Archive for the 'Action' Category

Aug 14 2011

Hostage Situations from a Criminal’s Perspective

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

1. Taking hostages is so dangerous that it usually isn’t premeditated in the United States.  A criminal’s main means of survival is mobility.  If he’s taken many hostages, he doesn’t have any.  Even if he’s taken only one hostage for ransom money, the police will know where the criminal will be at the designated pick-up time and may even be able to locate the victim with evidence left at the scene of the kidnapping.  There are two main types of hostage-taker (HT) and one type of victim taker.

  • Someone caught in a botched crime.  For example, maybe the criminal is trying to rob a bank, but the police respond unexpectedly quickly.  In the heat of the moment, an utterly trapped criminal might take hostages out of desperation.  In his stress-addled mind, he might think that taking hostages is the only way to somehow effect an escape and avoid a 15+ year sentence.  (He might even have dreams of demanding a helicopter, but that’s a Hollywood fantasy).
  • Someone that cannot outrun the police.  For example, if the police come to serve an arrest warrant, an unwilling suspect might take a hostage (usually a family member) to buy time and space for an escape.  Alternately, rioting prisoners may take guards as hostages to deter police reinforcements from retaking the prison by force.
  • Somebody in an emotional crisis without a clear set of negotiable demands.  For example, a laid-off worker might seize his former boss or a disturbed lover might seize his/her significant other after being rejected.  These criminals are not looking to bargain.  Technically, in police parlance, these criminals are not considered “hostage-takers” because “hostage” implies tangible demands.  People captured without demands are “victims.”  Victims are in much graver danger because the criminal may have murder-suicide in mind.  In contrast, a “hostage-taker” does not have a personal incentive to murder the hostages.  (If you murder a hostage, you lose your bargaining leverage).

 

2. Hostages are fairly high-maintenance, particularly in long-term standoffs (which are very rare).  In the short-term, the criminals have to worry about food/water, toilets, the potential for medical emergencies and the difficult task of controlling the hostages.  In the long-term, the criminals also have to worry about hygiene, medicine and recreation/hostage morale.  (The HTs probably do not have any humanitarian concern for the hostages, but they have selfish reasons to care.  Happy/healthy hostages are easier to control, less likely to infect criminals and less likely to result in a murder conviction.  Also, killing a hostage that happens to be a prison guard could be very hazardous to an HT’s health when he is returned to police custody).

 

2.1. Keeping a handful of hostages is much easier than keeping many, especially if the HTs don’t have the manpower to control many hostages.  But the police will still give criminals a lot of latitude even if they have a relatively small number of hostages. The police will offer the criminals incentives to release some hostages and make other seemingly meaningless concessions (like giving up any extra firearms).

 

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May 22 2011

Some ideas on police standoffs

The New York Times has an article on police standoffs, which I think could be useful if you’re writing a scene where a protagonist deals with something like a hostage situation and/or a barricaded gunman.   For more information on this, I’d recommend checking out Stalling For Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator. For the short version, here are some ideas I’ve gathered along the way:

 

1.  Even if you want to resolve the hostage situation with protagonists rushing in, negotiation can play a key role.

  • A tactical takedown is more likely to succeed with few casualties if the police have time to prepare.  For example, during the Japanese embassy hostage crisis in Peru, the police prepared by smuggling in communications equipment to hostages (so that they could learn what was going on inside), provided light-colored clothes to the hostages (so they could be easily distinguished), and scheduled their raid at a time when the hostage-takers liked to play soccer and would be away from the hostages.   To practice their strategy, the Peruvian commandos built a scale building of the compound, including the tunnels they had dug to carry out the raid.
  • Often, negotiators can convince the criminals to release some hostages and/or surrender.  (It’s harder for hostage-takers to keep control of large groups of hostages and the police may be willing to offer food and water in exchange for releases, so there is some incentive to release some hostages).  Best case scenario: Armed confrontation isn’t necessary.  Worst case scenario: If the protagonists do need to execute a raid, fewer hostages will be at risk.

 

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Jan 16 2011

Discussion: Which novels have the best supernatural action?

I’m researching an article about how to write superpowered action scenes.  What are some of your favorite books that do supernatural action particularly well? Do any particular scenes stick out to you?  Some supernatural elements include:

  • Superpowers
  • Magic
  • Nonhuman capabilities (for vampires, aliens, dragons, lawyer-eating dinosaurs, etc).
  • Science fiction enhancements (like Starship Troopers’ powersuits)
  • Other paranormal abilities (such as psychic powers)

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