Whether you're a reader or writer of crime fiction, there's one thing you're bound to stumble upon: a weapon. I don't mean literally, unless you're like me and live inside a bunker full of "props" for my stories.

 

It seems some have either never handled a weapon or base everything off of Hollywood movies. For example, most modern pistols and revolvers are double-action. This means once the safety is switched off, the operator can either pull the trigger outright or cock the hammer back and then fire.

 

I see in novels, and movies, the ol' "Cock the hammer back for effect" line again and again. If you're pointing a handgun at someone you intend to kill, cocking the hammer does nothing but waste time. If it's a single-action handgun that does require cocking the hammer back first, why on Earth would you not do that before you pointed it at someone?

 

And unless you're a trained shooter with a top of the line handgun, I doubt you could hit the broadside of a 747 further than 20 yards out. The shorter the barrel, the more likely the bullet will fly anywhere but straight. That's why these drive-by gangsta punks end up shooting bystanders instead of their intended targets – it's difficult to hit anything with a handgun.

 

Shotguns are another misappropriated prop. For effect, the shotgun is pumped at an opportune time. In reality, this ejects an unspent round from the shotgun, and no one in their right mind would do that during a fight. Conversely, if the shotgun is pumped for effect and there isn't a load in the chamber, why didn't the operator put a round in when the fight started?

 

Then there's the "Rambo" effect. This is where a sub-machine gun sprays rounds over and over again. I challenge anyone to find a portable, fully-automatic firearm that fires consecutively for longer than five seconds. Short bursts are much more accurate and effective, given the massive recoil these firearms carry.

 

Knives are another animal altogether. Most switchblades around are either old or expensive. Your everyday modern criminal is unlikely to carry one. What they gain in effect (the quick deployment of the blade), they lack in practicality. Switchblades do not have a full tang, meaning the blade cannot support a lot of weight. They also lack a secure locking system, which could result in a total blade failure.

 

A fixed blade or assisted opening unit are much more likely choices. A fixed blade lacks the opening effect, but at least it's a sturdy item that won't fail. An assisted opener still has the opening effect, and the heavy-duty models come with double locks or a sturdy locking liner.

 

I understand not everyone has access to learn about weapons. But if you're going to write, you'd do yourself a favor to get to know them. Or at least ask someone who's knowledgeable. It makes the reading experience that much better.

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Tanis, If you want my expertise, you're welcome to it!  All you have to do is ask. :)
Except for the egregious errors--like the rifle/shotgun thing Ben mentioned--I think the key is to keep the accuracy proportional to the amount of description or relevance the weapon has to the scene. If the guy has a handgun and any old handgun will do, call it a gun and it can shoot five, six, seven, fifteen rounds. Fine. Specify its a M1911 .45 ACP and it had better not fire fifteen rounds unless you made it clear he's using an extended magazine. Shoot a guy 150 yards away, and it had better be a rifle.

Details matter. Someone, somewhere is concerned about everything.

I got email from a reader a little while ago pointing out that the marijuana-per-plant ratio in one of my books was wrong - or my growers were terrible at their jobs and should be replaced.

But there is a tendency to fetishize weapons and to draw out scenes in which they're involved.

 

On the other hand, I have had an Amazon reviewer take me to task because she thought I was wrong about a weapon, when it was she who had the wrong info. The frustrating thing was that I couldn't do anything about it.

My point is that you cannot worry too much about reader reactions.  At best, they make small stuff seem like earth-shaking ignorance. At worst, they know a lot less than the author.

I don't know anything about guns, so I wouldn't know about inaccuracies with weapons. There are lots of things I don't know about, so it would be difficult for me to spot an error---how a certain poison acts, whether killing someone in a certain way is actually feasible. But if I do know enough to spot something that's wrong,  then it does bother me---at least in any serious novel.

If something doesn't SEEM right, or even possible,  that bothers me too. Murders that hinge on too much chance, or circumstances that don't add up---how a body was disposed of by someone who couldn't even have lifted it, for instance.   Writers do owe  their readers that much--- to get it right, even if 90% of those readers won't notice. Whether it's guns, or poison, or forensic detail. You write for the one reader who's going to know.  And, as IJ says, you do the research you need, and don't worry about the "know it all!"  :)

There's enough information out there to get it right on guns or, for that matter, pretty much any other topic.  But unless you're Stephen Hunter, I doubt it's really necessary to cover more than the basics.  Unfortunately this is apparently a tough job for some writers.  God is in the details, whether it be cars, guns, medicine, football, the nutritional value of twinkies, or whatever.

I recently read an excellent post-apocalyptic trilogy by a writer by Mitchell Smith, set in a future ice age.  I was impressed by the amount of research he'd done on numerous topics, including melee and stringed weapons (all information on 'boom-powder' lost).  More importantly, it was all done with a purpose.  It's all wasted if it doesn't serve the story or the character.

The absolute worst is the "generic gun sound" that happens in movies whenever a character raises their pistol. "cli-chick".  Also, when suppressors are referred to as silencers and when magazines are referred to as clips. So annoying!

 

For me, technical accuracy should be in one of two schools. Either use the bare-minimum of descriptions ("she shot him!"), or really understand how weapons work and use the technical details to enhance the atmosphere.

 

For the record, I have never fired a gun in my life, but I am a snob about firearm misinformation in stories. I'd suggest writers buy a high quality, gas powered airsoft pistol (with operating slide!) and learn to use it. I got one that is a near-exact replica of a Glock, and I am confident that I could dis-and-reassemble a real one if I had to.

This may be ignorance on my part, but when the magazine is emptied from a pistol, doesn't the slide always lock in the open position? In many movies I have seen, the slide returns to the closed position. I have always wondered about this.

Depends on the make and model. A Colt 1911 would. A Glock would. A Luger would not. 

 

When people use "pistol" in a generic sense, they most often think of the Colt 1911 (whether they know it or not). It's probably the most ubiquitous handgun in crime fiction. Most movies nowadays use Glocks, since they're more modern. And Lugers, they're always used by the bad guys.

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