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Writing about guns

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Jamesaritchie

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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.

I suppose it depends on your audience. I'm more worried about the large number of readers who have no clue what an AR is. It's the readers you have to worry about.

And there is NO such thing as an AR-15 assault rifle. The "assault" part comes form people who know nothing at all about weapons. An "assault" rifle must have a selective fire switch, and an AR-15 does not.

I know you see the AR-15 called an assault rifle at many places that should know better, but it's no more an assault rifle that the Remington Model 750, or the Winchester Model 100. If the intended audience means those who know and use weapons, you'll lose a lot of readers over this.

And which Glock? Which 12. ga.? That's like saying your protagonist drives a Ford. This is fine, but which Ford? A car, a pickup, what?

Maybe it's because I know and use weapons, but as a reader, I need more info than just a Glock or a 12 .ga. I don't need you to tell me how to build one, but I at least need to know which Glock, and which 12 .ga, or I won't be able to visualize it.
 

Okelly65

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I think it comes down to how you want the story to sound more than anything else. Writing a western and mentioning the character is carrying a Colt Navy or a Lemat places the period and adds color.

Some times adding in details about range and power would be important to show the character skill or lack there of. Like only being able to hit a target at a hundred yards with a weapon that reaches out to 1500.

then there are the really visual readers to consider and the ones who have no clue what a Cap and ball pistol might be. sometimes simple is better, sometimes not.

just my 2 cents at any rate. with inflation it might reach 3 cents
 

Chase

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I agree with dpaterso, the detail of a weapon can show the characters love/respect for it. Saddam had a gold plated AK-47. Jack Reacher doesn't carry one to and fro, but when he picks a weapon up you get detail showing his knowledge.

Yep. The other side of the coin is writers should avoid details they don't know very well. Too many western, mystery, and thriller readers know their stuff. I'm a die hard Stephen King fan, but my literary hero by political beliefs and lifestyle is usually better off generalizing gun talk. Cases in point are in Doctor Sleep:

Billy is a retired marine combat veteran. SK has Billy show a "pistol in a battered black holster." "One-nine-one-one," he said. "Full auto. World War II vintage. This is old, too, but it'll do the job."

I cringed at having a knowledgeable character make such a flub as describing a 1911 semi-auto as "Full auto." It well may malfunction to fire off several rounds at one trigger pull, but the pistol would be broken and dangerous. It made Billy who isn't look stupid (Dr. Sleep, last page of Part Two, 336).

Later in Part Three, chapters 10 and 11, a pistol is described as a Glock .22 twice. Glock doesn't make a .22 caliber handgun. The Glock 22 uses .40 S&W cartridges. Twenty-two is its model number. It's narrative but still has Dan the MC and gun savvy Billy both armed with firearms not in Glock's catalog (353-54).

Steven King always insists on shouldering all blame for mistakes, but as an alpha reader and editor, I wonder who else didn't run a fact-check past a gun person?
 
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Jamesaritchie

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I cringed at having a knowledgeable character make such a flub as describing a 1911 semi-auto as "Full auto." It well may malfunction to fire off several rounds at one trigger pull, but the pistol would be broken and dangerous. It made Billy who isn't look stupid (Dr. Sleep, last page of Part Two, 336).

Later in Part Three, chapters 10 and 11, a pistol is described as a Glock .22 twice. Glock doesn't make a .22 caliber handgun. The Glock 22 uses .40 S&W cartridges. Twenty-two is its model number. It's narrative but still has Dan the MC and gun savvy Billy both armed with firearms not in Glock's catalog (353-54).

Steven King always insists on shouldering all blame for mistakes, but as an alpha reader and editor, I wonder who else didn't run a fact-check past a gun person?

Well, in fairness, there are quite a few full auto Colt 1911s out there. I've seen several. It's a pretty easy modification, and people have been doing it since the first 1911 came out. The most famous is the Lebman
http://www.guns.com/2012/09/26/lebman-1911-machine-pistol/ But I have seen one made as early as 1913.

I can see the confusion over a Glock 22, butI wonder what he thinks a Glock 18 or a Glock 27 fires? There are coversion kits that allow firing .22 long rifle, but I doubt he knows anything about these. I also wonder why, after all this time, the word "Glock" is not in my spellcheck dictionary? Guess it's time to add it myself.

Anyway, King admits to doing as little research as humanly possible, but he has people do "idiot reads" after the manuscript is finished, and you would think someone would have caught these errors..
 

Chase

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Well, in fairness, there are quite a few full auto Colt 1911s out there.

