Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Martha Says There's No Substitute for Experience

I have no imagination.


So when a manuscript calls for something to happen that I'm ignorant of, like, oh, let's say, lock-picking, I have four options.

1. Check out the local library
Awesome for deep, detailed research but not appropriate for a non-professional character. Onto:

2. Scour the internet
Wikipedia, Wikihow and Youtube include terminology, methods, and video demonstrations but they lack sensory detail. May as well try to:

3. Find an expert
They can demonstrate technique, answer questions, and provide fun-filled anecdotes! But bottom line is, nothing beats an attempt to:

4. Try it myself
Especially if the materials aren't too hard to come by because the husband is already in possession of a set of wrenches and picks.

I started with a simple padlock by inserting the wrench in the bottom (applying pressure to turn the cylinder once successfully "unlocked") and then inserting the picks along the top and raking the pins.

First thing I learned?

It's hard. My fingers cramped almost immediately. One of the torsion wrenches wasn't just a single L but a double L on both ends. That one allowed me to offset the pressure off my thumb easier, easing the cramp.

Second thing?

Raking the pins all at once did nothing for me. I had to ease in the front-most pin before pushing deeper into the lock for the second pin to make any progress.

Maybe those details won't make it into the manuscript, but I feel hella cool for knowing them. Cool enough to move onto a real door lock.

Last thing I learned? A real lock is harder, takes forever, and requires more patience. Not something a first-time lock picker could realistically master in under twenty minutes. In fact, even the husband who is pretty decent at lock-picking can take up to ten minutes on a new lock. An expert or someone with the fancy materials can go under 60 seconds easy.

This leaves me with choices - let the character sit there ten minutes, make her an expert or have her own/steal/borrow the fancy materials.

Either way, my scene :

1. is grounded in realistic expectations
2. has sensory detail
3. includes specific materials and techniques which I know are effective instead of just me selecting from a list on the website

Having an extra dose of awesome in my resume doesn't hurt, either.


Juliet Blackwell said...

I love it! Especially the sensory detail. That's the sort of rich writing you only glean from experience, in my view. Plus, you just might end up with handy skills.
Speaking of have an old padlock that needs picking. Are you the gal?

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh. um. wow. see, when i wrote about making lock picks from rinsed-out bud cans, I couldn't really research it cause i don't drink beer from cans, only draft. so the spirit was willing, but, you know, it failed in execution.

oh well.

Adrienne Bell said...

You're so good. And so scary.
I only feel the need to dive into first hand research when I there is a fancy dinner scene, or a drinking scene, or sleeping past 6am scene.:-)

Martha Flynn said...

I could do the padlock Juliet but it would take an embarassingly long time - I can lend you the husband if you'd like!

Sophie, now that I've tried lock picking, I can tell you most cans are too flimsy to stand up to the raking (plus you have the issue that you still don't have a wrench to turn the tumbler).

Adrienne - next up for research for me - what does it feel like to be driven along a highway in the trunk of a car. Woohoo!

Anna Staniszewski said...

I have a lock-picking scene in one of my manuscripts and it didn't even occur to me to try it myself. Instead, I watched a few videos of people doing it and studied some diagrams of different types of locks. But you're absolutely right that theoretical/second-hand knowledge isn't nearly as good as first-hand. I'll try to be less of a wimp in the future!

Rachael Herron said...

Both Bethany and Lala can pick locks (and it has come in handy). (I just surround myself with people who can get the job done, it seems.) Love that the hubby is good at it, and love this post.

Martha Flynn said...

More proof that Lala and I are the same person!!

Anna, I recommend trying everything first hand if possible. :) Just for fun. I'm thinking of making my character spend a summer in Hawaii next. Hmm...what's *that* like?

Unknown said...

M-This is why we love you. :) However,
I'm with Adrienne...I'm sending my character to five star restaurants :) :)

Kelly Polark said...

The husband is pretty good at lock picking? :)
I hope your neighborhood has a good neighborhood watch system! ;)
But seriously, it's so simple to try something your character is doing, but yet, silly me, I might have just researched and stopped at there! Good post!

Dana Fredsti said...

Heh. I used to practice lock-picking the bathroom door when I was a kid. I love the amount of research you put into this!

Martha Flynn said...

Just got back edits on my latest manuscript from my agent and next to my lock picking scene was the comment "great detail" - woohoo! And it all pay off!

Kelly - my husband actually also resets locks. when we first moved into our house we needed 3 keys to get in through all the dors and I said nosiree, so he got the kit and learned how to do it in order to reset all the locks for me. :)

Jill said...

I love this. I also love that after 20 minutes you hadn't just smashed the lock into a million pieces and have your character armed with a handy sledgehammer for just such an occasion.

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Lock picking is very hard that's why it's advisable to call the experts. Thanks.

security companies said...

You're really pretty good at lock picking, how many years have you been doing this? Thanks.

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