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Writing Excuses 7.17: Guns and Fiction

Writing Excuses 7.17: Guns and Fiction


Key Points: If you want to write about guns, do your research. Think about recoil, heat, noise, smoke. Ammo! Guns do not jam just to cause hand-to-hand combat. Use the right gun for the period. Consider hearing damage! Accuracy can help you create dramatic tension.

[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, Season Seven, Episode 17, Guns and Fiction.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And we're not that smart.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Dan] I'm Dan.
[Mary] I'm Mary.
[Howard] I'm Howard.
[Brandon] And special guest star.
[Larry] I'm Larry.
[Brandon] Larry Correia, author of various sundry and awesome books, many of which involve people shooting other people and/or monsters. Larry, give us a quick update on what you've got coming out so people can know.
[Larry] My next book coming out is Monster Hunter Legion, which is the fourth book in the Monster Hunter International series. [Whoo!] Yup. That's going to be... Lot of face shooting in there. So, lot of guns.
[Brandon] Okay. Excellent. Excellent. By the way, we are recording at Life, the Universe, and Everything at UVU this time, so here we have a live crowd. Go ahead and make some noise. [Noise] we don't have signs this time. We really need to get them.
[Jordo?] We can get a whiteboard.

[Brandon] Yeah. We'll get a whiteboard and use it. The reason I want to do this podcast is because I recently wrote a book about people who shoot other people, which is a very different thing for me. Because I usually write books about people who stab other people, and/or blow their faces off with magic. So in doing it, I learned several things, which is that unlike magic, you can do guns wrong, and people know guns a lot better than I do. This led to some interesting times, after which I found an expert and had them read my book and tell me all the stupid things I did. You may not have that luxury as a writer, and so we have one of the world's foremost leading experts on what people do wrong in science fiction and fantasy when they write guns, Larry Correia.
[Howard] You qualified that pretty significantly after saying world's foremost...
[Larry] Yeah. I was a gun expert a long time before I was a fantasy writer. I wrote for gun magazines, and I was a firearms instructor for about a decade. Just kind of a general all-around member of the gun culture. Let me tell you, they get everything wrong in books. It's really awfully painful out there. We're gonna go through today some of those mistakes.

[Brandon] What we're gonna do, we're going to really talk about mistakes. Boy, you know what? I thought the people who told me I was doing stuff wrong with horses were hard-core. Oh, no no no. The people who know their guns are more hard-core, and they're armed.
[Larry] Yes. You see that's the thing, I'm very scared of my fanbase. My fanbase is awesome and terrifying.
[Brandon] Okay. So we're just going to start by having Larry tell us some of the big mistakes that writers make using guns in their fiction.

[Larry] First and foremost is people who've done little or no research on what guns are and how they actually work. It's really infuriating when you're a gun nut and it just kicks you right out of the story when you're reading. It's something so simple that literally a minute on Wikipedia wouldn't screw it up... Or would fix this problem. It's where you take... In modern fiction, it would be like taking a really common gun... Like, "Oh, he took the safety off his Glock." That would be kind of like saying that you got into your car by crawling through the trunk. If you know anything about cars, you'd be like, "Huh?" It kicks you right out of the story.
[Brandon] So, a Glock does not have a safety, is that what you're saying?
[Larry] A Glock does not have a manual thumb safety.
[Brandon] Okay. There you go.
[Larry] No, it does not. Most revolvers don't either. Robert Ludlum to the contrary, they... No, nevermind.
[Brandon] So most handguns, you're saying, don't have a manual on-off safety?
[Larry] Many handguns do, many handguns do not. It's really quick and easy to just go check.
[Mary] One thing. In my day job, I work in theater. I had to procure a Glock for a stage show. This was a 99 seat house. So, a very, very small house. When I was getting the gun, they told me that it had... That it ejected the shell casing in a 20 foot arc. Which you don't think about normally. This is not something that you normally think about, but in a 20 seat house... I mean in a 99 seat house, that meant that the shell casing was ejecting into the middle of the audience.
[Larry] Yeah, now, we wear safety glasses on the range for that reason. And it's hot.
[Mary] Yes. Even with firing blanks, which were one quarter charged, so not nearly the power, the sound and the heat of the shell casing was pretty impressive.

