Monster Hunter Nation

Ask Correia 2– Writing gun stuff

This was posted to the comments last time.

Here is a new writing question for you. What is the best way for a writer to include guns in his/her novel convincingly if he/she has little experience with them? I have ideas for novels involving a lot of firepower, but having lived in mostly gun-unfriendly states (NJ, MA) I don’t have enough experience (ok virtually none) to be able to write about them in a realistic manner. Thanks. – Scott

That’s a great question, and one that I am actually qualified to help with.  For those of you just joining us,  before I was a professional writer, I was a merchant of death (sometimes called a gun dealer in areas outside of Jersey) and a crazy-militia-extremist-terrorist training camp leader (usually known as a Firearms Instructor in places other than Massachusetts).

Guns are great in fiction. If you write anything even vaguely contemporary, and there is an element of danger in it, then there will probably be guns.  Thrillers need guns. Horror is much better with guns. I’m a huge fan of guns in fantasy. Sensitive Oprah book club selections… they definitely need more guns.  

So how do you write good gun stuff?

Guns & Character

You thought I was going to start with technical esoteric factoids, didn’t you?  (pistols have magazines, not clips, there).  Nope. Well written characters are the basis for having good gun stuff in your fiction.

Keep in mind the background of your PoV character. Guns are an everyday part of life for a giant chunk of America.  To us, they are not some weird, scary, mystical item, they’re another cool tool, like a cordless drill, or the George Foreman Grill.  I hate Hate HATE when I read a thriller, where the hero (usually a former Navy SEAL/Ranger/Commando/CIA Ninja) will have some bizarre disdain for firearms, usually from the author’s own personal bias creeping in.  That does not fit the character at all. People who make their living with guns won’t have a psychological dislike for their guns anymore than a NASCAR driver will have a pathological distaste for driving.  Remember the idiotic Lethal Weapon (3? 4?) movie where the director suddenly got on an anti-gun kick, and all of a sudden Mel Gibson’s vet/ninja/assassin/super-cop character, who’s shot 4,000 people with a Beretta in the previous movies, got all sorts of snooty and disdainful about the evil scourge of guns on the street?   Hell, Lethal Weapon 1 was the reason most of us bought Berettas to begin with back then.

If your PoV character falls into the “gun culture” then he will respect his weapons and probably enjoy them.  Now, not all characters with guns need to be a member of the gun culture though.  If the person is an excellent shot under stress (like all thriller heroes) then odds are they are in the gun culture. Cops carry guns, but most of them are relatively clueless about them, and only carry one because it is a job requirement.  If your PoV character falls into that category, then don’t expect them to have buckets of knowledge (and also don’t expect them to shoot very well either). 

Shooting is a skill. Any moron can pick up a gun and shoot it, but it actually takes practice to become good with one.  The insane level of skill demonstrated by most fictional protagonists would only come from somebody who actually enjoys shooting enough to go out and do it on their own time.  Keep that in mind for your characters. Combative shooting is a martial art.  For the love of St. Browning, don’t do that horrible Kung Fu Panda crap where you can defeat somebody who’s trained their entire life because you “believe in yourself”. 

Is your character somebody who is new to guns, but got one because of the events of your plot?  Maybe they will be awkward. They won’t know the details. They will use the wrong terminology. They will probably be clumsy and slow.  Maybe they grew up on a farm and have to think back to the marksmanship lessons their grandfather gave them.  Maybe they are a clueless lefty suburbanite who has to get out of their comfort zone and associate with an evil right-wing death monger instructor (hey, I know that guy) in order to actually learn to defend themselves from the zombies.  They may have psychological hang ups.  How should I know, it’s your character. Make them interesting.

Now as a gun nut, who has had success writing about the adventures of a gun nut, my character will be the kind of person who will spout off all sorts of interesting factoids and jargon. (don’t overdue it, Yes, I am guilty, but I’ll get to that).  If your character is not a gun nut, then they probably won’t pontificate on muzzle velocity and bullet drop of their rifle.  It’ll more likely be “This thing is heavy” or “Oww! My ears!” Stay faithful to your character.

Riot Nerd Weapon Speak

One of my first proof readers, John Shirley (also a gun nut), used the term “Riot Nerd Weapon Speak” to describe my needless info dumps that would cause most reader’s eyes to glaze over.  (believe it or not, the version of MHI you read was actually cleaned up quite a bit) So don’t make it boring.  That’s a fine line for some of us, because trust me, I could easily write six paragraphs describing how awesome a particular weapon is, but 92% of my readers will skim it.  Elmore Leonard (I think it was him, but I paid no attention in English) once said “don’t write the parts people are going to skip.”

