Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fiction Writers Need to Know Their Weapons

Weapons seem to show up a lot in fiction. Of course weapons are common in westerns, crime fiction and often in fantasy and science fiction, but even if you're writing romance, there's often a sword or a knife or a gun that shows up somewhere along the lines.

When you are writing about a weapon, you need to know what you're talking about. I'm not suggesting you have to go out and buy the weapon and practice with it for weeks and weeks (though that's not a bad idea), but you should at least have some general knowledge of the weapon. And if you can have some practical experience, all the better.

See, if you don't know what you're writing when it comes to weapons, there will be plenty of readers who do. And when you make a mistake, those readers won't be afraid to point it out in e-mails to you or worse, in reviews.

Of course you can keep your descriptions and uses of weapons in your fiction to a minimum. That helps if you don't know what you're doing. Sure, you can call a sword a sword and a handgun a handgun. Or a rifle a rifle or a shotgun a shotgun. But even then, do you know the differences between a rifle and a shotgun? Many people do, but not everyone. You need to. For example, a shooter is not going to be able to hit a target 500 yards away with a shotgun. Why not? You need to find that out.

Do you know the differences between a revolver and a pistol? If the answer is "no," then you probably shouldn't be writing with a pistol or revolver involved. Why? Pistols and revolvers work mechanically in quite different ways, though I'm not going to get all technical in the limited space here; at the least you need to do a little investigating online. But I'd suggest you need to do more than that. If you're the type of person who doesn't want to be around firearms, maybe you are even afraid of the things, you could talk to a law enforcement officer or maybe go to a gun club or gun shop and talk to some folks there. Don't worry. Gun people always like to talk guns.

There are also issues of history to be considered. When is your story taking place? And where? Semi-automatic pistols weren't around in the Old West, at least not until the very end when the West was becoming quite tame, and even then the pistols often didn't work as well as the ones of even a few years later.

Or maybe you're writing a fantasy story, and you're thinking none of this matters because your world is filled with magic. Well, let's say your hero or heroine wields a sword. Do they do so one-handed or two? Oh, you don't think it makes a difference? Really? Have you ever tried to lift an eight-pound sword with one hand? And don't think that just because it's eight pounds (about the weight of a light bowling ball) that it won't be heavy. All that weight isn't packed into a small space (like the bowling ball), but is spread out over this really long hunk of metal that can be quite sharp. And then there's the question of how does your character carry around that big sword all day. On his or her back? At the hip? Believe me, it gets tiring carrying around a sword all day, especially if you're not in shape. And I'm not even going to go into wearing armor. Also, don't fool yourself that a smaller sword will be easier to deal with; different swords have different strengths and weaknesses, and often different uses depending upon the age of the society where the sword exists. For example, different types of swords were used and were needed in ages where heavy armor was more the norm on battlefields than in cities of later ages where gentlemen carried a blade but there was no armor.

I'll repeat, you don't have to be an expert. All that research would take away from your writing time. But you don't want to look a fool to your readers. If your stories included weapons, know what those weapons can do and how they work and how they were used. Your readers will know. And so should you.

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