so far?”

“Eighty-six when I called this afternoon,” Crawford said. “Cranks. None of them knew details. He smashes the mirrors and uses the pieces. None of them knew that.”

The Secret History—Donna Tartt

The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation. He’d been dead for ten days before they found him, you know. It was one of the biggest manhunts in Vermont history – state troopers, the FBI, even an army helicopter; the college closed, the dye factory in Hampden shut down, people coming from New Hampshire, upstate New York, as far away as Boston.

The Concrete Blonde—Michael Connelly

The house in Silverlake was dark, its windows as empty as a dead man’s eyes. It was an old California Craftsman with a full front porch and two dormer windows set on the long slope of the roof. But no light shone behind the glass, not even from above the doorway. Instead, the house cast a foreboding darkness about it that not even the glow from the streetlight could penetrate. A man could be standing there on the porch and Bosch knew he probably wouldn’t be able to see him.

“You sure this is it?” he asked her.

“Not the house,” she said. “Behind it. The garage. Pull up so you can see down the drive.”

Bosch tapped the gas pedal and the Caprice moved forward and crossed the entrance to the driveway.

“There,” she said.

Bosch stopped the car. There was a garage behind the house with an apartment above it. Wooden staircase up the side, light over the door. Two windows, lights on inside.

“Okay,” Bosch said.

They stared at the garage for several moments. Bosch didn’t know what he expected to see. Maybe nothing. The whore’s perfume was filling the car and he rolled his window down. He didn’t know whether to trust her claim or not. The one thing he knew he couldn’t do was call for backup. He hadn’t brought a rover with him and the car was not equipped with a phone.

“What are you going to – – there he goes!” she said urgently.

Bosch had seen it, the shadow of a figure crossing behind the smaller window. The bathroom, he guessed.

“He’s in the bathroom,” she said. “That’s where I saw all the stuff.”

Bosch looked away from the window and at her.

“What stuff?”

“I, uh, checked the cabinet. You know, when I was in there. Just looking to see what he had. A girl has to be careful. And I saw all the stuff. Makeup shit. You know, mascara, lipsticks, compacts and stuff. That’s how I figured it was him. He used all that stuff to paint ‘em when he was done, you know, killing them.”

Run To Ground–D. P. Lyle

“I can still smell him.” Martha Foster inhaled deeply and closed her eyes.

Tim stood just inside the doorway and looked down at his wife. She sat on the edge of their son’s bed, eyes moist, chin trembling, as were the fingers that clutched the navy-blue Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirt to her chest. It had been Steven’s favorite. He had slept in it every night the first month, until Martha finally pried it away long enough to run it through the wash.

Behind her, a dozen photos of Steven lay scattered across the blue comforter. A proud Steven in his first baseball uniform. A seven-year-old Steven, grinning, upper left front tooth missing, soft freckles over his nose, buzz-cut hair, a blue swimming ribbon dangling around his neck. A playful Steven, sitting next to Martha at the backyard picnic table, face screwed into a goofy expression, smoke from the Weber BBQ rising behind them. Tim remembered the day he snapped the picture. Labor Day weekend. Just six months before that day. He squeezed back his own tears and swallowed hard.

Martha shifted her weight and twisted toward the photos. She laid the sweatshirt aside and reached out, lightly touching an image of Steven’s face. The trembling of her delicate fingers increased. She said nothing for a moment and then, “I’m taking these.”

Tim walked to where she sat and pulled her to him, her cheek nestling against his chest, her tears soaking through his tee shirt. He kissed the top of her head. 

“He’s gone,” Martha said. “Everything’s gone. Or will be.”

@copyrighted

 
1 Comment

Posted by on August 3, 2021 in Uncategorized

 
 
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