• U.S. members: The Federal Government is offering each household in the United States four (4) free at-home Covid-19 test kits. https://www.covidtests.gov/

Writing about guns

editing_for_authors
Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Status
Not open for further replies.

Puma

Retired and loving it!
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 21, 2006
Messages
7,340
Reaction score
1,535
Location
Central Ohio
I may be wrong on this, and I figured one of the ways to get a take on being right or wrong was to throw this topic out for discussion.

My opinion / observation: back in the day writers didn't go to great lengths to describe the type of gun being used - it was a long gun or a buffalo rifle or a revolver or a Colt or a six-shooter and not a Colt Single Action Army Peacemaker or a Springfield 1870 Remington Navy. I'm getting the impression modern writers feel they have to spell it all out.

What's your take on this? I certainly wouldn't say - I'm shooting my Smith and Wesson Model 19 Combat Masterpiece .357 caliber; I'd say I'm shooting my 357.

Comments and opinions? Puma
 

HarryHoskins

Straw-fed
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
6,240
Reaction score
592
Location
On the nickel
Depends on how much you want to support/undercut the fetishisation of guns and/or whether the type of gun you are describing has a significant name/production time to the piece you are writing.

There are probably some other reasons, but that's all I got for now. :)
 

alleycat

Behaving
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 18, 2005
Messages
72,848
Reaction score
12,193
Location
Tennessee
In general, I think it's probably good that the writer knows the specific of a weapon they're including (so they don't do things like making a single-action revolver act like a double-action), but I don't think a reader needs to know unless it's significant to the story.

I was rereading a story by Raymond Chandler the other day (Red Wind); in the very beginning of the story a man is killed by someone using a .22. In that story the fact that the killer used a .22 and was therefore probably an expert killer was meaningful to the story. Chandler just used .22, he didn't say what make and model it was.

It would be rare to need to include the make, model, and caliber in a story.

By the way, I used to own a S&W Model 19.
 
Last edited:

Torgo

Formerly Phantom of Krankor.
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 7, 2005
Messages
7,632
Reaction score
1,203
Location
London, UK
Website
torgoblog.blogspot.com
*...wandering in randomly...*

I read a fair few thrillers where the author feels the need to describe guns in minute detail. Sometimes this feels like padding or at least the earnest desire to show off the author's research. Other times, it's because some of the details they are describing are actually plot points.

It's a bit like the old saw about Chekhov's pistol; "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." Equally, if you spend a paragraph describing a gun as having a silencer and a laser sight, at least one of those attributes ought to have some kind of effect on the story later on. I leave the application of this corollary to Westerns as an exercise to the reader.
 

dpaterso

Also in our Discord and IRC chat channels
Staff member
Super Moderator
Moderator
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 12, 2005
Messages
18,780
Reaction score
4,565
Location
Caledonia
Website
derekpaterson.net
There was a recent thread in Basic Writing Questions about whether to describe makes of cars and guns in detail... my reply to that was, it all depends on whether such details are important to the POV character. If it makes a difference to him, I'll include such details in the text.

-Derek
 

alleycat

Behaving
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 18, 2005
Messages
72,848
Reaction score
12,193
Location
Tennessee
... my reply to that was, it all depends . . .

That's really the answer to a lot of questions, and why someone else can't tell another writer what he or she should do. We can only sort of point them in what we hope is the right general direction.

Do I need a prologue? It depends . . .

Should I use a real location or a made-up location? It depends . . .

Should I say what make and model car the MC drives? It depends . . .

Should I include the lyrics to every Beatles song written? No! ;-)
 
Last edited:

Puma

Retired and loving it!
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 21, 2006
Messages
7,340
Reaction score
1,535
Location
Central Ohio
Harry hit at what I'm getting at

"whether the type of gun you are describing has a significant name/production time to the piece you are writing"

I really tend to doubt people on the frontier ran around telling people they had a "Peacemaker" and think a lot of gun description showing up is showing off the author's research. .

Good responses so far. I especially like the responses pointing out the need to use in the story what you describe. Puma
 
Last edited:

HarryHoskins

Straw-fed
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
6,240
Reaction score
592
Location
On the nickel
Should I include the lyrics to every Beatles song written? No! ;-)

That puts the kibosh on Paul McCartney's Complete Beatles Lyrics concept novel he's been working on for the past 30 years -- for shame, AC! :)

On the gun front -- and to echo what's been said -- in the past two pieces of mine that have featured guns, I named two. The first, a snub nosed '38. The second, a new looking Colt Rainmaker.

