Our Monday guy Michael A. Black is stepping in for Carole today... And he's a guy who knows his weapons! Enjoy!
As writers, we usually get to choose our weapons, or at least the ones we write about. That’s why it’s important to do enough research to get it right. Nothing will incur the wrath of certain readers quicker than fudging the facts about weapons.
Since I have a background in law enforcement, there is a certain expectation that I’m going to make a concerted effort to portray guns and their usage in a realistic light. I can remember my disappointment reading a novel by a well-known author whom I greatly admired. He was depicting a scene in which a tough police detective was making a point in his street interrogation by placing the barrel of his Glock pistol under the thug’s chin while conducting the conversation.
Now, as I said, having a background in law enforcement, I couldn’t condone this type of conduct, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief. After all, it was a work of fiction and I was ready to extend the author a bit of artistic license. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good, tough guy scene. Then he had the detective “cock back the hammer” of the Glock for effect.
It took me completely out of the scene. Glock pistols have an internal striker rather than a hammer. There’s nothing to “thumb back.” If the author would have used a Smith & Wesson Model 39, he would have been okay. I knew immediately that he’d never held a Glock, or even looked at a picture of one, and his credibility with me was diminished.
Another famous thriller writer got rather defensive when asked in an interview about his research techniques. He readily admitted not bothering with them. To paraphrase, his snarky reply was, “That’s why they call it fiction.” He may call it “fiction,” but I call it “sloppy writing.” I read one of his thrillers and was not impressed. The climax hinged on the ridiculous premise that ammunition stored over a long period in the magazine of a Beretta 92 F would eventually cause the gun to malfunction due to sustained pressure on the magazine spring.
I laughed out loud.
I’m sure Beretta would have been very upset at the allegation, fictional or otherwise, that they made such a sub-standard product. What made his climax even more unbelievable was that his protagonist, who had seen the full magazine in the weapon earlier, subsequently recognized that it was the same gun, and surmised that the depleted spring would cause the weapon to malfunction. Thus he made his move to disarm the bad guy and, sure enough, the weapon malfunctioned. That’s a move I wouldn’t try in real life.
Perhaps part of the problem stems from writers watching too many movies in which guns are often fired with spectacular results. One such movie that I had the misfortune of seeing had the hero using “special ammunition” that was loaded with more gunpowder so it would be “extra powerful.” The hero fired the weapon and the villains would literally go flying off their feet and sail into the nearest wall. As Camille said, “That’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back.” Not only did the screenwriter and director know nothing about firearms, but they were ignorant of the principles of physics, too. While the extra powder boost would make the projectile travel faster, it wouldn’t necessarily have more stopping power, much less knock the person off his feet. If anything, it would have increased the penetration power and zipped right through the shooting victims and into the wall behind them. I once responded to a drive-by in which an AK-47 was used to shoot up a rival gangbanger’s house. The rounds went completely through the first house and into the one directly behind it. The walls remained standing.
And I won’t even mention the name of the best-selling author who pulled a dirty trick on his readers by revealing in the climax of his novel that his police officer protagonist had been duped into carrying a water pistol instead of his real gun throughout the entire book. I found this twist so outlandish that I literally hurled the book against the wall. I can only guess that he happened to see that old Burt Reynolds movie, W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings, where Burt used a squirtgun to hold up a gas station. But that one was played for laughs. Now I do recall a case in which some young, would-be thugs used a metal replica of a handgun to stage some armed robberies. They’d flash the replica quickly, hoping to intimidate their victims. They quickly backed down when they got caught, however, and we pointed our real guns at them.
So let’s put this in perspective. If you’re writing a mystery or thriller, and you need to place a gun in someone’s hand, take the time to do a bit of research to find out about the weapon. You don’t need a whole lot of statistics, like muzzle velocity and tritium night-sight information, but you should know the basics. If it’s a handgun, is it a revolver or a semi-auto? How many rounds does it hold fully loaded? What’s the caliber and make? Is it an all-metal weapon or is it part polymer? How much does it weigh fully loaded? These are questions that can be answered with a modicum of research. If this is impossible, consider downgrading to a lesser weapon, like a knife or club. I’m currently working on a book called Weapons For Writers in which a lot of the basics about firearms will be explained in the context of using them in fiction. In the meantime, remember to choose your weapons wisely.