Great pics of the modified 1911s, James. Much better control with the forward "Thompson" grip, I imagine. Billy's "battered black holster" must've been huge. :D I wonder if Billy paid the $5000+ tax to own his or bootlegged his modifications?

Could be the Glock 18 is a .177 bore B-B gun, and the Glock 27 shoots a .270 Winchester. :guns:

Nevertheless, I remain a devoted :Hail:SK fan.
 

Jamesaritchie

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Great pics of the modified 1911s, James. Much better control with the forward "Thompson" grip, I imagine. Billy's "battered black holster" must've been huge. :D I wonder if Billy paid the $5000+ tax to own his or bootlegged his modifications?

Could be the Glock 18 is a .177 bore B-B gun, and the Glock 27 shoots a .270 Winchester. :guns:

Nevertheless, I remain a devoted :Hail:SK fan.

Well, if it was built long enough ago, there wouldn't be any tax, but it also wouldn't be in the registry. If you have the right license you can still build one, you just can't transfer it to anyone else, so I'm guessing Billy is screwed, either way.

A Glock .270 Winchester, huh? I'd love to show up at the range with that.
 

Shadow_Ferret

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Question: I read that the shotgun shell came out sometime in the mid-1860s (66?), but I can't seem to find any info on any actual shotguns manufactured at that time that would fire the shells. Anyone know of a model or manufacturer who did?
 

Laer Carroll

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Definitely the answer is the indefinite "It depends"! On such concerns as the characters and the function of the gun in the story.

Speaking of the function, Chekhov's "gun on the wall" can have lots of functions in the story, not just it's ability to be fired. Maybe it turns out to be an very valuable antique, a treasure hidden in plain sight. Maybe a clue is hidden inside it. Maybe it was used as a bludgeon and black light will reveal it as a murder weapon.

Lastly, when I was a military cop, we referred to our weapons by its function at work, not with any details. We KNEW those details; we'd look pretty silly referring to caliber or make. It was "work piece" or "backup." Only a few gun nuts like me would spend a lot of time at the range, or discuss details of our preferred backup. And interminably argue about stopping power vs. accuracy, usually over beer and pizza at our local hangout after work.
 

Jack Judah

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Chekhov's "gun on the wall" can have lots of functions in the story, not just it's ability to be fired. Maybe it turns out to be a very valuable antique, a treasure hidden in plain sight. Maybe a clue is hidden inside it. Maybe it was used as a bludgeon and black light will reveal it as a murder weapon.

Yes! Agreed completely. The lesson behind the "gun on the wall" is a valuable one for writers, but it certainly shouldn't be taken literally. Depending on the story, the very act of having a gun and NOT using it can speak volumes, and pack more dramatic punch than if the trigger gets pulled.

And interminably argue about stopping power vs. accuracy, usually over beer and pizza at our local hangout after work.

None of us are even pros, but in my family, we've had to ban that particular debate from the dinner table, right along with religion, business and politics. Too many feathers were getting ruffled. I think wherever gun folks gather, that argument will rage.
 
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bombergirl69

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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.

But...the AR-15 is not an assault rife (AR does NOT stand for assault or automatic rife), so if I read that, I'd probably wonder... ;) It looks like an M-16 (which is an assault rife) but it's not one.

I agree that detail can serve several purposes. My MC has a pistol with Pachmayr grips and a match trigger, not that the grips matter but I 'd like to show that guns are an important priority for her, something she'd put some money into tricking out.

I wince when I read about semis as being "full auto" or the common one, people "slamming in the clip." Or writing about shooting after putting in a mag (without chambering a round)

Sometimes details about guns highlight common problems which may be relevant to the story. If someone wrote they had a Ruger Blackhawk that had problems, a ton of people would know exactly what they were talking about. AR-15s can have trouble chambering that second round (they're finicky), the Remmington 760 pump can have bolt issues and so on. Someone asked about that in the story research forum and it worked perfectly for the story.
 

Jack Judah

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Guns are like cars, windows to the soul and lifestyle of the characters who own them. Bombergirl's MC is a perfect example. Just those two details speak volumes about the character. Hard to get better word count bang for your buck!

She's also right that weapon choice can have all sorts of consequences on the plot. In my WIP, the MC has to borrow a gun for his first gunfight. It's a double action revolver referred to at the time as a "Whistler". In 1870, you bet that detail makes a lot of difference! First, virtually everyone was still packing SA, mostly cap and ball. Second, shooting DA is tricky. Heavier trigger pull means lots of SA shooters end up losing accuracy until they acclimate. (Something I know from personal experience. Grew up shooting SA. Had a real blow to my ego the first time I took a DA belly gun to the range.) So quicker to shoot, but generally less accurate.

