Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Miswritten Gun

Akimbo Style gone crazy
By now, I hope you all understand how much I love reading and writing about action. What can I say, I'm a boy and my brain needs stimulation. I've written about fight scenes HERE, and then I did an ode to sword fighting HERE.

So I'd like to talk to you about guns. Yes. GUNS. If you are going to have a cool gunfight or two (or twenty) in your story, here are a bunch of things to keep in mind. Hopefully you won't make the common mistakes many writers commit when writing a gunfight.

1) The duel wield (akimbo style). You've seen this in The Matrix, Tomb Raider, Young Guns, and a ton of other cool movies where a character is holding two guns at the same time and using them simultaneously. Great for cinema (or comic books), but if you're writing an action novel and want some realism, don't include the duel wield. Even in the Wild West, cowboys might hold two guns, but only shoot with their dominant hand and then switch guns after they've run out of bullets. Modern soldiers might use two guns at the same time, but not to kill anybody. They'll use it as suppression fire only. In real life, duel wielding is not very accurate.

2) Cartridge or bullet. I've seen this mistake in a couple spy novels, actually. A cartridge is not the same as a bullet. The cartridge (or round) includes the bullet, gunpowder, and primer all in one nice package. The bullet is what actually shoots out of the gun. When you see someone firing a machine gun, for example, what you see raining down are the spent cartridges. In a revolver, the shooter must empty the cylinder of the spent cartridges before reloading. Oh, and three is a difference between a clip and a magazine too. A clip is that piece of metal that holds bullets together, so you can put them into a magazine, which is the box that holds the clip (connected bullets)

3) Silencers. Oh man, where to begin! I blame all the James Bond movies for this one. Look, silencers don't really make guns silent. At all. That high pitched puffft you hear in the movies is nowhere near reality. If you have a character in your book using a silencer, the shots will not be silent at all. A silencer will get the gunshot down to about 120 decibels. That's louder than sandblasting or a power saw.

I will point my useless gun at you!
4) The dramatic shotgun pump. You've seen it before, the character with the shotgun encounters the enemy and pumps (racks) the shotgun as a warning. The problem is, pumping the gun ejects the spent shell. And I've watched movies where someone with fire, rack the gun, do all kinds of dramatic maneuvers until they come upon the enemy only to rack the gun again as some sort of warning. But since they already racked the gun after firing, they've ejected an unused shell. Doh!

5) Run for cover. Car doors make very poor shields if faced with machine gun fire. But every cop movie I've ever seen exemplifies this myth. Oh, and regular plaster walls are not exactly great cover as well. Bullets ricochet, bounce, and skip all over the place!

Yo, you ain't gonna hit shit
6) Sideways shooter. Oh man, this one is too funny. If gangstas really do hold their 9 mm sideways, it's no wonder they suck at hitting their targets. Damn you Menace II Society, you trained a bunch of wannabes on how to improperly bust a cap.

7) Empty! if your character is using an auto/semi-automatic weapon, it will be evident when the gun is out of bullets. So don't have them be surprised when they go to kill their enemy, and oops, out of bullets. The slide on the gun's action locks all the way back and the gun "opens" up for all to see that it's completely empty!

8) Safety first. Revolvers don't have safeties. Not many semiautomatics do either.

9) Cordite. I've read many spy novels where the author describes the "cordite stench" or "cordite fog" after a gun battle. Well, cordite was used in guns back in the 19th century, and only for the briefest of periods. On an episode of CSI, a tech talked about the smell of cordite after a gun battle. Um, no. Probably not (unless the use of an antique gun is part of the plot).

10) Peter Pan. If someone gets hit with a bullet, they won't be violently hurled backwards into the air as if struck by a SAM missile. Once again, cinematic mythology. Even MythBusters shows that a 50mm bullet can't do it!

11) Bullet proof vests are not totally bullet proof. Nor will you be thrown backwards if you're wearing one and struck by a bullet. If you're hit from close range by AK-47s (i.e. Back to the Future), you will end shredded wheat even if wearing Kevlar.

Crocket kills the Big Wheel
12) Stance #1. Experienced gunfighters don't stick their arms straight out with their gun in hand in close quarters. If your character is doing target practice, sure. But in real life, experts hold their sidearms close to their bodies with arms bent. This stance is called the Center Axis Relock. (This is for more modern gunfighting)

13) Stance #2. 21 Jump Street and Miami Vice might say otherwise, but experienced pistoleers don't point their guns down at the ground with straight arms either, unless they want to kill ants or shoot off their own feet.

14) Kaboom! Shooting a fuel tank or any kind of pressured tank (with fuel, propane, oxygen, etc.) will NOT make it explode. Jaws, The Matrix, James Bond, The Bourne Identity - they're all wrong. It would take some sort of big spark, or better yet, fire to make that happen. Mythbusters busted this myth as well!


The Desert Rocks said...

