If you write, then you research. You just can’t do one without the other. You simply can’t know all the little details that add that touch of realism and verisimilitude to your fiction. But there are some aspects of the real world that often get stretched or outright broken on a regular basis in popular fiction. One of the big ones is weapons: guns, knives, swords, and so on. It’s pretty easy to understand why. Most writers (and most people) these days just don’t have much practical experience with weapons, and the majority of their exposure to them comes from movies and TV, which are almost always wrong.
So, what is a beleaguered writer to do when he or she needs to arm her protagonist and make it sound halfway believable the character (and the writer) knows which part of the gun is the dangerous end? Well, you could spend hours on Google, looking through the hundreds and thousands of websites on the subject, never certain you’re getting correct information, or you could buy this book: The Writer’s Guide to Weapons.
I stumbled upon this little gem at Barnes & Noble a few days ago, and it was an instant purchases. Now, I know a fair amount about historical weapons, primarily knives, swords, and other melee-type implements from years of writing fantasy fiction (and the research that goes with it), plus two decades of SCA and other full-contact medieval recreation sports, but there are still big gaps in my knowledge, especially when it comes to firearms. This book fills in some of those gaps nicely.
So, what’s in the book? Well, it’s broken up into three parts: firearms, knives, and general info and debunking myths about weapons. One of my favorite parts of the book is the fictionalized examples of right and wrong use for each weapon. It really helps to visualize how the weapon works. There’s also a very handy guide on matching the right weapon to your character based on information like the character’s physical attributes and role in the story. Admittedly, this book has a heavy focus on firearms, though it does include some good info on modern knives. It does not cover swords, axes, maces, and other medieval weapons, so it might be of limited use to the fantasy author, but for the horror, thriller, and mystery writer, it’s definitely worth a look.
Here are some examples of questions–which invariably pop up when writing about weapons–the book handily answers.
- What is the difference between a clip and a magazine?
- Why would you “saw-off” a shotgun, and how does that alter its effectiveness?
- Do silencers really “silence” a gun?
- How easy is to kill someone with a firearm under different circumstances (range, body armor, type of weapon, etc.). Hint: it’s a lot harder than you think.
- Can a machete chop through a car roof? (I mean, who doesn’t need to know this?)
This book is not a comprehensive encyclopedia of firearms and knives, and if you’re writing the kind of book that details each and every weapon in exhaustive detail, this likely isn’t the book for you. But if you’re a writer who has only a vague grasp of pistol, rifles, and other things that go boom, The Writer’s Guide to Weapons is a fantastic reference that can help you add just enough detail to make your gunslingers, knife-wielding thugs, and mafia hit men a little more believable.
Do you know of another good resource on this subject? If so, please share it in the comments.