Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Survival Wednesday - Secret Signals

In the second book of my Shades of Hope series,we meet Ruby Dawn and her love interest who happens to be a DEA agent.  


In honor of the handsome and charming Tom, as well as all things clandestine and shady, today's post will be about secret signals to another person.


As many of you are aware, I own quite a few unusual books that I use for research. One of my favorites, the one I used the most for Tom's character layering and quirks, was The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception by H. Keith Melton.


I created for Tom, a love of magic that stems from an incident as a teenager. He also loves the cloak and dagger way of doing things. 


Because of this, I had the opportunity to research some interesting facets of old school signaling...some that are still in use today.


Let's say that two people have to work together, but cannot contact each other by traditional means because they might get caught...


There are four critical criteria for signals used in the spy trade:

  • It cannot be unusual. 

This is why the whole, "Flower in the Buttonhole" was so popular in old movies and fiction.  Nowadays it might be a certain baseball cap or phone case.

  • You must be able to see it instantly.

Once glance should be enough. You don't want to make the other person stare at others like a psychopath...it might give them away.

  • It has color and color attracts attention.

Again, its imperative that your signal be easy to pick out of a crowd.

  • In an of itself, at that time in history, wearing a flower had no significance. 

Wearing a larger than normal flower, or a specific color flower set you apart from all the other gentlemen...or in this era...a red baseball cap or bright green sneakers wouldn't be all that strange.


Perhaps you don't want to wander around in a crowd, or simply don't need to meet face to face. Maybe you just need to send a quick message.

Some ingenious ways I've learned about are in plain sight...you would never notice.

  • A wrapped package with the twine in a specific pattern. You have information to pass on.

  • A row of pens in a pocket, red, for instance to show you think you've been made.

  • Your tie in a specific way, untied, hanging over your shoulders, tucked in a pocket...to signal an emergency extraction.

  • You might have something specific missing, a shoelace, or an earing. 
All of these signals can be explained, marked as coincidence, or simply missed UNLESS you're looking for them.

Strange skills are a great way to layer a character and add to the plot. Some simple research may open your eyes to a whole new set of ideas and conflicts to enliven your story.

What are some things you've learned specifically for writing a character?

Until next time...Go Write!

4 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My characters didn't have to communicate in such a covert fashion, although their telepathic abilities can be used in that manner.

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, these are great things to think of! I love the idea. I go to 'dayjob field' conferences and it seems that also provides an option--there are message boards and you could have a plan for a brief note (some sort of code). In my books I have kids who are living hidden in a house so keep watch--they tend to use bird calls for an 'all clear'

Andrew Rosenberg said...

Researching old-time prostitution is always fun. They would dress like proper ladies but they could signal their profession by wearing something out-of-place, like a red sash or something. So a man who was "in the know" would know what to look for to distinguish them from ordinary women.

Shannon said...

Well that's a lot of food for thought. This kind of information will also come real in handy for what I'm writing now too.

Also, interesting note on old-time prostitution, Andrew.