In the former, the owner of the gun was a repressed homosexual -- I used his 'piece' as a penis metaphor in that he was cutting off his barrel to spite his face. (yes, tenuous, I know -- but I'm working within the limits of my tiny mind.) I also used that specific weapon to show a sense of time and to get away from the old west in a modern west piece.

In the latter, the Rainmaker was an ironic device for a character in a desert facing monsters made of sand. It also aimed to situate the era without having to say it.

I should think the preponderance of people writing paragraphs upon paragraphs of gun detail is about (as I previously mentioned) the fetishisation of the gun. Whether this is conscious or unconscious or has any particular aim is usually clear when reading the writing.

I also think Lee Child deserves a mention. :)


ETA --

I really tend to doubt people on the frontier ran around telling people they had a "Peacemaker" and think a lot of gun description showing up is showing off the author's research.

I wonder about that. Might could there be some room for irony at that time? Could a Sheriff or a bunch of wild boys have caused a disturbance of the peace and said 'thank goodness for the old peacemaker' with a wry smile?

Also, I wonder about branding in those days. You're more of an expert than I, would people have named things like that in the way people do today? You know, bragging rights about a new piece of kit? :)
 
Last edited:

Puma

Retired and loving it!
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 21, 2006
Messages
7,340
Reaction score
1,535
Location
Central Ohio
I can see some situations where naming a specific gun would have come up - I'm just not sure it would have been as often as moderns think it was - or as detailed.

Alleycat, I still have my 19, bulge in the barrel from an under-propelled jacket and all. Puma
 

SummerSurf57

Banned
Joined
Nov 20, 2011
Messages
164
Reaction score
3
Age
32
Location
Malibu
I say some things this may be appropriate. Like, "he took a revolver out of his pocket, and I swear it was aimed directly at my face". Sorry for the bad example, but I'm tired. On the other hand, it is unnecessary to write 'he took his Colt Single Action Army Peacemaker out his pocket'. On that note, I don't know much about guns, as I'm sure many others do. Depending on your target audience, I'd stick to general-specific terms such as 'gun', 'revolver', 'rifle', and 'handgun'.
 

FOTSGreg

Today is your last day.
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 5, 2007
Messages
7,760
Reaction score
947
Location
A land where FTL travel is possible and horrible t
Website
Www.fire-on-the-suns.com
In a piece I'm working on (western/fantasy) firearms are very important in certain areas as are the Smith -(short for Gunsmith)Mages who create them. So, when the MC refers to weapons he refers to them by name and caliber, for example, .44 Remington Army, etc. of course, he's one of the few that knows the Smiths aren't actually Mages, more Alchemists and Engineers than users of actual magic, but the Smith's names still carry "power" with those who don't know what he knows.

In this case, it's important for me to know the guns of my world and setting and for my characters to know it as well. It is NOT important that I elaborate the various characteristics of each gun in exquisite detail any more than I elaborate the conjuring of a spell in elaborate detail.

You, as the writer of your own story, need to find your own balance if detail, elaboration, and omission in your story. Just shy away, nay, run away, very fast, from info-dumps.
 

Jamesaritchie

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 13, 2005
Messages
27,863
Reaction score
2,306
I may be wrong on this, and I figured one of the ways to get a take on being right or wrong was to throw this topic out for discussion.

My opinion / observation: back in the day writers didn't go to great lengths to describe the type of gun being used - it was a long gun or a buffalo rifle or a revolver or a Colt or a six-shooter and not aor a Springfield 1870 Remington Navy. I'm getting the impression modern writers feel they have to spell it all out.

What's your take on this? I certainly wouldn't say - I'm shooting my Smith and Wesson Model 19 Combat Masterpiece .357 caliber; I'd say I'm shooting my 357.

Comments and opinions? Puma

Well, for the most part, I disagree, and for more than one reason. First, I think you really have to keep in mind that we don't live in an age where the majority of readers know nearly as much about the weapons people carried as they used to. Someone alive in the 1930s didn't need much detail because they may have been part of the old west, and if not them, then at least their parents. They knew what kinds of weapons people carried, and may well have used most of them.


