Friday, May 14, 2010

Guns in Books.

Once upon a time, I let friend Marko read a bit of something I'd written. At one point in the piece, the protagonist handles a gun:
Driving back to the all-night diner, he pulled the SIG autopistol from the glovebox and, after checking the load, stuffed it into the waistband of his cutoffs, tugging his shirt down to cover it up.
Marko noted with approval that the passage did not read
Driving back to the all-night diner, he pulled the SIG P-229 in .40S&W from the glovebox, slightly retracting the forged, Nitron-finished slide to see the glint of brass, reassuring him that the 165-grain Winchester SXT was in the chamber. Slipping the piece into his Alessi CQC holster, he tugged his shirt down to cover it up.
Which, while it would pad out the word count for the check from the Men's Adventure novel publisher, would obviously put the story in the category where the protagonist spends all his time grinning wolfishly before either busting caps in improbable numbers of bad guys or ravishing assorted heroines who, for all their alleged skills and supposed romantic attractions are constantly in need of rescue and possess marginally more fleshed-out personalities than fembots.

Friend Staghounds, in the comments to the previous post, complains legitimately that...
Characters drive generic cars to fungible houses wearing undescribed clothes, but every weapon gets a description Sotheby's would reserve for the Pollock on the catalogue cover.
And as a quasi-literate gun nut, I have to agree. Look, if you want verisimilitude, feel free to throw in a brand name or two; make sure the caliber, if mentioned, is correct for the gun and use; maybe even have your character reload at some point; but please don't let the action and character development bog down in a sales brochure for the latest product from HK or Bushhamster, okay?

32 comments:

J.R.Shirley said...

True enough. If the name is well known enough, I might just use it alone: "He pulled his Colt 9mm from his glovebox and slid it in his waistband, pulling his shirt-tails down to conceal the black steel and wood handle."

John Peddie (Toronto) said...

Wonder if there would be "product placement" fees attached to such stuff.

Irreverent-sorry!

Anonymous said...

As a gun nut I object to keeping a pistol in your glovebox. The pistol should be in your holster, horsehide, Milt Sparks.

Shootin' Buddy

Boat Guy said...

Not sure which is worse; excess "verisimilitude" (love that!) or the fairly common "snicking off the safety on his Glock" or the ever popular device of the female protagonist who can't get her revolver off safety in time...
Yeah I know among certain "pointy-headed eastern intellectuals" revolver is a synonym for handgun and there may het be a few of the Euro-type revolvers that actually DO have manual safeties; still...

Tam said...

"Wonder if there would be "product placement" fees attached to such stuff."

Doubtful.

One noted action hero's favorite weapons were a pistol by an out-of-business company and an unobtainium imported maschinenpistole. Classic gun nerd stuff...

Tam said...

SB,

"As a gun nut I object to keeping a pistol in your glovebox. The pistol should be in your holster, horsehide, Milt Sparks."

This is a story, not an Eddie Eagle brochure or class notes from Thunder Ranch.

Lewis said...

Six comments and no direct reference to Jerry Ahern yet. I is surprised. (I suspect Tam was referencing Ahern, who I regard as the prime malefactor in this regard.)

Rustmeister said...

I agree 100%. If you are going to get into detail, do it beforehand, a la Q and James going over the latest gadgets.

J.R.Shirley said...

(My Commander has a custom finish and is indeed black, not blue steel.)

Kevin said...

Yeah, but when Larry Correia does it, it's COOL!

Martin McPhillips said...

Are my phones tapped? This post is almost a conversation I had with Beck the other day. When I'm writing a particular type of story, I'm very aware that I cannot write as fast as the reader can read, so I pause only briefly to consider whether more detail is needed at any given moment and usually go with the less is more, addition by subtraction policy. So, plot and attitudes and object relations are constantly thrusting forward, such that when things are rolling the physical details are left to the reader's imagination. Although I agree that a brand here and there is called for, and maybe I shouldn't have kept that as a private matter for the characters in recent work.

Tam said...

Lewis,

"(I suspect Tam was referencing Ahern, who I regard as the prime malefactor in this regard.)"

If I'd been referencing Ahern, I would have been talking about "A pair of .45ACP Detonics Combat Masters, Metalifed for corrosion resistance, in a custom horsehide double Jackass shoulder rig. In his boot top was an A.G. Russel 'Sting' knife, which he drew ans he gazed, steely-eyed and square-jawed into the distance, while grinning wolfishly." ;)

Tam said...

Martin McPhillips,

"Although I agree that a brand here and there is called for, and maybe I shouldn't have kept that as a private matter for the characters in recent work."

It's the kind of subtlety that can convey volumes with very little being said if done right. To a large subset of readers, using the right brand name in the right place can subtly flag a character "fed" or "operator" or "cop" or "old-timer" or "punk" without having to wax encyclopaedic about either the piece itself or the character holding it.

RevolverRob said...

Corriea just wrote a very similar blog post. The only thing he added to it, that I thought was quite important, was you can describe a weapon/car/motorcycle/knife, if you write it as part of the plot.

For instance, a character in my current short story carries a highly fictional 1911. The gun is very cool and special enough to warrant description. However, I didn't describe it fully, until somewhere along in Chapter 2, when another gun nut asks him about it.

-Rob

WV: Sperm...no seriously.

Lewis said...

Tam, you left out a bit.

The Detonics were loaded with 185 grain Silvertip jacketed hollow points that left the stubby three and a half inch barrel at 1100 feet per second.

Joanna said...

which he drew ans he gazed, steely-eyed and square-jawed into the distance, while grinning wolfishly.

I LOL'd and LOL'd and LOL'd.

Bushhamster: the killer rabbit's African cousin.