I could have just said my MC borrowed "a" revolver. And that he missed. But I like to think the extra detail, with all its implications, adds some realism to the narrative. Or at least some flavor.

Then again I'm a gun nut, and will happily read paragraphs of details about a character's choice of weapon, so long as they're pertinent and well researched.
 
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ToonedInWriter

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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

In general, I think you are right. I know Dean Koontz, by his own admission, takes great pains in researching handguns, rifles, and other small arms, mostly because, he says, his readers expect realistic and accurate descriptions of such weapons and (possibly) because Koontz himself owns and fires handguns.
 

CWatts

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Bumpity bump.... Seems reasonable to add to the existing thread.

So some specifics about guns can be pretty cool, plus they can have an impact on the plot if they give any kind of technical advantage. I may be arming one of my characters with a M1870 Galand revolver, with the cool lever than made for a swifter reload, plus it makes sense with her background. http://www.forgottenweapons.com/ria-russian-m1870-galand-revolver-video/

The question, how much of a challenge would it be to get those 12m Perrin cartridges in the states? I'm thinking it wouldn't be much of a problem back East, and might not be too bad in railroad towns/cities like Cheyenne.
 

CapnJack

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Personally, I think it's important to give a character a unique gun, while still trying to make it realistic. You have to ask, given whatever that character does for a living, what would make sense for them to carry?
 

ironmikezero

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Here's a tip that readers who know guns will appreciate . . . All firearms have idiosyncrasies specific to that particular weapon. Once you have decided upon what weapon your MC carries & uses, research that weapon and determine one or more idiosyncrasies thereof. Now, in the course of your story weave a pertinent/researched idiosyncrasy, that your MC must deal with, into a scene--the higher the tension, the better.

For example: I wrote a scene wherein a character armed with a semiauto pistol, a SIG-SAUER P230 in .380/9mm kurtz, while fending off an attack, discharges all the rounds in the magazine. She keeps pulling the DA trigger despite being out of ammo. The slide remains forward in battery rather than being held back (open breech) as is most often the case with other semiauto pistols she's used. In the heat of the moment, this doesn't register with her right away. She's not that familiar with this pistol, even though she's been advised this circumstance happens to be an idiosyncrasy of the P230 when the factory supplied magazine is employed. In the seconds it takes for realization and reloading, a lot can and does happen.

Your gun-savvy readers will be right in there, savouring the inherent credibility when the fecal matter contacts the atmospheric oscillation and dispersal device . . . An unanticipated screw-up in gunplay isn't just plausible--it's the law, Murphy's Law.

(FWIW, my P230 does this; that's how I know.)

:poke:
 

J.J.PITTS

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I learned an important lesson with my first novel. My wife and most women hated and skimmed the area with firearm descriptions. Every male however, simply loved it. So I guess it's whether you are catering to men or women or both. As a firearm enthusiast and load developer, I tend to become a bit anal with description. It is difficult to write "a .44 magnum," rather than a "Ruger flattop in .44 magnum sporting a 4 5/8" barrel."

My wife and other women seem to be squeezing that love out of me, however.

By the way, I used to own a S&W Model 19.
Good Lord. Details! A 2", 4" or 6" barrel? With stock grips or aftermarket? Wood or rubber? White outline rear sight and orange insert front? Or perhaps both front and rear in matt black? Blued, stainless or brush chrome?

Nevertheless, I remain a devoted :Hail:SK fan.
Steee-rike one, comrade! :roll::roll:
 
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CWatts

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Here's a tip that readers who know guns will appreciate . . . All firearms have idiosyncrasies specific to that particular weapon. Once you have decided upon what weapon your MC carries & uses, research that weapon and determine one or more idiosyncrasies thereof. Now, in the course of your story weave a pertinent/researched idiosyncrasy, that your MC must deal with, into a scene--the higher the tension, the better.
...
Your gun-savvy readers will be right in there, savouring the inherent credibility when the fecal matter contacts the atmospheric oscillation and dispersal device . . . An unanticipated screw-up in gunplay isn't just plausible--it's the law, Murphy's Law.

This. Figuring out how to make things go wrong is our job isn't it? All the better for tension. This is also why you put in ricochets, and why concealment =/= cover. I'm not a tactician but I do know that acting like they do in the movies will get you killed.

I learned an important lesson with my first novel. My wife and most women hated and skimmed the area with firearm descriptions. Every male however, simply loved it. So I guess it's whether you are catering to men or women or both. As a firearm enthusiast and load developer, I tend to become a bit anal with description. It is difficult to write "a .44 magnum," rather than a "Ruger flattop in .44 magnum sporting a 4 5/8" barrel."

