Police Blotter Fodder
To Save Herself, She Bit the Cop on the Leg
Need an idea for a short story, blog post, or a novel? Check out the newspapers. I don’t necessarily mean the front page. The most entertaining reading comes from police blotters. The reports are a wellspring of ideas for writers. Some of them are even written tongue-and-cheek, and can I imagine the fun police detectives must have crafting those reports.
Recently, the police in a nearby city uncovered a murder-for-hire plot by an inmate in the county jail who was enlisting the help of a fellow inmate to murder the man responsible for the first guy’s incarceration. These were the instructions he gave to the would-be killer: “Wet him with gasoline; dry him with a match.” That’s a pretty good line; right out of a Mickey Spillane novel. If this guy ever went straight, he might make it as a pulp fiction writer.
Or how about this one? A few weeks ago, the police in my quiet, little town were called to a motel where a woman insisted they arrest her. She was hiding out from her ex-husband and current boyfriend who, according to the woman, were plotting to kill her. The cops explained they could not fulfill her wish because she hadn’t committed a crime. With a that’s-what-you-think attitude, she began pounding on the squad car’s windshield. When one of the officers tried to restrain her, she bit him on the leg. At least for the next few days, the woman had the protection she’d requested.
And more: Several peopled complained about a homeless man who was causing a ruckus in a downtown square. The police arrived and realized the man was arguing and shouting profanities at someone only he could see. The cops told him to apologize to his imaginary friend. He did. End of story.
Check you local police blotter. What strange tidbits can you share?
Have you ever tried to think like a dog? Do you wonder what’s going on in its head? Its facial expressions speak of contentment: Life is good. I am good. Everything is good. Or of confusion: What’s the big deal? What’s any kind of deal? Who cares? Not, me.
I imagine a dog’s life as simple, easy-going, and uncomplicated. In writing these five-minute tips, I strive to keep my explanations the same, using a few simple examples not requiring the reader to look up grammatical terms. Not to say I don’t study grammar books, but I strive to weed out all the unnecessary stuff.
In The Everyday English Handbook, Leonard J. Rosen gives an informative explanation of when to use “that” and when to use “which,” by defining relative clauses, then further defining essential and nonessential relative clauses. The explanation is little more than a page, but it was more than I asked for. The Elements of Style explains when to use “that” and “which” by defining them as restrictive pronouns or nonrestrictive pronouns. Great information from both books, but it’s been a while since my last English class and the terms essential relative clause, nonessential relative clause, defining pronoun, non-defining pronoun, restrictive pronoun, nonrestrictive pronoun, make me throw up my hands.
Since this is a five-minute writing lesson, I want to keep it dog-simple. When in doubt, always use “that” unless it makes the meaning ambiguous. If a pause is necessary, it probably requires a comma, so use “which.”
Here are a few examples:
“The liver-flavored biscuit that is my favorite treat is buried in the backyard.” This means he has other biscuits hidden elsewhere, but he’s thinking about the one in the backyard. No comma is needed before “that.”
“The biscuit, which is liver-flavored is buried in the backyard.” His favorite biscuit is liver-flavored, not beef or chicken-flavored. A clear indication of “which” being the correct word is the need for a comma before it in the sentence.
“The smell of bacon that had been frying in the pan made me forget about my buried biscuit.” This means the bacon frying in the pan, not the uncooked bacon on the counter. Again, no comma preceding.
“The smell of bacon, which had been frying in the pan, made me forget about my buried biscuit.” Only this particular bacon is what caused the dog to forget the biscuit. Again, no preceding comma.
A dog can’t read or write, but he knows what’s what, and what he’s not sure of isn’t important.