People today, even those who read westerns, probably live in a city,and may never have fired, or even held, a real handgun or rifle. They would know a Glock from an XD from a PPQ, let alone a Colt from a Starr.


Great detail may not be needed, but some solid detail is. When writers just say something like "buffalo rifle", they've probably either already told what type of buffalo rifle it is, or they aren't very good at what they do. A character might well refer to his rifle simply as a "buffalo rifle", but this does not let the writer off the hook. True buffalo rifles came in several types, and a good writer is supposed to paint a picture. Is that rifle a Remington, a Sharps, or maybe a Hawken? Which it is can say a lot about the character.

The Winchester '73 may have been the gun that won the west, something new readers will likely want to be shown, but it had a lot of help. Having everyone simply carry a rifle is just lazy writing, and having everyone armed with a Winchester '73 would be highly inaccurate.

Same with revolvers. There's no need to write "Colt Single Action Army Peacemaker", but real people in the old west carried a wide assortment of revolvers, and if you don't go into some detail, you're not being realistic. Give everyone a six shooter, and I'll think you haven't read a western written since about 1920. Give everyone a Colt Peacemaker, and I'll think you know nothing about the old west.

Many carried Starr revolvers, for instance. They were common, but had their own peculiarities. Unlike other revolvers, they began life as a double action, and then became a single action. Because they were designed to be fired double action, the hammer is higher than the one on the Colt or the Remington. It fans well, but trying to cock and fire it with one hand is awkward, and much, much slower than either the Colt or the Remington.

A detail of two about weapon tells much about character, and sets the novel at a particular time and place.

It also lets the reader know what is and isn't realistic when the character actually uses the weapon.

And if you've actually shot your S&W .357 around many people, you don't just tell them you're shooting your .357. They'll want to know what kind. Readers usually want to know, as well.

A writer who doesn't go into some detail about weapons is either going to have few readers, or had better not be writing for an audience that does know.

Just a brand or model here and there will usually do,but the more uncommon the weapon, the more detail you need. Either way, you need enough to to come off as something other than a generic writer the reader will probably believe knows nothing about guns, and is too lazy to research.

Details make setting, and add verisimilitude, be it details about the weapons, of the clothing, or the type of food, drink, cigars and cigarettes, etc., people in a given era used.

Too much detail can be bad, but too little is even worse.
 

FOTSGreg

Today is your last day.
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 5, 2007
Messages
7,760
Reaction score
947
Location
A land where FTL travel is possible and horrible t
Website
Www.fire-on-the-suns.com
What Jamesaritchie said, above. In addition, if your setting is say, the early 1800s and your character is reloading his pistol or rifle with brass shells, I damned well want to know what he's using. This is a highly important detail as there were only a select few weapons during the early 1800s that used brass shells. If it's 1840-1870 and some beyond most pistols are still going to be using muzzle-loaded powder & lead with a percussion cap primer. The classic Colt .45, also known as "the gun that won the west" (very much a misnomer as the Remington Army & Navy and Colt Army pistols probably could be better said to hold that spot) was just getting into production around 1872.

Remember that as of the end of the American Civil War in 1865 repeating rifles were only just beginning to come into widespread use. Prior to that muzzle-loading rifled muskets or smoothbore flintlocks had been the rules for decades. The Winchester ’73 lever action rifle was actually introduced in 1873, surprisingly, in .44-40 caliber, but originally used rimfire cartridges.

Also, remember if dealing with cartridges, commonly referred to as "bullets" (incorrectly, the bullet is the lead pellet propelled by the gunpowder charge - a cartridge is the entire assembly of bullet, powder, casing and primer), there were two main types of rounds used during the time period (and a few more exotic earlier) - rimfire and centerfire.

Without belaboring the point much further, be sure about your language and usage. Somebody out there will catch you on even minor technical points.
 

FOTSGreg

Today is your last day.
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jun 5, 2007
Messages
7,760
Reaction score
947
Location
A land where FTL travel is possible and horrible t
Website
Www.fire-on-the-suns.com
Oh, oh! Know the difference between gunpowder and smokeless powder too. Prior to the introduction of smokeless powder, guns produced one helluva' lot of smoke. You have to see a percussion revolver being fired using regular, non-smokeless, powder to actually believe how much.

During the Civil War it was not entirely uncommon for troops on the line to pause firing while the smoke in front of them cleared so they could see what they were firing at again.