My wife and other women seem to be squeezing that love out of me, however.

I think it's that way with cars, too. "Tri-Power V8 Corvette Stringray in Rally Red" just doesn't work as well in a song though. ;)

My thought is to know enough of the function to keep the character from doing something impossible, self-destructive or dumb. Otherwise I might describe a bit of how the gun works, and an idea of their reasons for using it, like pretty much any object that comes up.
 

Langadune

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I think you can use reasonable detail and not have to go overboard. If your character has a Glock and flips off the safety before firing, well you haven't done any research and reader will know it. It's not necessarily a show-stopper for me but things like that can be irritating and briefly takes me out of the story.

"A silver '69 Mustang GT" would probably be enough detail to get the message across, as would "a Kimber 1911 with custom sights." There are of course variations on the above mentioned and more detail worth mentioning if you know it and care to share it, but I don't think anything less detracts from a story. The level of detail would depend on your personal familiarity.
 

CapnJack

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I think you can use reasonable detail and not have to go overboard. If your character has a Glock and flips off the safety before firing, well you haven't done any research and reader will know it. It's not necessarily a show-stopper for me but things like that can be irritating and briefly takes me out of the story.

Thank you.
 

dpaterso

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The question, how much of a challenge would it be to get those 12m Perrin cartridges in the states? I'm thinking it wouldn't be much of a problem back East, and might not be too bad in railroad towns/cities like Cheyenne.
That is indeed the question, I can't see any general store in any town stocking that ammunition on the off-chance someone with an exotic foreign-made revolver walks in the door, methinks your character would have to seek out a gunsmith and hope they can manufacture a batch especially for her. Which could be pricey! Might make for some interesting choices, when she has to decide whether to shoot, or conserve precious ammunition that can't be replaced.

-Derek
 

CapnJack

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That is indeed the question, I can't see any general store in any town stocking that ammunition on the off-chance someone with an exotic foreign-made revolver walks in the door, methinks your character would have to seek out a gunsmith and hope they can manufacture a batch especially for her. Which could be pricey! Might make for some interesting choices, when she has to decide whether to shoot, or conserve precious ammunition that can't be replaced.

-Derek


I agree with Derek. Your character would probably have to have the ammo custom made by a gunsmith, and even if she had the money (unless the gunsmith owed her a favor) he'd probably have to come up with a way to substitute another type of case/bullet to do it.
 

CWatts

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That is indeed the question, I can't see any general store in any town stocking that ammunition on the off-chance someone with an exotic foreign-made revolver walks in the door, methinks your character would have to seek out a gunsmith and hope they can manufacture a batch especially for her. Which could be pricey! Might make for some interesting choices, when she has to decide whether to shoot, or conserve precious ammunition that can't be replaced.

-Derek

I agree with Derek. Your character would probably have to have the ammo custom made by a gunsmith, and even if she had the money (unless the gunsmith owed her a favor) he'd probably have to come up with a way to substitute another type of case/bullet to do it.

Good thoughts. I'm thinking ammo would be available from Bannerman's in New York (she has family & friends there and visits occasionally). http://bannermancastle.org/island-history.html Apparently some US cavalrymen favored the Galand, and the round was also used in Perrin revolvers imported during the Civil War.

I like it being a tough choice. She is looking to avoid violence whenever possible, plus there's a sentimental value to the weapon as a connection to lost love.
 

CapnJack

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Out of curiosity, would 12mm Perrin have been reloadable? If it was, a smart move would be to keep her empty cases and reload them herself. (People did this all the time.)
 

mongo

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Tom Clancy is perhaps the best known author today who uses info-dump concerning technicalities of weapons or weapons-systems. He does it well, and it is part of his voice.

Personally, I find it interesting. However, most people I know in everyday life just say 'guns' without knowing 'pistol' means a semi-automatic handgun versus a 'hogleg' which means a revolver. (in practical word usage - technically, both revolvers and semi-auto's can be a "pistol") Some of them would like to know the difference, some don't care.

I agree with most of the posters above, in that the amount of detail used to describe the weapon in question depends entirely upon the the character, the setting, the scene and the author voice. I care about authenticity and historical correctness. Rather than info-dump, though, I will try to bake details into the scenes to provide more understanding to the reader.

For example, I wouldn't say "Jeb reloaded his hogleg." I might say, "During a lull, Jeb quickly pushed two more quick-burning nitrate paper cartridges into the empty chambers of his .44 and rammed them carefully with the lever to ensure proper firing." Or something similar. Be careful, though. Only use such an explanation once or it becomes repetitive and boring.
 
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