Now, if you are posting fiction on the excellent creative writing section over on www.wethearmed.com or you got started like me posting an online serial at www.thehighroad.org then you can write for your audience, and put in every juicy gun detail you feel like. Just be aware that outside of the gun culture, some people are going to fall asleep.  This makes actually getting published kind of difficult.

Avoid info dumps whenever possible, unless you are Tom Clancy, and that’s what you’re getting paid for.  You don’t need to do a complete inventory of a character’s equipment before they enter the fight scene. This is not a role playing game.  And yes, I’ve violated this one, too. So if you’re going to do it, at least try to make it interesting.  Give the equipment information in little bits, interspaced with the rest of the story.  Don’t just hammer the reader over the head with a giant equipment list…

…Unless it is really awesome.  I’m not one of those people who gets hung up on “rules of writing”. That is crap for college professors and people on the internet who’ve never actually written anything.  If it is awesome, and your readers like it, write it.  I info-dumped the hell out of one gun in MHI, but Abomination is borderline a character. (and strangely enough, a really popular one). 

Details

Now this is the part that may require a bit of research. Some writers love research, some of us hate it.  I fall into the love it camp.  I read a four foot stack of history books before I wrote Grimnoir, and I probably still screwed stuff up. If guns are going to be an integral part of your story, then you may have to do some research.  The two webpages I linked to above are filled with great discussion and is mostly technically correct. (remember, advice on the internet is worth what you paid for it). 

Terminology needs to be as correct as possible, but keep in mind the character.  If the character is a hard core shooter, then they will never refer to a pistol’s magazine as a clip. They are magazines.  If they’re Sally Soccermom who just picked up a gun off a partially devoured cop and is fighting off hordes of suddenly (and mysteriously) ravenous squirrels, then she may very well need another “clip” . 

But that’s perception. Now let’s get to reality, and the things that regardless of character, fiction usually manages to get wrong.  Bullet impacts do not lift people up and throw them.  Any weapon that had enough energy to hurl the target backwards, would have so much recoil that it would launch the shooter in the opposite direction. When you shoot somebody with a pistol, you poke a hole in them. That’s it. They will not fly backwards through the air, through a window, do a flip, and catch on fire. (despite how awesome Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis was…)

Rifles and shotguns do more damage than handguns.  Anybody who has a clue, if given the option in a gun fight, will take a long gun or a handgun.  Anything with a stock is easier to aim than something without.  Cop shows where the cop shows he means serious business by opening up a case and strapping on ten different handguns… Crap.  Realistically, the case would open and there would be a rifle inside of it.

Most of the things people hide behind in movies will not stop a properly motivated bullet. Car door. Nope. Sheet rock. Nope.  That said, every little bit helps, but bullets penetrate. That’s what they’re supposed to do.

There are more than one kind of “bulletproof” vests.  The kinds that can be hidden under a shirt will only stop pistol rounds.  The kind capable of stopping rifle bullets have big ceramic plates in them and are very bulky.  Despite what you see on TV, there is no such thing as a cop-killer bullet.  Spraying your bullets with Teflon will not suddenly make them go through vests, but Teflon will make it so that your scrambled eggs do not stick to the pan as much.

Shotguns do not throw a boulder of death so big that you don’t need to aim. A shotgun still needs to be aimed.  Pattern size varies depending on a lot of factors, but across the largest room of your house, a buckshot pattern is probably only the size of a softball, unless you have a really big house, then it might be the size of a basketball. 

Despite all the cop shows that indicate otherwise, most states do not have any sort of gun registration.  This week on Crime Scene Undercover Special Prosecutors Unit. “The victim was shot with this bullet.” “Don’t worry, our giant super computer says that bullet was registered to Drake Del Fuego.” Dum DUM DUH!!!!!   Also, that whole thing with matching the fired bullets up to some giant database… It doesn’t work the vast majority of the time either.  But all the stuff that CSI gets wrong would fill a really big book, like frozen meat bullets… That’s just idiotic. Don’t get me started.

Most professionals keep a round in the chamber of their weapon while they are carrying it. Only in the movies does the hero pause to dramatically rack the slide of his pistol before heading into to the climactic battle scene.  “Wow! He means business now!” 

Some guns have manual safeties. Some do not. The vast majority of revolvers don’t. 

 Techniques for the Advanced Writer

Shoot guns.  I know that is kind of crazy, but if you’re going to write about them, you may want to actually try them. You might actually find that they are fun.  Plus, no matter how much somebody tells you about doing something, nothing will hit home like doing it yourself.  I promise that your scenes will be more realistic and visceral once you’ve actually done it yourself.

