In police parlance, a “shipwreck” is the label given to a burnt out cop, someone who has either sailed too close to the jagged shore line and run aground, left to rust in a world of post traumatic stress, cynicism and internal chaos. Then there are those who are ‘scuttled’, the outspoken problem child types pressured or transferred to a distant location, far enough away and sunk deep into the ocean, way out of sight and out of mind. Call it a trade off for not going out on stress leave or making a fuss in the press.
One of the most powerful tools a writer can use is the metaphor. Along with analogies and similes, metaphors convey messages and lay the foundation for the character arc without telling the reader what to think.
Getting the balance right isn’t easy. Go too far and the hammer misses the nail completely, clipping the reader on the thumb and ruining the whole story. In the justice system, they call this ‘leaving a hair on the cake’. You can have everything stacked right, the brief squared away and all witnesses prepared, along with DNA, Forensic experts and investigators ready to take the stand. But get one thing wrong and it’s like having the perfect wedding cake with a dirty hair on the top. Just one little hair and the cake is ruined. Nobody wants to eat it, so your case is thrown out and all that work and time preparing the perfect cake wasted.
But get the metaphor right and you drive the nail home with one shot. Michael Connelly, author of more than 20 novels and the creator of the legendary Harry Bosch series told me once that the best metaphors and analogies can be found in real life, and then applied to fiction. One example he described occurred when he spent time riding with the LA Robbery Homicide Divison. The detective he toured with squatted down over a dead body, removed his glasses and put them in his mouth, chewing on the plastic edge while examining the scene.
Later on, back at the station, the detective removed his glasses and put them on his desk. Connolly looked down at the glasses and noted dozens of indentations from the detective’s habit of chewing his glasses while looking at dead bodies.
“That tells you more about a character or a person that you can say in eight chapters,” Connolly said. “That is the type of thing to look for.”
Recently I spent time scuba diving with the crew at Seafari dive centre and had the pleasure of exploring a scuttled shipwreck named HTMS Kram, located in the gulf of Thailand. It occurred to me that there are many parallels with diving and reading, particularly within the crime genre.
First, the journey into the heart of a scuttled shipwreck brings about the murkiness of an underworld where nothing is certain and you don’t know what you’re going to get. Your dive master is like your writer. You put your faith in him or her to ensure you get a thrill but come up for air before you run out. Your fellow divers are your fellow readers, each having their own private experience, similar to yours but never the same.
Deep inside the wreck you float from stern to bow, carefully moving from one room to another, not knowing what lurks on the other side of each wall and dark crevasse. Will a turtle graciously look up and wink or will you accidently touch the sand and disturb a tail spiked sting ray or deadly stone fish?
You’re inside the main character now, getting to know what drives their actions, what creatures live inside them, what scars are exposed, rusted and covered in barnacles?
Submerging yourself in a gripping crime book is a solitary journey, but a rewarding one. The more you slide through the story, the more you learn and the more you care about what happens, because you’re inside it, like diving in to the heart of a scuttled shipwreck at the base of the ocean. In the right hands, your instructor (or author) will ensure the journey maintains buoyancy, a delicate balance between plot and character, so that gravity and all other earthly factors seem a world away.
Along with analogies and similes, metaphors are a powerful tool in a crime story. I find the notion of a shipwreck, slang for a burnt out cop or anyone who has sailed too close to the jagged shore line and run aground, or “scuttled” and sunk deep into the ocean, to be a good example of the metaphor.
Whenever I go on vacation I always take two things; a selection books and my PADI scuba diving license. Both enable me to submerge myself into unknown experiences, meet new people and teleport myself into another world. A world of beauty and danger, risk and excitement, relaxation and retreat, all rolled into one. In the right hands, both are equally rewarding experiences.
So next time you take a break, perhaps consider getting your PADI license, together with your new book. You might just be surprised at how many similarities there are.
Pink Tide is the journey of a genuine shipwreck and is available online. Click here if you wish to purchase.