Awesome post and full of technical details that I really think are fascinating. According to Clint the 44 Magnum was the most powerful handgun in the world. Is that still true?

Jay Noel said...

When Dirty Harry asked the punk if he felt lucky, the .44 Magnum was one of the most powerful handguns at the time, but even back then it wasn't THE most powerful.

These days, there's bunch of handguns with more power. Regardless, being shot at close range with a .44 Magnum will ruin your day.

David P. King said...

You do realize how awesome this post is, right? You've covered a lot of ground here that I've spent the last month researching. Got to do research when writing about zombies, right? Thanks for highlighting and clearing away the myths. I've shot duel pistols before. The recoil makes my wrists sore. And I couldn't hit a thing. :)

T. S. Bazelli said...

I love how you worked the Mythbusters in too. Great reference post!

Mark Andrew Edwards said...

Ahhhh, very satisfying post, Jay. :)

I think #4 might be wrong, though. Sarah was one-handed pumping after each shot, if I remember right, to clear the action and chamber the next shell.

Kelley said...

Wow...that's really all I can say. This was awesome. :)

Jay Noel said...

David: Thanks man! Duel wield looks cool on the silver screen, but not very practical in real life.

T.S.: Thank you. I'm a huge Mythbusters Fan.

Mark: Yup, you're right! Although she fired 7 times without reloading. I think I need to go back and fix my post - because I didn't explain the myth very well.

Jay Noel said...

Kelley: Thanks! I find research to be necessary if realism is important in a story. But hopefully we can all share our resources so we can borrow from each other.

Milo James Fowler said...

Jay, these are excellent points! Would you be willing to share this in a re-post at Write1Sub1? I'm sure our writers would appreciate the info. Tweet me @mfowler76 if you're interested.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

No double racking the shotgun - check! And really, how accurate could one shoot holding two guns?

Jay Noel said...

Milo: I just Tweeted you. I'm always open to sharing stuff with others.

Alex: Yes. Say NO to double racking! I have NEVER tried shooting with two guns. Although I do know others that tried it and said it was not only inaccurate and dangerous, but a little painful in the wrists.

Victoria Snelling said...

This is so helpful, thank you!

Tiyana, aka "Yoyo" said...

Way to set writers straight, Jay. ;)

Great post.

Anonymous said...

You're such a gun dream killer, Jay :)

As always very informative stuff.

Jay Noel said...

Victoria: You are so very welcome.

T: I figure someone will return the favor if I mess something up royally.

Riann: I know. And of course, the rules were made to be broken.

Phats said...

This was pretty cool especially since I know nothing about guns. Learn something new everyday thanks :)

Big four at Aussie Open I am rooting for Federer to take it

Roland D. Yeomans said...

This is an excellent post about firearms. I smiled when I read about the duel weild. The undead Texas Ranger in my novels uses it, but he cheats in that he slows time down -- and he was born in 1799 where each shot had to count.

The smell of cordite is familar to him as he uses twin Walsh Navy Colts -- only .36 caliber but 12 shots -- It looks somewhat like a Colt Navy, with no topstrap and hinged loading lever; but with the long superimposed charge cylinder and a prawl at the top of the backstrap.

They never caught on (maybe because the idea of superposed rounds sounded like a better idea on paper than it was in reality.)

Samuel McCord treasures his. They are antiques -- as is he, dented but still capable of dealing death.

I followed over from THE DESERT ROCKS and am now a new follower, Roland

Dafeenah said...

I recently read something similar in one of my "literary" online magazines aka cracked lol but it's still just as funny. Although if you actually did write it properly in your book you'd probably end up with people complaining about how you did it "wrong" just because "it's not that way in the movies" lol

Ciara said...

Great information. I'm having issues on what type of gun. Research contradicts. Yes, I'm experienced with firing guns, but not familiar with types of guns.

Jay Noel said...

Phats: I'm picking Nadal to beat Murray. I think "The Joker" is having a little health issue right now.

Roland: Thanks for visiting! And those Walch revolvers are gorgeous guns. They came in a 10-shooter as well, I thought.

Dafeenah: Yup, you're probably right!

Ciara: Research is very contradictory. I'm far from a gun expert, but I know a few people who are that I run to if I have questions.

Rusty Webb said...

Didn't Mythbusters do one where they shot a gasoline trail too. That one actually kinda worked didn't it? I can't remember. Good tips all. I've read from several authors that have said that their improper use of gun terminology or use has gotten them called out more often than any other error they ever make has.

But still, I'd rather call it a silencer than a 'slightly less deafening-er.' That just doesn't roll off the tongue the same way.

Jay Noel said...

Rusty: They ignited a gas trail, and showed that it was a myth. Blowing up a car by shooting it's gas tank was slightly plausible (using tracer bullets).

How about a "gun quieter?"

Henry said...

You raised good points here. I agree. Most movie reviews I have read contain lots of errors in portraying a fight scene. Editors should have corrected those. Or at least visit a gun shop first and be tutored on the technicals.

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