Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Gory Details

For the writers of fiction:

In November, my lovely wife has arranged for me to talk to a large group of writers, readers and people who want to write. "What do I say?" I asked.
"Talk to them about the things that they write about but they don't know. What criminals are really like, how and why they fight, what it feels and sounds and smells like when you're fighting for your life. They same things you try to tell martial artists."

Oh. That stuff.

We had to put down Gazelle, a paralyzed goat. Put down means "kill". Maybe it means, 'kill for its own good, for the cessation of pain.' I went out early in the morning and dug the grave. It is a sin in my family to waste meat, but since the paralysis was probably due to loss of circulation the meat may not have been safe. I dug the grave close because I know that limp bodies are much harder to move than stiff ones. I took aim from about a foot and a half away with a .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun and pulled the trigger.

First note: "Putting to sleep" ie euthanization from drugs is the procedure used in a veterinarian's office. It looks very peaceful and is much easier on the grieving owners... but one of our family friends, a veterinarian in Eastern Oregon did her doctoral thesis on euthanasia. She said it looks peaceful because of the effects of the muscle relaxants but that the EEG showed unmistakable signs of panic as the animal slowly died... whereas a shot to the head went from normal to flatline instantly. She said that some people can't take the responsibility of killing their own animal, but if they can a gunshot is more humane, though it can be messier.

The shot was very loud in the morning quiet. I'd aimed for the sniper spot, the brainstem. We are taught that in a hostage situation a direct hit on the brainstem will make the threat go limp, so they will not reflexively clench their hands and pull a trigger. I missed. I'm a very, very good shot with a handgun. That means that on my best days I'm about half as good as a TV hero. The miss (live targets move or I may have rushed the shot out of fear that Gazelle would move) was about an inch from my aim point, missing the brainstem but entering the brain cavity. It was a special expanding bullet and didn't exit the skull. Gazelle started shuddering and twitching.

She was dead- CSF (cerebral spinal fluid) and blood had erupted from both ears and her nose at the shot. Her eyes were fixed. I touched her eyeball and there was no blink reflex. She was dead, dead, dead. But the brainstem is old and animal and it kept her legs jerking and her heart beating and her breath going in little raspy gasps. For about a minute. I think I watched that long because I was convincing myself that she was dead and I didn't screw up. But Kami was there (my excuse?) and it was hard on her to watch (oh, no, couldn't be hard on me... I've been butchering animals since I was a kid! Bullshit. It's still hard. I just do it more efficiently and with more respect and with clearer reasons now). So I fired again, this time hitting the sniper spot, and Gazelle went limp instantly.

People don't die much different.

Is this what the writers will want?


Ris said...


I think your comments are getting spammed. I've heard that happens on these sites.

I think writers need examples of the realism of physical combat and the consequences of weapons use in a way that is not CSI or Hollywood. I think the going idea is that as a culture we've 'seen it all' (thanks to the media and reality TV) and are desensitized to acts of violence and the outcomes of such, but it's a hollywoodized desensitization, edited and controlled for mass consumption. Speaking with or reading about a person who has experience in the field and who is honest about the experience goes a long way to helping writers, theoretically, strengthen their writing with more realistic details. Or they just get too creeped out and slink back to hollywood versions.

Not sure if my opinions holds up much to those of others (but surely moreso than all these spammers!), but there it is.


Mary Rosenblum said...

Just delete the stupid spam, rory. :-)

This is just what writers need. How many people who write about death have ever seen it anywhere but on TV. Or got to 'listen in' as someone kills a living being?


Rory said...

Damn! Ten comments. I should have written about dead goats a long time ago. Spam has been deleted. Ris, Mary, thanks.