Techniques for the Super Advanced Best Selling Writer with a closet full of awards

Once you become an actual gun nut, you’ll find that you’ll be able to just look at a gun, and that gun will just want to tell you the story of the fascinating character that used it.  Rusty Winchester 30-30 with the stock held on by black electrical tape… The old man that used that gun has seen some things.   I see an old .38 Super Colt, and I think of a tough P.I.  chasing down leads in a seedy back alley. I see a beat up Inglis High-Power, and there’s an African mercenary who crossed a diamond exchange.  This only works with guns that have character of course.  Sorry, but when I see an HK Mk.23, I see some guy who drives a Hummer, who spends too much time on the internet, and has more money than sense.  And when I see a Desert Eagle, I see somebody who has played way too many videogames (probably calls it a Deagle), and if it is gold plated, I can’t see anything through the tears of sadness.   See?  The gun culture people got that, everybody else skimmed it.

Picking a particular gun for a character

In Hard Magic, (I’ll stick with the free sample chapters, because most of you have read those I’m guessing) I’ve got one character who buys her first gun.  She isn’t an expert. She knows zip about terminology. Her experience is using her Grandpa’s shotgun on crows around the farm. She buys a crappy little Iver Johnson .32 revolver because it will fit in her pocket, and it and a box of 50 cartridges is only ten whole dollars!  Her experience is limited, but she’s a very practical country girl, so she goes behind the store and shoots two cylinders worth of ammo at a stump to make sure it works. Faye is proud that she hit the stump. Mostly.

Then I’ve got another character who is a veteran and gunman. This guy is tough, practical, no BS, and has made his living by his ability to kick ass.  He’s not flashy, but he does appreciate, care for, and respect his hardware. Sullivan would be dangerous with any gun you put in his hands.  At one point his Colt 1911 is broken. He is bothered because the 1911 was expensive, and he is inherently cheap, but he immediately starts carrying a .38 Smith because it was available.  He’s not the emotional type.  The man loses a Lewis gun and doesn’t freak out. I’d still be depressed.

The kind of gun a character shows up with can tell you about them. From Dirty Harry’s  .44 Mag model 29, to James Bond’s PPK,  a signature weapon can say a lot about a character’s nature.

When I was last on tour with John Brown, he had just finished a thriller where the main character was an assassin who carried a Glock. John is not a gunnie, and he asked if that was appropriate, since the Glock is kind of the plain vanilla of the gun world.  In this case, you’ve got a guy who is all business, who is going to whack somebody, and then maybe have to ditch the weapon, and then go with another one that is exactly the same later. That actually sounds like a perfect character match to me.

The proper gun can flesh out a character.

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73 Comments on "Ask Correia 2– Writing gun stuff"

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Dillis
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Dillis
6 years 1 month ago
As an aspring author and confirmed hoplophile, your advice is spot on. Another good example would be the movie Quigley. Selleck’s character is a somewhat cold and reserved yet intensely disciplined and methodical man. His being a long range shooter makes sense, as does his clear affection for his Sharps rifle. He doesn’t care for the lack of precision and closeness involved with Colts. However, he knows how to use them very well. Similarly, Magnum PI (to stay with the same actor) uses the 1911 because it is the weapon he went to war with and thus has an emotional… Read more »
Ralph Hoefelmeyer
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Ralph Hoefelmeyer
6 years 1 month ago

Just don’t do what a close friend of mine, a fairly well know published hard SF writer did – Glock 19s don’t have safetys one clicks off.
Ooops. I still tease him a little about it.

Pete Sheppard
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Pete Sheppard
2 years 11 months ago

This can be a fun bit of gun trivia to throw in, if only to mess with the gun nuts 😉 — there *is* an aftermarket thumb safety for Glocks made by Cominolli Custom.
(To Larry) I just found your site; I devour your books, can’t wait for more! In the meantime, I am really enjoying this site! 😀

Montie
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Montie
6 years 1 month ago

Larry, that would be Model 29 not 629 (when “Dirty Harry” hit the theaters in 1972 Smith had not yet produced the .44 Mag. in stainless steel). This however, makes your point about putting in info dumps on things like weaponry, because someone will find a small error and pick it apart…just sayin’.

ScottTN
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ScottTN
6 years 1 month ago

lol, John Shirley and I go waaayyy back. Haven’t seen him in a bit, but I still count him as one of my best friends. I actually had to look around when you quoted him, because I SWEAR I heard his voice in that quote.

Good advice, every bit of it.