The smoke from a gunfight indoors would fill a room, even a spacious barroom, in seconds so thick that the firing parties would be virtually shooting blind.
 

bkendall

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 8, 2011
Messages
783
Reaction score
36
Location
My ol' Kentucky home
Puma, strictly as a reader, I hate the excessive detail. But then again, that's probably because I don't know that much about them. A reader who knows them well, would appreciate the significance more. A caliber or gauge and maybe a brand name would mean something to me.
 

Dave Hardy

Don't let your deal go down,
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 19, 2011
Messages
959
Reaction score
87
Location
'Til your last gold dollar is gone.
I usually give the maker and caliber, (eg a Navy Colt, a Webley .44, something like that). I want to distinguish the technology, cap and ball versus cartridge, and create a bit of verisimilitude. I figure that it's not too intrusive, while conveying some meaning to those in the know.

In my current WIP, the protagonist's weapon is sort of a character. It's a Kentucky rifle, slower to load, but more accurate. The protagonist has a shooting ritual that goes back to old superstitions Vance Randolph recorded in his book on Ozark superstitions.
 

Chase

It Takes All of Us to End Racism
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jan 13, 2008
Messages
9,240
Reaction score
2,312
Location
Oregon, USA
Oddly enough, I subscribe to the practice to only describe as much about the (computer, car, or) gun as you have to.

Sometimes it’s a little, and sometimes it needs a whole lot.

I once critiqued a writer who had "Winchesters" buried in 1860 at the beginning of the War Between the States. She wanted them to be repeaters, so I suggested she refer to them as "Henrys" or "Spencers," since the first Winchesters didn’t go on the market until 1866. She did the usual tapdance on the graves of gun enthusiasts, saying we were too damned nit-picky, so to keep her as a friend, I suggested she just go with "lever-actions" and skip the name.

A case where details were important in a roundabout way was when Dashiell Hammett used a Webley .38 automatic revolver in The Maltese Falcon. (Bogey had to call it a ".45 Automatic" in the film version, because that’s the only Webley with the distinctive grooved cylinders the prop man could find.)

The whole detailed rigamarole had nothing to do with caliber or how the gun worked. It was a clue as to one killer’s nationality, and how Archer's real killer came by that very rare self-loading and cocking revolver made only in England.
 
Last edited:

hvysmker

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 26, 2012
Messages
58
Reaction score
8
Location
Fremont, Ohio
I agree with Jamesaritchie, above. I’ve long been an avid reader of action stories and novels. I’ve also been in the military and a police officer. If I read about taking a gun out of your pocket, I try to picture it as an artillery piece, which is the only “gun” I’ve seen in the army. Any other firearm has its own name, type, and caliber. If I read something like, “he loaded bullets into his gun” I’ll throw the story down in disgust. A bullet is only one part of a cartridge.

You say that telling particulars is an example of info-dumping, I say not to do so is a sign of laziness. Giving information, in moderation of course, shows you know something about firearms and establishes your knowledge on weapons. It adds veracity to the story. And all it takes is a quick Google to get that information. It also serves to give a better mental picture to the reader.

If you don’t have any knowledge of firearms, you have no business writing a detective or war story in the first place. Writers of specific genres are expected to have a basic knowledge about that field. The same with readers. If I read a lot of westerns, I’ll know the differences in specific wagons and carriages or at least be interested in learning their names.

I’ll know what a whiffletree is. If I don’t, your mentioning the name and purpose will make me think you know your stuff when it comes to westerns. Info-dump is one thing, giving out useful information is another.

What’s extraneous to one reader is enlightening to the next. I have one paperback novel on a shelf with other reference books. It’s a first-hand story about a B-17 crewman during WWII, and is packed with interesting info about his job and the aircraft. I consider it as reference material, as I’ve consulted it for numerous WWII stories. Wouldn’t you like your novel or story to be on someone’s reference shelf because of the information it imparts?

Charlie
 

Jamesaritchie

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 13, 2005
Messages
27,863
Reaction score
2,306
What’s extraneous to one reader is enlightening to the next. I have one paperback novel on a shelf with other reference books. It’s a first-hand story about a B-17 crewman during WWII, and is packed with interesting info about his job and the aircraft. I consider it as reference material, as I’ve consulted it for numerous WWII stories. Wouldn’t you like your novel or story to be on someone’s reference shelf because of the information it imparts?

