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Oh, Shoot!

Authors should accurately describe the characteristics of the weapons used by their characters.

“They ducked as he sprayed another round of bullets from his gun.”

If I’d read that sentence a few years ago, it wouldn’t have registered as incorrect. But things have changed. When we moved to Texas, I learned to shoot. I’m not an expert by any means, but I do like going to the target range with my .22 Mosquito. At present, my marksmanship skills equal Scarlett O’Hara’s: “I can shoot straight, if I don’t have to shoot too far.”

It’s important for writers to accurately describe the characteristics of the weapons used by their characters, and I’ve discovered that not all authors take the time to learn the rudiments before they write cop stories or thrillers.

For instance, I know that a round is one shot. Not all the cartridges in the magazine. So you can’t “spray another round” of bullets.

It’s a magazine in my .22. Not a clip. A magazine is like a big Pez dispenser. It’s not all that different from the cylinder in a revolver, except a cylinder is round. Not shaped like a Pez dispenser.

Tommy Bailey, my hero in The Resistance Series, knew next to nothing about guns at the outset of the story. He had to learn about the weapons with which he came in contact, and I was learning right along with him. I wanted his first experience firing a gun to be honest. So his first experience was very much like my own.

In the second book in the series, Resist, Tommy learns that single-shell bolt action rifles are cool. I learned that from my best friend’s son, who is an Eagle Scout.

Did you know that with a semi-automatic weapon, you still have to squeeze the trigger every time you fire a round? A lot of the folks in the media who report on gun-related issues don’t seem to realize that. (My .22 Mosquito is semi-automatic, and it’s kind of a chick gun, as guns go.)

My daughter Keri was sixteen when she went to the range for the first time. She told me how it felt to fire the first shot: “It was an explosion. Fire came out of the gun. I wanted to set the gun on the shelf and curl up in a ball in a corner and cry, it was so scary. But by the time I finished the rounds in that first magazine, I liked it.” She brought home her paper target and proudly hung it on the wall in her bedroom, a symbol of her accomplishment.

At a book signing for another local author, I spent some time in conversation with a gentleman who works as an independent editor. He lamented some of his clients’ complete ignorance of guns and other weapons, and described how one client insisted on bestowing his protagonist with a revolver with an 18-round cylinder. The editor shook his head. “I mean, it wasn’t like it was a science fiction story or anything. It was a period western! There’s no way—no way—a revolver could ever have an 18-round cylinder. Do you know how huge it would be? How much it would weigh?”

He expressed equal dismay over another client, whose protagonist, in due course of chasing a bad guy through a house, had a weapon that morphed from a revolver to a .45 to a shotgun. When the editor questioned him, the writer was indignant, claiming that the editor was “messing with the existential nature of the story.” Shoot…


  1. Tracy Lawson says:

    Thanks to my buddy Rob Harper for the link below. There IS a three-chamber 18 shot revolver!

    It appears my editor acquaintance might owe his client an apology.

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