[Larry] Yeah, it's a considerable amount of energy. That's another pet peeve of mine, is writers who write gunfight sequences who have never actually shot a gun. It's very obvious when you read it.
[Brandon] Okay, but give me the specifics. I want to know the specifics.
[Larry] Okay, without naming names...
[Brandon] No no no no, not the specifics of people who do it wrong.
[Larry] For example, guns recoil. Guns have... There is a sensation when you shoot a firearm. If all you know about guns comes from watching TV and your writing recoil based upon what you see on TV, you either have not enough or way too much. When you're operating a weapon that's a manually operated weapon like a pump shotgun, you don't have a dramatic pause. Bang! Dramatic pause. Pump. No. Just pump the damn gun. Shoot the gun. Guns hold ammo. They do not hold an infinite amount of ammo. [Garbled-laughter] Guns do not jam when it is necessary to have a hand-to-hand combat sequence. It's actually... There was one particular novel, it was a military thriller, written by someone who should have known better but I'm pretty sure it was ghost written. In this book, three times in this book, this Navy SEAL had his weapon malfunction or jam and then was forced to go hand-to-hand kung fu fight against the bad guys. Three times! Get the gun fixed. Those are all pet peeves of mine. All these things are easily counteracted by just talking to a gun nut for 5 minutes, or having somebody in your neighborhood who likes guns take you to the range one time. You will be far ahead of most fiction writers.

[Mary] Well, you also need to make sure that you are using a gun that is correct for your time period.
[Larry] Oh, yes. Yes, I see this all the time where... Basically someone will see something cool in a movie, and they're like, "Ooo, that's a cool gun. I'm going to have this Winchester 1886 lever action in this 1850s period..." Well, I've seen movies at the Alamo where they're using Winchester lever action rifles. No, no. Actually, the battle would have been a lot more lopsided if one side had had repeating firearms and the other side had muskets. Once again, a little bit of basic research can fix that. If you're writing something like Steampunk or a historical novel where they're using pre-cartridge firearms, so things of that nature, muzzle loaders. Oh my gosh, you really need to do your research on that, because even if you know a little bit about modern guns, the technology and the techniques of old-fashioned firearms is drastically, extremely different than the manual of arms today. If you want to see just butchery, you read some Steampunk where they have muzzleloading firearms, even though you're riding around in a giant battle robot and a super zeppelin with a laser beam, you're still using a muzzleloader. It's like... I don't know why. But... Some basic research can see you in on the techniques. It actually makes for good drama. Once you understand the limitations of firearms and how to write them in your sequences, you can make your sequences a lot more interesting and believable by putting in those little tidbits. It's not just for the gun nuts, it's not just for the guys like me in the audience, but everybody will appreciate that attention to detail.

[Howard] I did a Wild West show for a while, and I had a 44 that was a black powder... Black powder 44. Most of the rest of the cast was using 22 pistols that had blanks. I got to be the sheriff because I had the biggest gun. But one of the things that we noticed is that every time I discharged my weapon, there was this massive gout of white smoke that took 30 to 40 seconds to clear up. If all of us had been firing black powder weaponry, within 30 seconds of the beginning of the gunfight, nobody would've been able to see anybody else. This is a detail that gets missed a lot when you're talking about black powder weaponry. It's smoky. The first 30 seconds of the fight, suddenly you have the fog of war quite literally.
[Larry] Sound is the other one people forget. Guns are extremely loud. You see this all the time in fiction where... I'm in a gunfight, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang... Now I'm going to hold a conversation. Really? Okay, in real life, shooting without hearing protection doesn't make you tough, it makes you deaf. Now hearing damage is permanent and cumulative, and it does happen. Usually what happens is... Under the effects of adrenaline, there are some protections to your ear where it will kind of filter out for you, but you are still doing permanent hearing damage. You see some of these fictional characters that in a book, they'll engage in six or seven gunfights per book for a 12 book series, and they still have all their hearing. No! In my thriller series, Dead Six, I have the main character by the second book, he actually has a hearing aid in one ear that he has to use in order to... In polite society, because he can't hear on one side of his head. Because in the first book, someone touched off a 44 Magnum next to his face while he was wrestling the guy. In real life, that is going to do severe damage to your ear. Guns are very, very loud.

[Brandon] Okay. Let's stop here for our book of the week, which coincidentally is by Larry Correia.
[Larry] Yay!
[Mary] Yay!
[Brandon] Tell us for 30 seconds or so about your book.
[Larry] Book number two in the Grimnoir Chronicles is called Spellbound. It out on audible, read by Bronson Pinchot.
[Brandon] Wow! Really?
[Larry] Yes. Extremely good reader. He did a phenomenal job on the first one. The book is an alternate history fantasy set in the 1930s. Kind of a noir pulp magical epic fantasy alternate history, gangsters, zeppelins, ninjas...
[Mary] So it has everything.
[Larry] It has everything and the kitchen...
[Howard?] Diesel punk.
[Larry] It's diesel punk. It is awesome. Men wore hats.
[Brandon] Howard, how can they get a copy of this book?
[Howard] Head on out to You can kick off a 14 day free trial membership and download Spellbound by Larry Correia, narrated by Bronson Pinchot at no charge.

