This is my
rifle, this is my gun. One is for
killing, the other’s for fun.
back there was a discussion on a page I browse semi-regularly. A few folks were moaning about the
overzealous use of firearms terminology in some stories. It can get frustrating and distracting
, I admit. There are writers
who feel a need to show off their knowledge by naming every single weapon,
component and accessory their protagonist or villain is using. Every time they’re seen.
I’ve heard for this, which I have to admit I love, is gun porn
question, of course, would be... is this a bad thing or not?
is one of those gray areas of writing.
It depends a bit on what the author’s trying to do. It depends on the character. Honestly, it’s a simple issue, but because
firearms tend to be a very divisive subject—where some folks love and worship
them to an almost obsessive degree and other folks hate and revile then to an equally obsessive degree—they get
brushed into their own special category sometimes in writing, even though they
don’t need it.
See, a pistol
or rifle is really just like any other object in my story. It’s a name, and there’s a time for proper names
and a time for pronouns.
To paraphrase the song, if every time Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla walks
into a room, Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla makes a point of patting the holster of
Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla’s Sig Sauer Pro2340 pistol and considers that now
maybe it’s time for Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla to draw his Sig Sauer Pro2340
William Clines will be putting that manuscript down pretty fast. Peter William Clines can tell you that much for
much rather read that when Rufus walks into a room he makes a point of patting
the holster of his pistol and considers that now maybe it’s time for him to
On the flipside,
I was watching an old giant monster movie the other day. Not one of the classy ones from Japan, but a
western attempt to cash in on the craze.
At one point, the characters are gathered in the war room looking at a
map of the city, trying to figure out if they’ll be able to stop the monster or
not. And the three-star general stabs
his finger down on the map and says “We’ve got to get it out in the open so we
can throw all our stuff at it!”
All our stuff...?
Timmy, just like some characters
, there’s going to be times it makes
perfect sense to write out the full name of a pistol, and some when it’s
perfectly fine to just call it “her pistol” or “his rifle.” There will be times when the full name of a weapon
is going to be a distraction more than anything else, but also
times that it’s going to seem silly and out of character not to use it. It’s important for me to remember that it isn’t
always about what I know or what’s right—it’s about what the character knows
and thinks is right. A trained assassin might see a Heckler
& Koch G36, but a schoolteacher's probably just going to see a big, scary-looking machine gun.
In my own
, Stealth is a deductive genius and a walking
Wikipedia. She’s Sherlock Holmes in
spandex and body armor. Early in the
book, when she first encounters the soldiers from Project Krypton, she immediately
identifies the exact model of rifles they’re using and realizes the unusual way
the weapons are being used. Yet in that
same moment, it’s clear St. George—a former maintenance guy—has no clue what
kind of rifles the soldiers are using.
Matrix sometime. Is that a love
letter to gun culture or what? And not a
single weapon is named in the movie. Not
one. The closest they get is when they
talk about the EMP they use against the Sentinel robots.
finished reading one of the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher, and at one
point Harry and his friends end up with a few pistols and shotguns. And that’s what they’ve got—a few pistols and
shotguns. Harry identifies one of the
pistols as a 9mm when he gets it, but that’s all the explanation we ever get.
have his double-barreled Remington 12 gauge, but most of us just think of it as
his boomstick. And that name really fits
with a guy who’s not too bright and making a lot of stuff up as he goes.
We all know
Chekhov has a rifle hanging above the mantle, and we accept that as sage bit of
writing wisdom. Yet who among us has
stopped to question what kind of rifle it is?
I’d bet a ton of money that nobody here has, because it’s just not
As a small
side note, I mentioned a ways back that this is a good rule of thumb for screenplays
. Unless it is
life-or-death important to the plot that the bad guy is carrying a Glock 34 9mm
with a custom rubber grip—I mean, the plot will collapse
if he doesn’t
have this specific weapon—then I’m not going to waste my words naming
weapons. When the movie gets made, there
are going to be prop masters and armorers who know much more about this stuff
than me, and they’re going to make good choices so we all look good. Until then, my characters can just have
pistols, shotguns, machine guns, and so on.
And on another
somewhat related note... a common criticism
I see is folks shrieking, “They’re
, not clips
!” This is
kind of the same issue as above.
Sometimes I need to make sure that the weapons are loaded with
magazines, but there are just as many times it makes more sense to call them
clips—even though it’s inaccurate. Yes, many
folks who knows their weapons knows the difference. If my characters don’t, though, then it
wouldn’t be that surprising for them to call that thing holding bullets a
clip. It’s been a common mistake for
almost eighty years, after all. In fact,
it’d come across a bit odd and fake if every non-soldier and non-gun-enthusiast in my story used precise firearms terminology
So here’s a
little suggestion I’ll toss out for you.
Maybe this’ll work for you, maybe it won’t. The next time one of your character pulls his
pistol or swings up her rifle, ask yourself this...
be as specific and descriptive with the weapon’s name if it was a bow?
lots of different types of bows, with many strings, grips, pulls, models,
extra add-ons, and so forth. That’s not
even counting the arrows themselves, and the different shaft lengths,
fletching, heads, and notching. Professional
archers are very specific about what they will and won’t use. So at this moment in your story, if someone
aimed their bow at your character... how much detail
would you feel compelled
answer is “not much,” maybe that’s a sign to rethink how much detail’s going
into that firearm.
courtesy of the Beatles, we’re going to take a little trip. Odds are you won’t enjoy it.