Dillis
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Dillis
6 years 1 month ago

Larry

I had an idea for a thought excercise for writers on the proper “characterization” of weapons. Perhaps from time to time you could toss out a weapon, and people could provide a short description of the character who would use it.

Then again, you may not want to do that here as it could become a clog on the blog.

the Northwestern Diamondback
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the Northwestern Diamondback
6 years 1 month ago

Dillis, that’s a pretty good idea, but they should each be on their own posts. Maybe start a new subforum at THR or We The Armed for it?

Just for the heck of it, I’ll throw one out… (note, the guns I’m describing have never actually been built)

Our UNSUB favors a Thompson, chambered for .50GI, usually uses drum magazines. Parkerized finish, stock removed. Also dual 6″ doublestack 1911s, left- and right-hand versions, same chambering.

Profilers, start your engines…

A.G.Morgan
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6 years 1 month ago

An old fashioned Gorilla who wears a fedora, suit, and tie.
Expects to be fighting large numbers of large foes, for whatever reason.
Likes customized firearms, and jazz.

Dillis
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Dillis
6 years 1 month ago
Not clogging up the blog is a good idea. That being said, our UNSUB is a character in an alternate universe where likely opponents operate in groups, are abnormally resistant to damage, or some combination thereof. The UNSUB may be either a large male or female as the weapon chamberings and weight indicate that the character is itself abnormally strong. This could be moderated somewhat by the possibility that 1) the character has a considerable amount of training and experience and 2) the Thompson is typically not carried but only brought along in vehicle or on special occasions. The character… Read more »
Dillis
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Dillis
6 years 1 month ago

To add to my reply, the character would likely be a Hard Magic version of Earl.

Hunters in the Hard Magic universe. Now that’s interesting. They wouldn’t have to be covert, but whether their pay would be impacted would be an open question.

IllTemperedCur
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IllTemperedCur
6 years 1 month ago

In his film criticism, Stephen Hunter has often written about guns relating to character. I believe that it’s in his book “Violent Screen”, but there’s one essay in particular that specifically addresses the issue. The thing that sticks in my mind is his analysis of Die Hard, where he contrasts the utilitarian Beretta 92 carried by the blue-collar cop, John McClane against the exotic H&K P7 carried by the classically educated European terrorist Hans Gruber.

jon spencer
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jon spencer
6 years 1 month ago

Please no smell of Cordite, unless one is using a pre WW-2 and more than likely a pre WW-1 firearm.

EJPedde
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EJPedde
6 years 1 month ago

I second that. One of the only two things in Collateral that bothered me was when the detective says that. And the Feds chambering weapons inside a moving vehicle.

Rick R.
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Rick R.
6 years 1 month ago

Although it’s a reasonably common saying, even amongst people who know what Cordite IS, and even more so amongst guys who may know guns, but don’t know Cordite.

RainyDayNinja
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RainyDayNinja
6 years 1 month ago

I just wanted to let you know that I’ve given MHI its own page on the TvTropes wiki. It’s a bit sparse on the tropes list, but I’m hoping someone besides me will come and help flesh it out; it’s been too long since I’ve read it (and I don’t have my own copy for reference), so I don’t remember a lot of the details. And unlike Wikipedia, I don’t think anyone will care if you edit it yourself!

Dannyboy
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Dannyboy
6 years 1 month ago

Good job on the TV Tropes page.

I’d help you out a bit, but I’m completely wikilliterate. 🙁

Fluffy
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3 years 11 months ago

I can help! =D

Joe in PNG
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Joe in PNG
6 years 1 month ago
A couple of other things… 1) Location, location, location. What guns are available in the story location, and why? Alaskans tend to openly carry large revolvers in heavy calibers. Why? Because of bears. People in the third world usually use AK’s. Why? Because the USSR dumped millions of them to just about anyone who asked. 2) Avoid the rare guns. There’s a whole lot of cool guns out there. And there’s guns that are cool, but there’s not a whole lot of them around. H&K G-11’s, Glock 18’s, Beretta 93R’s… the list goes on. Keep it real.
Dillis
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Dillis
6 years 1 month ago
Amen. I recall in the Deadlands series the main character used a LAPA bullpup with DA trigger, and a G11. Too bad neither ever made it into production. 😉 Clancy had an issue with this as well. He gave his characters Beretta 10mms in one book. In his defense, he was writing when the 10mm was increasing in popularity so, given his love of the Beretta, he figured a Beretta 10mm was a guarantee. Clancy was saved from additional “failures” by circumstances outside his control. In Rainbow Six and subsequent works, he introduced the MP10 (an MP-5 in 10mm) and… Read more »
FLUFFY
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3 years 7 months ago

And up here in Maine, we use stuff from world war 2, and ARs. But not AKs cause the ones up here are shit.

