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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As a reader I don't care.  I skip over th technical nonsense.

As a writer I do enough research to write the scene.  I do not feed that research into the novel unless it's relevant.

It's jarring to find inaccuracies in a novel, it pulls your mind out of the story. As a Canuck, I have little access to firearms outside of hunting rifles so I find weapon research absolutely mandatory, learning the technical info/watching videos (people love to show off their guns on Youtube)/chat rooms for specific questions, but to I.J.'s point, not much filters back to the writing.

Obviously, this applies to more than just weapons. I've gone to test drive cars just for novel fodder. 

I'm curious though, a lot of crime novels spend mountains of words describing guns in loving detail - do people really find it that interesting (I mean outside of the matching a perp to the crime)?

If it matters to the story, detailing the firearm makes sense. If it's just gratuitous description, then I doubt readers care too much. The story should always come first.

I agree that inaccuracies tend to draw your attention away from the plot line. I remember reading a book once and getting so frustrated that the author had given a soldier life insurance, that I stopped reading the book! The problem was that it was a significant plot point and I know for a fact that soldiers don't ever get their lives insured - they get pay outs for their widows and pensions in the event of death.

 

But maybe that's an anal retentive thing...

 

I prefer to read up on the weapons before I write about them (or ask my dad, who was an RSM in the Australian Army and is trained in most firearms including pistols) because otherwise I feel like a fraud when I'm describing them to other people. I agree with what Tanis and I.J. said, though - if you're putting in detail for detail's sake then it gets boring. Lee Cook springs to mind here. Some of his books are like instruction manuals. I just use enough detail to make sure the reader knows whats going on. Then I get back to the bloody story!

Hmmm. . . I think we all would be surprised on how many readers actually DO nick-pick over such matters when it comes to guns, etc.  Like Tanis mention, there's nothing more jarring to read a story about a hood who has a Colt .45 single-action revovler who flips the safety switch off before he uses it.
Or how about in The Bourne Identity when that one gut puts a silencer on his revolver.
My favorite is rifle/shotgun confusion some movies have. Is it a rifle? Is it a shotgun? Who cares so long as you can pump it in one scene and rattle off 20 rounds like a semi-auto.

They aren't silencers they are suppressors. Lol.

 

For the original question, I do and don't care. I like to know that the writer has researched their topic but I also understand that it is fiction. I find it more jarring in movies than I do in books, probably because they do it for the visual effect. In books the errors are usually technical details the reader doesn't need anyway.

I have to say i'm a bit of a stickler when it comes to firearms, or weapons and even hand to hand in general.  AS a martial artist, ex infantryman and ex cop, i've trained with dozens of different types of weapon and i think that if you want the reader to believe your story, any action has to be as seamless and real as possible.  Most of my kinfe-using characters use kitchen knives if they're street crims, and the goodies who use them use Kabar and equivalent, stuff that they would have used in the forces. 

As for firearms, i find that (particularly in the UK) just having one there makes for enough tension, no need to worry about single or double action, or cocking the thing in front of someone.  Everything is primed and ready to kill as soon as it comes out...

That's a good demonstration of why setting is so important. A shotgun in someone's trunk in the rural US is no big deal. But move that same scene to the UK, and suddenly the implications are much different.

 

P.S. Kabar is coming out with a line of "zombie" knives. Perfect for your Halloween encounters, Paul.

Oooh, Zombie knives!  Seeing as i was in Highland Dress one of them wouldn't have been out of place in my sock...
Paul - are you offering your expertise?

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