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Guns and Thrillers

... guns and thrillers go hand in hand...
Y
ou don’t need to write about guns to create an effective thriller, but it’s clear many thrillers include them for all the obvious reasons. What’s also clear, is if you write about guns and firearms in a way that is not consistent with experts in the field, you’ll hear about it. For example, don’t ever write a revolver has a silencer. It won’t work. Reviews on amazon.com frequently point out factual errors. So, unless you can strip and reassemble a pistol blindfold in ten seconds like those movie scenes, unless you can name all the parts of a handgun, know the terminology, you should avoid writing about them or, in my case, do some research.
My background with firearms is limited as in non-existent. No job or training ever exposed me to them. Sure I’ve seen them in movies and on TV, but they never run out of “bullets” and reading about weapons is different than watching them.

1. Courses, Clubs & Firing Ranges.
If I wanted to, I could have signed up for the courses one has to take to get a licence. Write the exams. Possibly pass. Join a gun club and eventually stand at some shooting range with a gun and hope I don’t lose a finger. I didn’t go that route. It’s not me. I have no desire to fire a gun, own a gun or even hold one. I’ll leave that to others.
An aside. Spare me the babble on protecting myself, blah-blah-blah. I’ve never been in a situation where a weapon would have made a difference and I’m still here. In one instance, in Africa, a soldier tried to intimidate me. He carried an assault rifle. The magazine probably held 30 rounds. One round would have been enough. I frozen like a rabbit. Paralyzed. Freezing was probably the best course of action. No shots were fired. Besides, it’s one thing to have a gun in a moment, it’s another thing to be trained to use it effectively. In most stressed situations, training is the difference because you go into action as if on autopilot. Thinking leads to mistakes.

2. Ask People.
Even in Canada, believe it or not, there are folks with guns. I asked police officers. They carry pistols in a holster on their right hip. They’d talked. I talked with a correctional officer, but surprisingly he had no training with firearms. I talked with a soldier in the Canadian Reserve Army (The Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada, Cambridge). Lots of valuable details on assault rifles and the like. I talked with various hunters who use rifles and shotguns. I even had a taxi driver volunteer answers when he overhead me talking.
I never once said I was a writer doing research. I simply asked questions and more questions until I ran out of questions. It helps if you’re both side-by-side on treadmills at the gym.

3. Mythbusters.
I love the show Mythbusters. I think it’s invaluable as a source for facts and ideas. I can think of several episodes that dealt with firearms. Myth busted.

4. Books.
I’ve read a number of books on firearms. The history and development. The gun manufacturers. The history of an iconic weapon: the AK-47. There’s no shortage of books on the topic. After about six or seven books, they all seem the same.
There’s also the fiction you read. Take note of what’s being written and not written. I find authors with military backgrounds write pages of details on this mortar or that rifle when a sentence or two would suffice, but that’s me.
An aside. For many reasons the AK-47 is an engineering marvel, but it is also one of the most lethal devices ever created.

5. The Internet.
Wikipedia has numerous entries on almost every possible type of weapon out there. The entries usually include detailed specs. For military weapons, you can even find out what countries use a particular weapon and their variants. Manufacturers, retailers and distributors all have detailed web sites. The NRA types have any number of web sites, podcasts and videos. Not sure how to strip and clean a pistol, watch a Youtube video.

6. The Irony.
After all that research, I keep my eyes open for anything new or interesting. What used to fly in and out now takes on new meaning. “Pass me a mag!”
Now, here’s the irony. While I have this pistol and those cartridges with that magazine in my first novel, it’s all rather generic and low key. I could have done thirty minutes of research and known everything I needed to write my story but as with most research, it sits somewhere in your brain or your notebook, not in your finished novel.
Posted 2011/09/17 at 14h35ET in Research, Writing.

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