EJPedde
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EJPedde
6 years 1 month ago

Where can we who enjoy information dumps get a copy of MHI: Uncut?

the Northwestern Diamondback
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the Northwestern Diamondback
6 years 1 month ago

Ditto–us Abomination Builders need more gun-porn… er, I mean “specifications”… to build from… especially if I’m ever going to write the Abomination Cookbook.

richard mcenroe
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5 years 3 hours ago

The Abomination Cookbook: 176 recipes for hash and stew.

Dave Sohm
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Dave Sohm
6 years 1 month ago

It’s like when you watch a movie, then see the deleted scenes, and you say to yourself, ‘I can see why those scenes got deleted.’

The first newspapers in america were totally unedited. And they weren’t pretty.

I’ll bet Larry could do an info dump blog post if we asked him really nicely, we wouldn’t have drudge up MHI: First Draft.

Scott Deering
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Scott Deering
6 years 1 month ago

Thanks Larry. That is great advice.

-Scott

Dannyboy
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Dannyboy
6 years 1 month ago
Although the advice about overdoing the firearm info dump is sound, I have to make the observation that if it weren’t for the constant inventory and gun info scenes in the collected works of Jerry Ahern that I read as a teenager, I never would have become a gun nut and my life would be diminished in too many ways to count. For example, I wouldn’t have been carrying a gun on a couple of really nasty occasions that might have resulted in my being dead if I had been unarmed. So indirectly, Jerry Ahern saved my life. Thanks, Jerry.… Read more »
Carl
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Carl
6 years 1 month ago
I can definately see where you’re coming from on guns. I was taught how to shoot by my Uncle who was a State Parole Officer, and I still enjoy going out occasionally to kill me a bunch o’ them deadly paper plates; but about the extent of my knowledge is how to shoot and most .380’s feel better in my hand than most 9mm. That, and (at least according my Uncle) 9mm’s are designed to kill civilized Europeans while .45’s are designed to kill grizzly bears. What I am however is a Brown Belt in American Kenpo with experience in… Read more »
Nick Sharps
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Nick Sharps
6 years 1 month ago

Hey I got a question you can possibly write a post about, How do you write coherent dialogue? I’ve always had trouble when it came to conversations between two characters.

ScottTN
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ScottTN
6 years 1 month ago
Nick, go over it in your head. HEAR it. I’ve been told that dialogue is one of my strengths as a writer. You also have to be able to get into the part of the character to know how he/she/it speaks. Speech impediments, accents, ect can be fun as long as they aren’t overdone. I’ve got a Scottish character that most people crack up when reading his lines, but it would get old if he wasn’t a man of few words. Write it, then act it out if you have to. Now, I’m not yet published, so take it for… Read more »
LittleRed1
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LittleRed1
6 years 1 month ago

I have a character whose accent gets stronger when she gets especially angry. Since it is an odd accent, it adds to the “where exactly are you from and should I be getting worried about now?” factor. But again, it is used sparingly.

As Scott says, listen to people around you, to good characters in movies or on TV. One thing I’ve noticed is that people who know and work with each other a great deal talk less than others do. After a certain point you don’t have to talk, aside from the basics: “That one there?” “Affirmative.” Bang.

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[…] Granted, it’s not for a novel, but maybe you could get some gun writing advice from Larry. […]

Letrange
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6 years 1 month ago
Newbies point of view: I’m a canadian civilian type. But I have a friend who’s ex-artillery in the canadian army and a “bit” of a gun nut. He’s taken me to the range a few times. One time in particular was special and I got to shoot the following: Walther PPK (modified to make it legal in canada with a longer barrel – looks vaguely soviet like that) .357 Magnum .44 Magnum .45 Colt Single action replica (Think Peace maker) .45 Colt 1911 Auto (built in 1917) .45 Colt 1911 Auto (built in 1941) .22 semi-auto target pistol (no recoil… Read more »
Dillis
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Dillis
6 years 1 month ago

The 1917 built weapon was likely a M1911, while the latter was an M1911A1. The principal changes were to the ergonomics of the weapon rather than tolerances. M1911s were highly successful in the muck and mire of WWI and subsequent campaigns.

Neither weapon is capable of fully automatic fire without some serious (and generally illegal under US or Canadian laws). The Auto is just a common way of describing autoloading pistols.

Dillis
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Dillis
6 years 1 month ago

That should be “serious (and generally illegal under US or Canadian laws) modifications.” Personally, I blame BP for the typo. It’s getting the blame for everything else, so why not?

