Evidence

Evidence

Evidence | Guy L. PaceEvidence is a funny thing. Sometimes, what you think is evidence, isn’t.

As a jounalist (See SPJ’s Standards), attribution was always part of presenting facts. When you could not attribute information to a reliable source, an authoritative individual, or a direct witness, it became hearsay. When you reference an act and relate it to a possible perpetrator, you always use the word “alleged.”

For example: “Joe allegedly took the candy bar and left the store.” You don’t say he allegedly stole the candy bar, that would define the act. The act of taking the candy bar and leaving the store is an act of theft. However, the journalist is not law enforcement, nor judge and jury. The journalist is the conveyer of information. So, you don’t define the alleged act.

I won’t detail how certain recent New York Times articles completely ignore the SPJ’s standards.

Hearsay

As we move further into the story, we bring up more information.

“A witness said someone who saw Joe take the candy bar told them that Joe did actually take the candy bar.”

The above statement doesn’t name the source other than as a “witness.” Worse, the witness claimed that some other un-named person else actually saw the act. This can only be classified as hearsay and should have little or no place in the story. It encourages pre-judgement without direct evidence.

So, someone called the police, who arrest Joe and gather evidence. After review of the evidence, the police drop charges, and Joe goes home with his candy bar.

What Happened?

Well, evidence. There are rules of evidence and you can find them at these links:

Cornell Law

Rules of Evidence

I’m not going to go into great detail here, but the primary measure on evidence is relevance (See Rule 401). Hearsay does not stand up to the relevance standard.

If a journalist references third- and fourth-hand information (hearsay) without direct attribution, he or she did not do their job. So, they missed the part where the cashier told the police that Joe handed her a dollar before he left the store, and the part where the store security camera recorded the event completely (two examples of direct evidence collected by the police). Direct evidence shows “… the existence of a fact in question, without the intervention of the proof of any other fact ….”

Forensics

In my study and practice of digital forensics, my role involved identifying an actor and placing that person in a seat or in front of a device at a specific time. There is a rougher term for it I won’t use here. This involved gathering direct evidence from the device, from devices and/or services connected to the device, and from devices or equipment in the area (video cameras and recordings).

The important thing in the digital investigation was “chain of custody.” All devices and evidence gathered are carefully recorded, preserved, and the custody tracked. Any gap or mis-step that affected the chain of custody invalidates the evidence, and a judge will throw it out. Not only would a judge dismiss a case over a breach in chain of custody, your professional reputation as a digital forensics investigator could be ruined.

Relevance

So, what does this have to do with writing?

You must analyze a situation, scene, action in your fiction to make sure it reflects accurately any evidence, hearsay, and forensics practices you might use. Using these elements correctly, even in fiction, helps make the story more real, more believable.

Keep all this in mind, if you watch the television series, Wisdom of the Crowd. Crowdsourcing evidence is a slippery slope and violates so many of the rules of evidence, chain of custody, and promotes hearsay. So, exercise care and caution when exploring these topics.

Keep writing.

 

 

Poor Choices

Poor Choices

Choices | Guy L. PacePeople sometimes make poor choices. Sometimes they turn out okay. Sometimes they don’t.

Unfortunately, our history is full of people who made poor choices and/or led others to bad ends. We learn about the Donner Party in school, and how poor choices all along their way across the West brought them to the winter camp near Truckee Lake. They took the Hastings’ Cutoff, promoted by Lansford Hastings, a poorly considered option to the well-known Oregon and California trails. Of the 87 (or 90) souls who took Hastings Cutoff, only 45 survived.

Meek Cutoff, another poor choice along the Oregon Trail, cost the lives of almost 50 souls of the more than 1,000 led across Central Oregon. Steven Meek, to his credit, wasn’t working from a complete lack of information. He d visited the Harney area during a good water year and it looked promising. When he arrived in 1845 with more than 1,000 emigrants, what he saw was the results of one or more drought years.

Meek Cutoff | Guy L. PaceBy the time the wagon trains taking the Meek Cutoff reached The Dalles on the Columbia River, 25 of their number died. Adding the Elliott Cutoff and some other changes to crossing points made the cutoff workable.

The Goodale’s Cutoff came about when “John Jeffrey began promoting a trail following traditional Shoshoni paths to generate business for his ferry on the Blackfoot River.” It got more use after the Northern Shoshone and Bannock started resisting the numbers of white settlers passing through their lands. Massacre Rocks State Park now provides some information to visitors to that area.

Goodale’s Cutoff

Goodale’s Cutoff wasn’t a bad choice. As the web site suggests, seven of ten wagons coming through after 1863 took that cutoff. The first leg of the journey through what is now Arco, and Craters of the Moon, was hard on wagons and their owners. If you’ve ever been to the Craters of the Moon, put yourself in the place of immigrants seeing that for the first time. Imagine how depressing and discouraging that landscape looked to a family in a covered wagon. The National Park Service provides more information. But, put simply, most wagon trains crossed there in full summer (July). The route was one lane, slow, and the lava beds and dry heat took a toll on the wood wagons.

There are almost always consequences to a choice, be it good or bad.

We, as authors, would like to think our main characters won’t make bad choices. They are, after all, the heroes. Right? But, if you want your hero more real, more human, he/she will make a poor choice once in a while. And, there will be consequences. Maybe not as dire as the Donner Party. Even Goodale’s Cutoff was a choice between two dangerous routes. You might not survive the one, and you might die on the other.

