I'm writing a story where the main character makes and detonates bombs. The character could be considered a terrorist. I want to portray the character as an expert, but I don't know a way to more information in the art of explosives without it ending up with the FBI or something monitoring my searching. Pairing terrorist, bomb, and how to, or instructions in the search bar seems to be a bad idea. Any help on where to get info would be appreciated.
You don't need to be able to build homemade explosive to describe a character who does.
You just need to give the reader the impression that the character knows what he/she's up to. Most of the reader won't know how to make or detonate bombs anyway, so you can probably impress them without turning your story into the Anarchist Guide to Explosives.
So, your goal is to add just a little detail to give the impression of competence. Surely your main character will use a garage or a basement as laboratory. Depending on how he puts up his bomb, he could be knowledgeable about chemicals, electronics, etc. But again, you don't have to be specific in your descriptions. Most bombs have "switches"; some may detonate with a timer or with a short-distance remote; this is all common knowledge. I frankly doubt the FBI will show up at your door if you search this stuff up - and if you are worried being monitored, you should research the topic of internet privacy, anyway.
But again: go watch some crime movie or some tv series to get a "hint" of the topic. Most of the people who write screenplays aren't serial bombers too.
For example, if you want to add "flavour" and the illusion of competence, you could point out that Anarchist Cookbook was written by a 'former' FBI agent who might have had the agenda of getting anarchist wannabees to self-execute, like a common detonator explosive you can readily buy (ain't telling you which) needs to be mixed OUTSIDE and away from people including yourself because the fumes are toxic. Maybe snark it up a little by having Dude say "amateurs ruin everything"
"Did you know if you mixed equal parts of gasoline and frozen orange juice concentrate you can make napalm?" - Tyler Durden, Fight Club
But guess what, it doesn't work. The author made that up. But in the context of the story the method works.
Making factual mistakes in the description of bomb making might in fact be the responsible thing to do. You don't want to spread any knowledge which leads to people getting hurt. So just make something up, and write a disclaimer in the foreword that the instructions have deliberate errors in order to prevent people from replicating them. Another positive side-effect: it gives you more freedom in storytelling, because you can choose ingredients which have exactly the properties the plot requires.
My great-uncle wrote a book about his experience with the Office of Strategic Services in WWII, full of stories of espionage and clandestine acts. There is even a chapter titled "How to Blow Up a Bridge." It may not be a textbook answer to your question, but perhaps the tone and (exciting!) stories could give you some inspiration.
It's worth noting that Bill Morgan was a heck of a spy. He even lied his way into the O.S.S. because he was blind in one eye and they otherwise wouldn't have let him in. It's a good read. Hope you enjoy it :)
Engineering corps, Explosive Ordnance Disposal
Your character has done military service as a Combat Engineer and/or Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD). As their tour of duty ended (for reasons left unspecified for your convenience) they then transferred to law enforcement, or a private military company (PMC) for the same kind of duty, and/or as an educator on the subject.
Not only does this make them an expert on how things go "boom" but they also have a valid reason to stay updated on the subject. Since today's warfare involves dealing with home-brew explosive devices (IED's) this means that EOD experts must know how the average Joe goes about making their own bombs, as well as knowing how to deal with military ordnance.
For increased flexibility you can have the character originally be something other than a US citizen, but then having migrated to the US. The reason you might want this is that some countries — like for instance Sweden(*) — have a conscription military, which allows for a shorter tour of duty while still retaining the possibility that they served in a hot-spot, like a UN mission to Afghanistan, Africa or the Balkans.
How do you write it in a manner that makes your character seem knowledgeable?
Get in touch with such people that work with this and ask them "Does this sound credible or does it sound ridiculous?". That is research for your book. You can also ask them for general principles that sound credible but do not actually reveal any "trade secrets". You can also ask them for tips... "Hey, if I want to create some kind of tension for this specific scenario... how do you think this person would go about it?".
Some tips in general about writing about people that are experts:
Do not try too hard. If you are specifically trying to make your character sound extremely knowledgeable, cool, tough, whatever... your readers will most likely spot this and get turned off instead. Avoid the "trying too hard" trap. And for goodness sake: never do techno-babble/trade lingo. Throwing fancy-sounding words about will backfire unless you know exactly what the concepts are and how they are normally used in the right context.
Show, don't tell. If you say "They are so good with explosives", then you are telling... that is never good. If you have someone read that character's service record / resumé on the other hand, then you are showing and letting the reader come to the conclusion that they are good with explosives. Which then leads to...
Give a person a reputation to be an early riser... and they can sleep until noon, and no-one will bat an eyelash at that. If you have first given the impression that your character knows their stuff, then you do not actually have to flaunt it any more, nor go into any details about it. From then you just need the absolute smallest of hints (see point 1 again) to keep that fire burning.
(*) Anecdote: the infamous Barret M82 "Light 50" was first acquired by the Swedish military forces for just that: explosive ordnance disposal. Then the rangers got their eyes on it and thought "Ooh.... we want us some of that".