Letrange
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

grandfathered

Letrange
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

and yes the amount of paperwork was insane

Dillis
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Dillis
6 years 1 month ago

No doubt. The paperwork in the US is bad. I can’t conceive of what it’s like in Canada. As I said in my reply (erroneously tagged to the main thread), please post pics, videos, etc. That thing is exceedingly rare. Any background would be appreciated as well.

aczarnowski
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aczarnowski
6 years 1 month ago

It still sticks in my craw that one of King’s characters in The Gunslinger series carries a “Ruger 44 semi-automatic.” It’s a book called THE GUNSLINGER. NO such weapon exists! DAMMIT! Of course the series goes off the rails anyway in the later books but I was enjoying things until that paragraph.

So please future writers, if you are going to include details fact check each and every one. This will have the side benefit of limiting info dumps as well.

Dillis
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Dillis
6 years 1 month ago

letrange, your buddy has a full auto 1911? I knew they were out there (that was one of the reason for the NFA getting kicked off in ’34). If your buddy ever wants to make a gun nut happy, have him post photos of the weapon or (better yet) a video of it going full auto.

Joe in PNG
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Joe in PNG
6 years 1 month ago

Speaking of infodumps, there is a great scene in the anime “Black Lagoon”, in which one of the heroines confronts a neo-nazi. Said neo-nazi pulls out a huge custom Luger in .454 Casull and begins an infodump monologue about said Luger, with notes about how awesome he is for carrying it.

Our heroine uses the time to reload and then shoots the Nazi. After shooting him, she ask “Were you trying to sell me the damn thing?”

Zeonista
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Zeonista
4 years 5 months ago

Saw that one, too, loved it. That scene was the true illustration between the professional gunslinger (heroine Revy) and the wanna-be (Illinois Nazi). Despite the anime’s wanderings into Hollywood/Hong Kong action territory, there is sometimes some moments that acknowledge reality versus hype. IN another story, Revy sees some kids playing cops and robbers and is amused at the “shot” kids’ TV-inspired acting when hit. She then shows the kids what happens when a person really is fatally shot. (And she should know!) The kids don’t believe her at all; so much for realism. ^_^

Fluffy
Guest
4 years 23 days ago

And I remember hearing that Luger couldn’t have had .454 Casull, because the grip would be too huge to work with. The only thing more important than knowing guns is knowing your bullets. Getting every technical detail of your real-life gun (Or if you’re like me, the one you made up. It’s a big revolver, by the way.) is all well and good, but if the bullets aren’t right for whatever reason-too big, more powerful than they should have been, too obscure, gun isn’t chambered in that-it feels really, really terrible.

Nathan
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Nathan
6 years 1 month ago

Another thing to keep in mind that relates to your first “Ask Correia – Writing Stuff,” is that the narrator in a 1st person story may not know about the guns he/she is describing to the reader.

Ex: “The big mercenary flicked the saftey off on his blocky pistol he earlier referred to as a Glock.”

Sorry buddy, that was a selector switch, and your merc is ready to rock and roll. But you don’t know that because you are a tech weenie or something.

Robert
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Robert
6 years 1 month ago
You have a bit more leeway with describing firearms when you’re doing futuristic science fiction. You aren’t limited to current production firearms, and you can make some things up. However, it still helps to know a bit about firearms, first. Models, brands, and cartridges may change, but the basics won’t. For instance, quipping your giant (9+ feet tall) alien shock troopers with .90 caliber assault rifles (something that doesn’t exist today) is acceptable. A creature that size would be able to handle the recoil of a cartridge that big (a little bigger than a 6 gauge shotgun shell) without an… Read more »
Robert
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Robert
6 years 1 month ago

Dangit; that should be “thousandths of a meter” not “millionths of a meter.”

TimP
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Also consistency. I know you may not care whether your hero carries a Desert Eagle* in .50 or .375, but some of your readers do. Seriously I the hero of one book (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_Station_(novel)) I read ended up carrying at least two different variants of the Desert Eagle, maybe even three or four (it’s been a while since I read it).

* Let’s not even get into why a Marine Lieutenant isn’t carrying a M9 like he should be.

Britt
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Britt
6 years 1 month ago

Ha….Matt Reilly’s books are fun, and the Scarecrow is a genuine badass (along with most of the characters…at least the ones who live)…but he drives me up the wall with gun mistakes, and a general reflexive anti-Americanism that really turns me off.

Especially his new series, where a plucky band of soldiers from various nations gallivants around stopping evil Americans and evil corporations from getting their hands on powerful artifacts.

Still, his books are a lot of fun, perfect for the beach.