[Brandon] Okay. Let's get into this. I want to dig into a little bit of the why should we care. You actually started this, Larry. I'm going to make Dan talk, because Dan has not talked very much yet. Oh, he's giving frowning faces. [Chicken gobbling?] Dan, why should we care?
[Dan] About accuracy?
[Brandon] About accuracy, about firearms? Why do we care if the three gun nuts... Besides the fact that they're armed, which is a good reason to care, but let's move right along... Why should we care?
[Dan] Well, one of the things that Larry said is that it actually can make the story itself more interesting. Another thing is just thinking about the realities of guns, whether or not your characters know them, the author thinking about them is going to end up with, in many cases, a much richer story. One of the things that I ran into with my Serial Killer trilogy is the character John Cleaver, he didn't know anything about guns. The first time he is confronted with a guy who has one, I... The first thing my writing group did was say, "Oh, he's just holding a handgun on him? Well, he's not going to be able to hit him at that range. He can run away." I thought, "Really?" So I had to look up what the range of accuracy of a handgun...
[Larry] It depends. Is it me shooting at you or... [Laughter]
[Dan] Yes. Handguns are accurate at a very close distance, and they start becoming very inaccurate the further away you get. Much more so than most of you are thinking. Yet most of you don't know that. So if someone pulled a handgun on you from all the way back here... [Silence]
[Brandon] Uh-oh. Dan's collar is covering his microphone.
[Dan] My collar is covering my microphone.
[Brandon] Dan, did you do that on purpose because you feel that you want us to take more of the limelight and...
[Dan] Yes. I just want to overshadow you all with the melodiousness of my voice.
[Brandon] Mary... Oh, he still has a point.
[Dan] No, the point I'm trying to make is... I still have a point, believe it or not. The point I'm trying to make is just because you as an author need to be an expert in the things... Topics you're writing about, doesn't make all of your characters suddenly gun experts. So you need to know your stuff, but they can make some common mistakes, as long as you know it, and do it on purpose.
[Larry] Yeah. It's the point of view... It's kind of the knowledge of the point of view character. It's like the Buffy syndrome, where the teenagers can all suddenly kung fu fight vampires because they teamed up. No, it's got to be based on your own personal skill, knowledge, abilities, and training.

[Brandon] Mary. You've got guns in your books?
[Mary] Yeah. In Glamour in Glass, which is set in 1815, it's a little more swashbuckling. So actually talked to some people who do black powder re-creation. One of the things that was interesting was I'm using a wheellock... Oh, shoot. This is going to be embarrassing because now I can't remember the word that goes after wheellock. Wheellock rifle? No. Wheellock... It's a gun.
[Howard] Wheellock thingamabob.
[Mary] It's a gun, and the wheellock part was the important part. Basically, it's a windup gun. It's slightly older. But it was a fancy innovation because it meant that you didn't have to try and light a fuse to make your gun go off. Because that was what predated that.
[Larry] Matchlock.
[Mary] Thank you. Matchlock, yes. That's why we have him here. I just needed to know this long enough to write the scene.
[Larry] I had to teach it to people, so...
[Mary] Of the things that was interesting about that... I wasn't going to use that initially, but when I was talking to the black powder people, they explained that one of the disadvantages to a wheellock was that it took a couple of seconds to go off. So you would pull the trigger and you would have to wait. It was like... That's perfect! If you're trying to get away from it. If my... If I got someone who knows that, that's a piece you can totally use. So that's one reason to try and be accurate is because it can give you a lot more dramatic tension than you would if you're just using it randomly. The other thing that I want to say is that if you are writing historical stuff, because there are so many people who are passionate about it, it is not difficult to find people who do re-creation staff who will let you come out and try their historical guns or just let you watch them shoot them off. Black powder weapons, in particular, in addition to the smoke at a full charge, the amount of heat that they kick out is pretty significant.
[Howard] Did you get to fire a flintlock or a matchlock?
[Mary] No.
[Howard] Yeah. What I found when I fired my first flintlock, which is where there is actually a little powder, a little tiny bit of powder in the pan right in front of your face, that the flint and steel hit? Yeah, that gun goes off, and you have to hold it on target while being blinded by this little explosion right in the middle of your face. Then the gun goes off, and it's big.
[Larry] Yeah. The reason the British stood in a big line and shot at people wasn't because they thought it looked cool. It was just that was the most effective way to make use of the firearms. Because... As an individual weapon, they had a long way to go before you could just start picking people off from behind cover.

[Brandon] All right. Let's have Larry... Why don't you take us out? I want you to tell us why you write about guns. What is it... It's kind of your thing. Why is it so important to you?
[Larry] Well, you always hear that thing, write what you know and write what you love. It's kind of my thing. It was my original target audience, was Internet gun nuts. They rewarded me. So I tried to write stories for their enjoyment. It's had a lot of good crossover. I've actually... I get a lot of comments from people who are not gun people, who don't particularly like firearms, but after reading my books, are like, "Wow, I really want a gun now. I really want a grenade launcher." I have done my job. [Laughter]

[Brandon] All right. Howard, you've got a writing prompt for us?
[Howard] Okay. Writing prompt. Give us a character who after reading one novel goes out and procures a grenade launcher.
[Brandon] All right. This has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses, now go write.
Tags: accuracy, guns, research
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