Charlie

What book is it? I grew up enamored with the B-17. I wanted to be a waist gunner more than anything, even if the war was eight years over when I was born. But it sounds like a book I'd love to read.
 

pezerp59

Inexorable
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Apr 11, 2013
Messages
50
Reaction score
0
Location
Florida
I think a basic description is sufficient, unless a character mentions something specific in dialogue.
 

Jamesaritchie

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 13, 2005
Messages
27,863
Reaction score
2,306
Oddly enough, I subscribe to the practice to only describe as much about the (computer, car, or) gun as you have to.

Sometimes it’s a little, and sometimes it needs a whole lot.

I once critiqued a writer who had "Winchesters" buried in 1860 at the beginning of the War Between the States. She wanted them to be repeaters, so I suggested she refer to them as "Henrys" or "Spencers," since the first Winchesters didn’t go on the market until 1866. She did the usual tapdance on the graves of gun enthusiasts, saying we were too damned nit-picky, so to keep her as a friend, I suggested she just go with "lever-actions" and skip the name.

A case where details were important in a roundabout way was when Dashiell Hammett used a Webley .38 automatic revolver in The Maltese Falcon. (Bogey had to call it a ".45 Automatic" in the film version, because that’s the only Webley with the distinctive grooved cylinders the prop man could find.)

The whole detailed rigamarole had nothing to do with caliber or how the gun worked. It was a clue as to one killer’s nationality, and how Archer's real killer came by that very rare self-loading and cocking revolver made only in England.

Bogey didn't have to call it a forty-five automatic, and, in fact, describes it. He simply names the wrong Webley. The screw up was not intentional, and was simply a failure to change the dialogue to match the gun because no one there actually knew the difference.
 

Eddy Rod-Kubry

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 8, 2014
Messages
138
Reaction score
6
To echo what others have stated, I think it is not only acceptable, but in some cases necessary, to give the reader basic information, while avoiding the info-dump. I've mentioned firearms in my writing in the past, and I usually just write the manufacturer and the caliber, maybe the model, but it all depends on how the story is flowing. I also like to give little details about said weapon along the narrative, showing the reader without intruding.

For example, I'll say my protagonist carries a Colt Army 1860 in one chapter, and two chapters later I'll write about him loading the chambers with pre-made paper cartridges.

I'm no expert though so take this with a grain of salt.
 

Jamesaritchie

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Feb 13, 2005
Messages
27,863
Reaction score
2,306
To echo what others have stated, I think it is not only acceptable, but in some cases necessary, to give the reader basic information, while avoiding the info-dump. I've mentioned firearms in my writing in the past, and I usually just write the manufacturer and the caliber, maybe the model, but it all depends on how the story is flowing. I also like to give little details about said weapon along the narrative, showing the reader without intruding.

For example, I'll say my protagonist carries a Colt Army 1860 in one chapter, and two chapters later I'll write about him loading the chambers with pre-made paper cartridges.

I'm no expert though so take this with a grain of salt.

Sounds about perfect, to me. Now, take this with a grain of salt, too, because we all have different styles, but I'd write something like. . .I'd been carrying that Colt Army since the first month of the war. One day I'd have to buy something newer, or have it converted to those newfangled cartridges, but for now it fit my hand better than anything else I'd ever held, and I could hit what I shot at. Out here, not much else matters.
 

Eddy Rod-Kubry

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 8, 2014
Messages
138
Reaction score
6
Sounds about perfect, to me. Now, take this with a grain of salt, too, because we all have different styles, but I'd write something like. . .I'd been carrying that Colt Army since the first month of the war. One day I'd have to buy something newer, or have it converted to those newfangled cartridges, but for now it fit my hand better than anything else I'd ever held, and I could hit what I shot at. Out here, not much else matters.

Sounds pretty good too.
 

Dennis E. Taylor

Get it off! It burns!
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Jul 1, 2014
Messages
2,599
Reaction score
356
Location
Beautiful downtown Mordor
I have guns in my book. They are: Glock, AR-15 assault rifle, 12-guage shotgun. That's all the info that the reader gets, because that's all they need to visualize what's happening. It's not the only way I could have done it, but it does the job.

Now, if one of the protagonists (or antagonists) is a total gun nut who goes to bed with his guns, then you'll probably get more detail from him.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Elizabeth George's book Write Away