JohnD
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JohnD
4 years 9 months ago

They’re even better if you run out of toilet paper. I’ve got sick of his anti-USA/UK views, let alone his psychopathic elephant seals.

moose1942
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

Good write up Larry. One thing that annoys me is when someone horribly messes up something as simple as the number of rounds a weapon holds. Was Google was too much work for them?

Rick R.
Guest
Rick R.
6 years 1 month ago
Also — have a KNOWLEDGEABLE gun person (knowledgeable about that type of gun) proof any scenes where you are describing working the gun. Examples I have seen far too often in literature, TV, and movies — If you rack the slide and THEN eject the magazine (as I have seen in FAR too many cop shows and movies), you haven’t unloaded the gun — you stuck a round in the chamber, and then took the rest out, but it’s still loaded to go BANG once. (Do it the other way around — mag first, then slide, and it’s unloaded.) You… Read more »
Matthew Carberry
Guest
Matthew Carberry
6 years 1 month ago
On a different note. Not every book with guns or a gun scene in it has to be a “gun book”. In even a “normal” novel or story without an “action” theme guns may arise. Guns are used defensively in this country hundreds of thousands or millions of times a year, millions of normal folks own them and keep them for odd bumps in the night but aren’t “gun fighters”. That kind of casual, normal, competent, responsible ownership realistically should show up in more stories set in the US. The example that sticks with me is a scene in the… Read more »
T. M. Allard
Guest
T. M. Allard
6 years 1 month ago

Very interesting article. I disagree with you on one point: “gun nuts” are those who try to ban guns; those of us who appreciate the value of a gun are “gun enthusiasts”.

Scott Deering
Guest
Scott Deering
6 years 1 month ago

A New Writing Question:

Hi Larry. Here is a new writing question. What would be the best approach for writing about futuristic weapons (say 200-300 years in the future)? How does one figure out what those weapons would look like, act like, sound like, etc.? I look at authors like David Weber and can only shake my head at how they figure out weapon calibers, etc.

Are there certain limitations and factors to consider that would hold no matter when a weapon is designed?

Let’s limit it to “average” army weapons (e.g. pistols, assualt rifles, sniper rifles etc.).

Thanks,

Scott

TimP
Guest
6 years 1 month ago
The last 200-300 years have seen major changes to firearms, it would be very hard to work out what the next 200-300 years will hold. It’s possible we’ll just have fancier versions of what’s used Today, or we might have entirely switched to something completely new. Probably the most important part is to make sure the ergonomics of the weapon make sense. Some of the Star Trek phasers (I think NG) are examples of doing this wrong. They where shaped in such a way that it would have been almost impossible to point them with any precision. Obviously more relevant… Read more »
Dillis
Guest
Dillis
6 years 1 month ago
Beyond physics and the tradeoffs inherent in any man portable system, there are two questions I’ve found helpful when “designing” weapons: 1) what is the purpose of the weapon and 2) what kind of society/character designed it? In some circumstances, they are related. Is the society one where function, cost and simplicity the main goal? In that case, you might end up with something like an AK: cheap, shoddy to some, yet very reliable. The weapon’s purpose is to be sufficiently cheap to arm mass numbers, yet effective enough that it will do its job. Is the society one where… Read more »
Dillis
Guest
Dillis
6 years 1 month ago

By the way, here is an excellent site that goes into some of the issues surrounding sci fi weapons.

http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/rocket3l.html

Rick R.
Guest
Rick R.
6 years 1 month ago
Scott, I’ll second what everyone here has said about sci-fi guns. Note that energy weapons don’t have as MUCH recoil as a slug thrower of equivalent delivered energy, and anything that chucks energy without using a physical propellant pushing it will have less (the weight and speed of the powder charge has a tangible effect on felt recoil.) With energy weapons, there are two factors that can add recoil that often get overlooked. First, if you have a sealed tube (“barrel”) around your beam path (for example, to protect the shooter from side scatter, or give him a place to… Read more »
Rick R.
Guest
Rick R.
6 years 1 month ago
Typical hand-wavies that can get around serious energy weapon drawbacks. 1. “Wormholes, warp guns, and other shortcuts”. The beam doesn’t actualy travel through the intervening space. (Traveller RPG’s meson guns, the energy guns from David Weber’s Apocalypse Troll, etc.) No bloom, no scatter, no snazzy Star Wars blaster bolt searing a line in your retina back to the shooter. The energy just shows up on target. It can be remotely generated on target (for example, you could remotely open a really brief gate to a really energetic place, and make sure the gate just happens to coincide with the targte’s… Read more »
Rick R.
Guest
Rick R.
6 years 1 month ago
With slug throwers, it is important to realize you’re usually punching through an atmosphere. If your projo goes too fast, it will burn up. If your projo goes faster than escape velocity and you don’t your target (or the mountain he’s standing in front of), it isn’t coming back down. Slug thrower hand-wavies: It’s all about “felt recoil”. Recoil is basically the sum total of the kinetic energy (velocity squared, times mass, divided by two, or more conventionally MV^2/2) of EVERYTHING leaving the barrel, applied to the mass of the whole gun. Things get a little different as one approaches… Read more »
Rick R.
Guest
Rick R.
6 years 1 month ago
In the end, figure out what you want your guns to do, then invent a technological basis to allow them to work the way you intend for story purposes, then follow those rules. Aim to deliver at least as much energy to the target as modern guns do, and remember that energy weapons that travel to the target tend to have their primary effect on the surface of the target. If the target is meat, well, meat is mostly water — laser guns will make steam explosions, not surgical cuts. (Soil will also frequently go boom from steam explosions and… Read more »
saintonge235
Guest
1 year 4 months ago