Give your character choices. Make them real. Add danger. Make sure the results, the consequences, fit the plot.

Keep writing.

 

 

Perception and Reality

Perception and Reality

Eldorado Ditch | Guy L. Pace

Plaque at historical site in Unity, Oregon.

Writing involves perception and reality. How we perceive things and how things really are.

On the one hand, we might be like William H. Packwood, who thought that bringing water to the Willow Creek Drainage in Malheur County in Oregon would be a great idea. His perception was that gold miners in the Willow Creek area needed the additional water. The reality is, the ditch–once constructed–took water badly needed by the ranchers in Baker County. Things got heated and–at one point–explosive.

Politics aside, the ditch was a pretty amazing construction. It wound about 140 miles, five feet at the bottom, seven feet at the top, with a grade of 4.8 feet per mile across mountainous country (Eldorado Pass is 4,623 feet, Willow Creek averages 2,000 feet). Constructed by Chinese laborers.

The perception is the Chinese laborers were cheaper and more reliable. That makes perfectly good, economic sense. You can read about the reality in the link above. It’s an old story of how they built things in the west.

You can still see much of the canal today if you travel through that part of North Central Oregon. If you get to this area, stop at the Unity historical site for more information. A small population of the descendants of the Chinese laborers still live in Baker City. More information on this engineering feat and the people involved is available at The Blue Pine Publishing website.

Travel

So, I didn’t know anything about this canal until earlier this summer when I stopped at the historical site in Unity, OR. I knew some sketchy things about mining in the Blue Mountains and I’ve seen the large dredge in Sumpter, OR (worth a visit!). But, I didn’t get the full picture until I found the historical site in Unity and found a few other online resources as a result. Sometimes you just have to know the questions to ask and the search terms to use.

As I travel, I do try to stop at interpretive sites as much as possible. It’s amazing the information they provide and adjust my perceptions of what happened in the past. Will I use this in a story or novel? Maybe.

Think about it. It makes a good story line. A group hires a brilliant engineer to build something. The project takes precious resources away from another group. There are consequences. Other story threads that would weave through it is the indentured labor used and the “side businesses” that crop up around that activity. And there’s the anger of the other contract laborers who lost out to the cheaper indentured laborers.

I used the word “explosive” earlier. Yes, that would accurately describe that story.

Keep writing.

 

Craft

It’s About the Craft

craft | Guy L. PaceWriting is a craft. An art. A skill you hone and improve with practice and time–seasoned with blood and tears.

When you first start writing, your clumsy, stilted prose dribbles down the page. Your words flow in sluggish sentences with passive verbs and all to many adverbs. Your dialog shouts with too many words.

As you practice and improve, you find efficiencies in voice and style. Sometimes you try to imitate another writer’s style to see how things fit. Still, more words end up in the trash bin than in the submission envelope.

Finally, something changes. Your writing becomes a craft. An art. You develop your own style and your own voice. You may still have one roadblock. Fear. You fear letting your feelings, secrets, desires, or beliefs out on the page. What if someone reads that?

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”Ernest Hemingway

Papa says it best. He also says it concisely and briefly. Your fears try to keep you from getting the hurt, the emotion, the beliefs out on the page. What you may not know: You’re not alone in those things. You are not the only one who hurts, who believes what you do, who feels the way you do about something. You’re not the only one with That secret.

A Service

One of the great services writers do in society is sharing those hard things so others know they are not alone. If you hold it all back, others can’t learn and you’ll always be alone. The story must come out.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”Ernest Hemingway

Then, write another. And another. Repeat until you’re done and you told the story.

Look, it if were easy, it wouldn’t be a craft or art form. Everyone could do it and stories or novels would have little or no value. So it isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done. One more quote from Papa.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” — Ernest Hemingway

The main thing, keep writing. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Keep improving and learning. Someday you’ll write something others will find and value. Then you’ll know it was all worth it.

Keep writing.

 

 

Small

Small is Beautiful

Small | Guy L. PaceThese days, I’m amazed at how small things can get. What used to need more carrying capacity, now fits into a small bag.

I’m packing for a trip. My sleeping bag compresses into a very small bag. My sleeping mat and pillow go into a smaller bag. Cooking and other necessities take much less space in the saddle bags these days. What required a lot of bungee cords and cargo nets in the past, now fit neatly into the saddle bags and I have more room for basic luggage and me.

In the past, touting on my Harley-Davidson softail was more complicated. Now, with all the newer, more compressed, smaller equipment, it is getting simpler. I now expect a more enjoyable journey. I’m looking forward to it.

Like the Chihuahua in the picture (that looks so very much like my little Paco from years ago), small is beautiful. Simple, little, small things make a huge difference in our lives and in our writing. Chihuahuas bring to their humans huge loyalty and great courage. What a wonderful and unexpected benefit from such a small package.

After the first draft

When we write–after the first draft of course–we should make every effort to trim the writing down to the essentials. Just those words necessary to the story. Like Hemingway, use economy, precise word choice, nuance, to move the story and the reader. In The Old Man and the Sea, Papa kept the narrative to a minimum and used his skills to tell a powerful, complete, Nobel-prize winning novella in under 30,000 words. He claims the story did not have symbolism, but was the bare story of courage, pain, and triumph.

Like Papa, I don’t need to lead the reader around the story by the nose. I let them fill in the details with their own imagination. My own Sudden Mission could have run to 100,000 words, but would have been more of a doorstop at that length. Write just what needs writing.

Keep writing (with a Chihuahua in your lap).