The easiest way to make your character an expert is to make all your other characters fear him, respect him, or be defeated by him, in his field.
You characterize your Chief of the Bomb Squad as having won national honors for teaching Bomb disarmament, multiple medals for courage in the line of duty, a front line dude known to have risked his life to save children --- He encounters a bomb made by your MC Fred and says into his radio, "Jeezus Bill, Fred made this bomb, there is no way to disarm it. Evacuate the building!" Some kickback on the radio from Bill, and your Chief tells him "We've lost ten of our best trying ten ways to do it and I'm out of ideas. Evacuate the goddam building, and do it now!"
You don't have to say a thing about how Fred made this bomb: The reader knows Fred is better than his best opponent (the Chief you built up). Also, the Chief's explanation requires no special knowledge, he has to explain this to a layman (Bill).
If you need to reinforce this later, have some other Bomb Squad cowboy try to disarm one of Fred's bombs, in consultation with your Chief. The Chief says, "That isn't going to work, Bobby tried it and the second the capacitance changes it blows! Don't be an idiot!"
Cowboy says, "I know that chief, but I see the detector Bobby missed, and I can disarm it like ... this ... There!" KABOOM! End of Cowboy.
The reader can believe your MC is the best just because all the characters believe your MC is the best, and your MC keeps outwitting them. It is kind of grudging endorsement of your MC.
I should note you need to write other geniuses this way, too. For example if you are not a bona fide world class chess champion, you cannot come up with an actual chess strategy to defeat the world champion. You would need scenes where the best chess players in the world admire him and are defeated by him, without getting into the details of how exactly that was done. If the world champion is portrayed as uncertain and cautious facing him, the world champion has effectively endorsed the character.
Another aspect to explore is the mentality of someone who knows a lot about explosives. A disposal expert I imagine to be someone very calm and methodical, with a rather philosophical perhaps grateful attitude to life, to help them be effective in facing highly dangerous situations not of their own making. The character of Kip in the movie "The English Patient" is interesting to study in this regard.
A maker of devices, on the other hand, would paradoxically need the same kind of carefulness and persistence as the disposer, but could be combined with some kind of cold or hot anger, depending on the motivation and ideology of the individual. This combination of dangerous opposites in a person is almost like the ingredients of a device itself.
For this kind of book what you want is to have a general understanding of how a bomb works, without necessarily needing the details of how to actually mix the explosives at home. The thing is, while most people don't make bombs at home (probably), many readers will know some things about it either because they read about these things or have some experience in the military or have relative who did, so if you put something that's obviously wrong it will be noticeable.
As for how to research it without attracting the NSA, you can look for military manuals regarding placing charges and IED disposal, there are a few that are floating around (I knew a pretty good site back in the day, but it was in Russian), ultimately you are not looking for how to make one in your garage, you just need to understand basic parts/principals of its operation
I think you should ask someone like Michael Karnerfors describes. Then, have him read what you come up with and offer corrections. He’ll be bothered by more stuff than any normal user. Don’t worry about learning enough to get it exactly right — just get something down and your expert will have something to correct.
As for doing Internet research, start with a privacy VPN like Vyper or Tunnelbear. Anyone monitoring whatever site you visit will not be able to trace it back to you. For serious paranoia, use TOR.
Use incogneto mode in the browser for the occasional one-off. But for research you want history and bookmarks and all your notes. So use a USB-key Linux installation, and boot with that (or run in a VM) for your work-related activities.
I think the easiest way is just to have your character frequently blow up things without going much into details about the preparatory work. This is the plot device for the main character from "The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared" by Jonas Jonasson and it works pretty well.
I modified my answer, because as correctly identified, I didn't read the question properly. There is 2 Ways to do this research while staying of the Radar. Use a VPN, and tunnel to a None associative country, so for example, VPN to Thailand, or Indonesia, and then do your search, but set your browser to incognito mode, the second is to use the Onion network called Tor. The browser is ssh to the public anonymous network, and then the browsing history is not kept on any of the servers. the link to this is here: https://www.torproject.org/ People previously caught for other activities on this network such as Drug sales and even weapon sales were caught through the social engineering side, IE, face to Face during a transaction, and not through the network identifying them. Hope this helps, and good luck with the book.
He might be an expert at detonating, but I doubt your MC will be going around talking about bombs all the time. Do research when it's needed and try to relax.
I like this blog, although I don't use it for now, but it seems interesting to me. If you have time, take a look:
P.S. The above link is a writer's blog so it won't get you into trouble if you click.
Perhaps you could:
1)) Have your character have a parent or family member who has knowledge of bombs and explosives if they are younger.
2)) If older, they could secretly possibly be evil and be blowing up places or things and they are avoiding getting on the government's blacklist.
3)) If you want to have your character's family and the character be good and the character be pure, they could be smart and or a genius and be able to look on the right side of the internet and find out information.
protected by Community♦ Nov 7 '17 at 4:46
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