Rick R.: Recoil is equal to the MOMENTUM (mass times velocity) of the projectile and propellant gases, not the kinetic energy.

Fluffy
Guest
4 years 23 days ago

Well, the ergonomics probably wouldn’t change much. I don’t find it very likely we’ll go from the AR and AK to energy weapons that look like this:

Matthew Carberry
Guest
Matthew Carberry
6 years 1 month ago
Scott, It’s all about energy generation and transfer, Physics 101 stuff. Gunpowder and bullets are a good balance of weight and portability for energy produced via chemical reaction with a reasonably effective means of transferring that energy to a target in a way to cause harm against most countermeasures. Thus a lot of mil scifi simply go to caseless ammo, or other upgraded but not revolutionarily different versions of modern small arms. If you go with energy weapons you either have to explain or handwave what is producing the power and then how that light/heat/plasma energy is sufficient to damage… Read more »
tlueckenhoff
Guest
tlueckenhoff
4 years 4 months ago

Well first sorry to say I do have a H&K .45(got a good deal on it used), and no I do not drive a hummer. I do enjoy the fact you know guns and are bringing some real knowledge to the genre. I also do like some of the humor displayed “suicide by accountant comes to mind” keep it up.

Moxy
Guest
Moxy
3 years 11 months ago
I’d like to see someone write a short but fun choose your own “Gun-venture” where different guns produce different results. For example, if someone starts attacking you with a “ballping” hammer perhaps you have a choice of a few – a pocket pistol like the Kel-Tec P3AT .380, an FN FNP .45, a Remington 870 12ga, a BCM 11.5″ SBR AR in 5.56, or the gun that will always defeat a “ballgping” hammer the HK VP70Z loaded with 18 BAT 9mm bullets and set for 3 round burst. You choose the 870 and the attacker closes the short 2 foot… Read more »
G Rich
Guest
G Rich
3 years 8 months ago

Just finished MHI and thought it a hoot! Permit me to correct a small point. The SPG 9 is actually a rocket launcher that looks like a recoilless rifle. I know this ‘cuz I trained up on one near Jalalabad. JANES Infantry Weapons claims the booster core is shot out with the rocket. No. One must extract that item manually. Shoots flat and fast as an RPG with the AT warhead. It is electrically fired via a magneto.

FLUFFY
Guest
3 years 1 month ago

“Only in the movies does the hero pause to dramatically rack the slide of his pistol before heading into to the climactic battle scene. “Wow! He means business now!””
…Yeah one more thing. Racking the slide of automatics like that to “look cool” causes bullet setback. And that’s pretty bad, especially with 1911s and hollowpoints.

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[…] SF writer who used to be a firearms instructor, who wrote his own blog post on the subject, “Ask Correia – Writing Gun Stuff,” in which he goes into more writerly detail about what kinds of characters are likely to […]

Eccentric Cowboy
Guest
2 years 2 months ago
I confess that I am one of those pathetic nerds who will drool over endless descriptions of character weapon load outs. Everything from John Benteen’s character Fargo in the book of the same name checking out his personal gear in an hotel room, to Matthew Quigley explaining his Sharps rifle to even Alan Quatermain talking about the elephant guns and repeaters he brings along during King Solomon’s Mines. For some reason weapon descriptions soak me into stories like portals like few other things do. Also, I may or may not have squeed like a little girl when first reading MHI… Read more »
David Mills
Guest
David Mills
1 year 11 months ago

Larry, I sent a message to your “other mailbox” that was writing gun related. then I stumbled on this. So a lot of the questions are answered. Heading over to the space guns area now.

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