Monday, February 8, 2010

On Hitting Your Target

Sorry today's post is late, kids. Today I had a long lunch at my local rifle range with an antique Russian Mosin-Nagant, the latest addition to my budding WWII milsurp rifle collection. So, while I was sending my fifty year old Bulgarian surplus ammo downrange and giggling like an idiot at the fireballs the Mosin produced, it got me thinking about guns and writing about them.

Now, everyone has something they know all about. A friend of mine's father is a very highly respected biologist and professor at the University of Michigan who can't watch the Lion King because he can't countenance giraffes bowing in deference or supplication to lions. I myself foam at the mouth when I see something about motorcycles (Wolverine) or photography (Bladerunner) misrepresented in entertainment media. Mostly because I'm an anal-retentive pedantic mouthbreather. Anyway, one of the things most misrepresented, especially in fiction and especially in RPGs is the care, use and feeding of firearms.

I'm not suggesting you go out and become a ballistics expert just to toss a handful of small arms in your game, but let me tell you writers, if you're going to make a point of something get your facts straight. Read some books on modern firearms, like Jeff Cooper's "The Art of the Rifle". Get to know the difference between semi-automatic, automatic and an auto cannon, and the difference between a machine-gun and an assault rifle like the M-16 or any AK pattern rifle. Learn why a clip and a magazine aren't the same thing, and don't get them mixed up. Do a little research on what cops and G-men and soldiers carry. You'd be surprised at how many people think that cops still carry .38 revolvers as a standard sidearm, a fact they surely gathered from old reruns of Hill Street Blues.

If you've never handled a firearm, and I bet a lot of you haven't, I recommend you go to your local rental range/gun store with someone trustworthy and get yourself some range time. Shoot and clean a bunch of different pistols and rifles, and above all learn how to respect and be safe around firearms. Not only will this make you a better writer and game designer, since this allows you to inject some of that verisimilitude I'm always going on about, but it's also a great way to waste an afternoon. These are all little things you can drop in a story, like the flat thump of a shotgun, the clatter of ducks taking flight and the smell of gunpowder drifting over a foggy marsh at dawn or the patina a rifle stock develops over years and years of handling. Details like this draw your readers deeper into the story, they bring things more vividly to life, and they make you a better story teller.

PS: Because I'm all agog about my new Russian bolt gun, here's a picture of my lunch date!


Anonymous said...

I support this concept.

I also suggest that authors try a little paintball or airsoft, if they don't have anything close to actual combat experience to draw upon. You'd be amazed how many simple things become nearly impossible under stress.

Zachary The First said...

I have a ChiCom Nagant Type 53 Carbine, bayonet and all. The fireballs are delightful, the ammo cheap, and the kick painful. It's a man's gun, and a hell of a lot of fun.

For you Nagant owners, here's a little fun comparison:

Rob Lang said...

Being in the UK - how can I possibly do what you suggest? Am I consigned to the writer's bin for not being able to go and have fun with a firearm? Futhermore, I write Science Fiction. How can I fire Korg 5?

As much as I agree that writers should research as thoroughly as possible to add depth (and avoid bold inaccuracies) to a setting, I do not agree that a high level of detail is always appropriate and makes you a good writer.

Write for the audience and write enough to make it fun. If your audience have never fired a firearm then suspension of disbelief is not going to be broken by the writer having never fired a weapon.

Nick said...

Maybe I don't know enough about guns, but what game has ever confused a machine gun with an assult rifle?