Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Firearms in Fiction

Firearms in Fiction

by Terry W. Ervin II

All too often I’ve come across writers working on a short story or first novel involving a character carrying and using a firearm, and they (both the writer and the character) simply refer to it as "a gun" and "my gun."

Sure, it depends on the context. A steamy romance where the main character comments that she keeps a gun in her vanity’s drawer just in case is different than a hard-boiled mystery where a detective ventures daily into inner city neighborhoods packing heat or a heroine armed with silver bullets ready to fend off werewolves. The latter two would certainly be more intimate with the trusted firearm than would be the steamy romance character.

In the context of some stories, writers don’t even narrow the ‘gun’ used to a revolver, hunting rifle or shotgun, but they write as if the individual is competent, if not an expert with the firearm they’re carrying and using.

Quite often, upon asking a writer whose manuscript I am reviewing what type of firearm the character used in a particular scene, the response often is, “I don’t know.” That is usually followed up by, “I don’t really like guns” or “I don’t know the first thing about guns.” Then they ask, “Does it really matter?”

I think it matters. The limitations of a firearm based on the caliber or the effective range makes a difference. Can it be carried concealed and if so, where and how will that affect the character’s wardrobe? Failure to incorporate such basic knowledge could annoy, if not turn off, an entire segment of an author's the potential reading audience.

Does the writer have to own or be an expert in firearms to include them in his or her fiction? Absolutely not. But a writer, for example, who researches in great detail the layout of a city where the short story or novel’s action takes place, shouldn’t brush aside proper research on the firearms intimately involved in the action.

Online research is a good place to get the basics. Visiting a local gun store with questions will often net in-depth answers. An uncle that’s hunted whitetail deer every fall since he was thirteen could provide enough details about how a shotgun works, its recoil, types of shells, strengths and limitations to enable the prose to be both authentic and accurate. In my experience it’s a rare instance where someone balks at helping a writer with content in an area where he or she is experienced and knowledgeable. The individuals may even offer to take the author shooting, if desired, so that the author can get hands-on experience and understanding.

A little time and research effort can pay great dividends in the depth, quality, and authenticity of a writer's manuscript, the result being a more believable and enjoyable reader experience.

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  1. Hear Hear! Thanks for this great post article!
    I hate reading inaccuracies regarding guns in books and it does make me feel like the author didnt bother to take the time to do some simple research on the subject. Examples that I have read:
    *Clip and Magazine are not interchangeable terms, they are actually two different devices.
    *You cant "pull the hammer back" on a Glock.
    -You are so right, simple research would have easily prevented these errors

  2. Thanks for reading, James Gibbons. Glad my views are on target.