Anonymous said...

Hunting magazine stories are just as bad. My old favorite Safari Magazine had stories written by folks about hunting in far away places.

Now it reads like a shill rag for the hunting industry.

I slipped on my Remington Tropical Jockeys Shorts in Moss Oak Junglefloge....

Gerry

Ed Rasimus said...

Personally, I like somewhere between the two narratives--the first is too generic and leaves me thinking the author is relatively clueless, gun-wise, the second that he's trying to over-dazzle with detail.

People read an author because he/she has credibility. I spent more time with Vince Flynn books when I encountered the hero getting his equipment from Larue Tactical. It was a throw-away mention but it linked me up.

I write about fighters and put enough in to lead the reader into the world but not so much as to leave him lost and confused amidst the jargon. It's a fine line to walk. My wife always says it is too technical, my aviator friends always say it is too basic. Must be just right!

Ken said...

POV matters too (though most of my reading experience in this area is omniscient narrator). A knowledgeable person might know that the bad guy was holding a Glock 22; a less knowledgeable person might see "the thug was holding a blocky, slab-sided flat black pistol. Sideways."

One of the better tossed-off descriptions I read was in an otherwise unremarkable sci-fi novel called Medusa's Children, in which the author described the protagonist's rifle as "a twenty-second-century copy of a fairly serviceable twenty-first century Armalite," or something near to that.

Anonymous said...

I'm of the less is more school of thought. Recently I quit reading a book due to horrible sloppy errors. If the so-called author had simply glossed over the details, he would have been OK. Instead he was too lazy to do some basic fact checking. Ruined the book for me.

Al T.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure which is worse...too much description, or complete failures in terms of anything regarding accuracy...like Glocks going 'Click click click' when they're empty...or being cocked to make that oh-so intimidating 'clickCLICK' noise...or flipping the safety off of an issue revolver.

Martin McPhillips said...

@ Tam--

I was ready at points to go with more detail on the weapons, the way, as Ed Rasimus points out, Vince Flynn does, but I chose to be parsimonious with my first-person narrator's field of attention (Flynn's books use the more typical for thrillers third-person omniscient narrator, who can by definition know everything, including things that are not immediately on the mind of a protagonist). But I don't have my narrator describing shoes either; so in her rush to tell the story a 9mm is just a 9mm and a shoe is just a shoe. But I wouldn't necessarily stick with that in the sequel.

@ Ed Rasimus

In Palace Cobra, I thought you had the detail levels just about right. It was the juggling of technical flight factors as they melded with the experience of combat that pumped serious steroids into the reading experience, and that's not a metaphor. The book has a physical impact.

Hypnagogue said...

Wait. He managed to cram a Sig into his waistband? I call shenanigans. If you had said "brick" I could believe it, but a Sig isn't quite as svelte as a brick.

D.W. Drang said...

Spent an enjoyable hour or so at in (I think) South Bend in which Bob Asprin (pbuh) spoke of writing fight scenes. His bete noir was a book he did not name (but I suspect was Brian Dailey's Doomfarers of Corimonde) in which "the author" went on at length into technical details of swordfighting, using fencing terminology for rapier, not actual, you know, fighting technique...
I hadn't even started my career as a failed writer at that point, but that was my first clue that just because I find it interesting, does not mean it belongs in the story.
"What pistol is that?"
"Glock."
"Looks funny for a Glump."
"Yeah, the Department had an after-market safety added."

Lewis said...

If we're going to praise the bad apples in the barrel, shouldn't we also praise the good ones? I've always thought Stephen Hunter got the balance about right.

Ken said...

Praise the good ones? In the words of the noted (and heavily armed) philosopher Jayne Cobb, "When's that get fun?" ;-)

(I keed, I keed.)

Cargosquid said...

I'm just tired of authors that use Glocks in their stories because they are familiar with the name and it sounds "cool" and then proceed to put safeties and hammers on them.


Both times I've emailed the authors I get back, "artistic license."

But it was cool that they did email me back.....

Buffboy said...

Or you could be like Larry Niven and be hopelessly enamored with the gyrojet. A one man advertisement for that he was. Just goes to show even relatively popular authors can't save a bad product.

Les Jones said...

Related:

If all stories were written like science fiction stories
http://www.shrovetuesdayobserved.com/flight.html

staghounds said...

Thank you for the reference.

I suppose it's a useful indicator of to whom the work is meant to appeal, at least in second and later works.

It's interesting to see how this varies over time. Robert Smith Surtees describes his hunting porn characters' clothing and hairstyles in excruciating detail.

Commercial branding of products on a nation wide basis was pervasive in the U. S. by 1900. It's not difficult to find 19th century novels talking about Colts and Winchesters. But that seems to be the only branded goods referred to- the Virginian doesn't dig with an Ames, lunch on Bent's, or check the time by his Waltham.

Cars seem to have been the only exemption from the no brand convention.

As far as I know Steven King was the first author to permit a non-vehicular, non-gun product brand name into his pages.



It made such an impression that almost every review of Carrie and 'salem's Lot mentioned it, and we've been adjusting balance since.

There's a n English dissertation in there someplace.

Brian J. said...

Less brand name and even less technology-jargon is better in any story. Otherwise you get thrillers where, if you read them 10 years later, talk about dialing up the Internet and Netscape to hit AltaVista to run a search on a suspect.

If there's going to be the equivalent of a midlist in midcentury, you're going to want to avoid stamping your work with an expiration date.

And just so we're clear, I know they're Harlequins for Men when I'm reading them.

J.R.Shirley said...

It would be better to say little about firearms than to absolutely futz. I stopped reading Robert Ludlum after he spoke about Bourne "jamming a banana mag" into an Uzi.