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Thread: Question about how electricity works for my story.

  1. #1

    Question about how electricity works for my story.

    Basically for my story, character A, is pointing a gun at character B. Character B, has an electrical torturing device, he is using to get information out of character C. For the plot to go how I want, I want character B, to overpower character A, but A has a gun pointed at him.

    I thought maybe that character B, could perhaps spill a jug of water on the floor, the water would make it's way from character C to character A, as A was pointing the gun B. B can then quickly flip an electrical switch, causing the electricity to pass from the torturing device, through character C, out of character C onto the water on the floor, then through the water, then from the water, to character B, as long as B and C are in contact with the water.

    Would that work or be physically possible with electricity? Either way, I want character B to somehow overpower A, who has a gun, if that won't work.

  2. #2
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    Electricity can only flow through salt water, not tap water which is in most cases fresh water, with little no no conductance impurities. This is due to the molecular compounds that make up salt being highly conductive. So no, a bucket of fresh water will not conduct electricity, a bucket of salt water will.
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  3. #3
    Tap water does conduct electricity because it has stuff - other molecules, minerals - in it that are conductors, though it does not conduct as well as salt water. Distilled water - pure water - is not a conductor because it does not have the other molecules floating around in it. In order for somebody to be electrocuted in any way, the circuit must be complete, ie. "closed". So, character C would have to complete a circuit in some way... Two limbs, leg and foot, both arms, something like that would have to provide a path for electricity to flow - it needs to enter the body by way of a certain point and leave the body by way of a certain point. Also, I don't know how technical you want to get but, amps are what really do the hurting/burning/stopping of heart, etc. damage. Voltage, also referred to as EMF - electro motive force - is what push the amps (ie, a collection of electrons) through the circuit. High voltage with very little amperage can hurt, stun people (this is what tasers do... 10,000 volts with .05 amps, something like that) on the other hand lower voltage with high amperage can burn, stop you're heart and cause fires. Think of heating elements in your stove. 220, or even 110 volts with 12 or 13 or 15 amps will pretty much punch your heart in the face, cause burns... 440 volts and 50 or 60 amps will probably kill you, cause serious burns, heart attacks, strokes, higher voltage and higher amperage... 4000 volts and 800 amps and there wont be even a pile of carbon left if you complete this circuit. There's alot of info about electricity online and even home testers, teaching stuff to play around with at home. Electricity is awesome!

  4. #4
    The old electrician's saying is that "it's volts that jolt but mills that kill," where "mills" refers to milliamps. There is apparently a range of currents that is extremely dangerous in that it is sufficient to interfere with the normal electrical activity in the heart muscles, but strangely more current than this can actually be less harmful in that respect. That is why that saying mentions milliamps rather than amps. High currents passing through the body cause burning in the regions of most resistance, i.e. in the skin, while the salty liquids deeper within the body pass current easily and therefore don't burn. Electrical burns may go deep but not damage vital internal organs, so people can even survive lightning strikes on occasions. Such high currents are too high to affect the heart in the same way that lower ones do, simply burning in places rather than interfering with its operation. The electricity will also take the shortest path through the body, so the most hazardous one is from the left hand to the left foot, straight through the heart. Hence a cautious electrician will probe live electrical circuits with his right hand, keeping his left well away, even in his pocket. Unfortunately metal objects, such as wristwatches and rings, are often worn on the left hand and wrist, so those add to the risk. You might therefore consider exactly where the gunman's left hand was at the time, maybe resting on a metal framed item of furniture like a chair.

    Any water potentially has enough substances dissolved in it to conduct sufficient current in that critical milliamp range to cause a heart attack. It doesn't have to be specifically salt in the water, just anything that can become ionised as I understand it.

    The question as to whether someone would be fatally electrocuted in any situation is therefore complicated and provided that you give reasonable consideration to the basics such as these above, then a reader is likely to accept what you write.

    As usual I have pre-empted this question in the past by including an example in my own unpublished writing. When someone is playfully probed with such an electrical shock device the perpetrator points out that he intentionally aimed at the right side of their torso to minimise the risk of any fatal injury, as though that was in any way mitigating in respect of his behaviour.

    P.S.
    A further important consideration is that electric shock causes muscles to contract. Again in my own writing a security man specifically does not use an electrical stun gun against someone holding a conventional gun because there is a risk that the shock might actually cause the man's finger to involuntarily pull the trigger. It's all about the path of the current through the body once again though. If the current went elsewhere such as through the gunman's left arm when he was holding the gun in his right hand then there might be little risk of his trigger finger reacting. Even if the current went up his right arm it would also cause his biceps to throw his arm upwards and the shot could safely go high. I believe that firemen rely on this reaction when walking through a building with bad visibility. By holding their arms up in front of their heads they can safely detect live electrical cables dangling from above as contact with one will cause their arm to jolt backwards away from it before they suffer any other injury. I experienced this effect myself once when I was shocked by an ignition lead on my car engine and my arm jolted back from the engine in reaction.

    Just bear in mind the fundamentals such as the path of the current through the body and the contraction of muscles and you should come up with something plausible and seem adequately knowledgeable on the subject to satisfy the reader, which is all that is necessary.

    P.P.S.
    Don't forget the most basic aspect of electricity, that there has to be a complete path for the current, so an entry point and an exit point on the body. Hence you have to consider two places on the body simultaneously, not just one. Standing in an electrified puddle might have no effect unless and until one touched something else in the room, like that metal-framed chair that I suggested, to complete the circuit. We have an annoying effect like this in our bedroom. Walking across the room sometimes creates static electricity from the carpet in the body. Touching the light switch then discharges that electricity through the grounded screws holding it on the wall. It seems that one has been electrocuted by the lighting circuit, but there is nothing wrong with it and it is faultless. We could have had endless arguments with electricians about that if we didn't understand the physics. Yes, electricity can seem quite weird sometimes.
    Last edited by JustRob; March 19th, 2017 at 03:46 PM.
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  5. #5
    Okay thanks. Perhaps the character should overpower the other character another way then, to get his gun, if electricity won't do it then. Thanks.

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