Sunday, December 16, 2012

Writing Firearms in Crime Fiction.

by Clark Lohr    (author of Devil’s Kitchen, Oak Tree Press, 2011)

You write mysteries. How do you go about describing firearms? The good news:  If you’re a mystery writer you can choose to describe firearms as much or as little as you like.  Even in a subgenre like the procedural you can make minimal use of specific firearm descriptions. Thing is, you might want to describe firearms to build plot, raise the stakes, or make the action more colorful and realistic.

Two examples: 
One (from a mystery novel by Elizabeth Gunn): A long haul trucker shoots his co-driver and dumps the body. Motive: Cash in the co-driver’s winning lottery ticket. Solution to crime: Detectives notice twin abrasions on the web between the suspect’s finger and thumb.  Detectives match those marks with the steel slide rails on the Walther pistol that made them when it was fired.

Two (from a Tucson PD case as told by one of their Firearms Examiners): A guy and his girlfriend are sitting in a car, presumably arguing. The guy shoots her to death with a handgun—one of the newer model Springfield handguns—and says the gun went off when it was dropped and hit the floorboards of the car.
Motive: He’s macho and macho men win all the arguments—any questions?  The bullet trajectory was angled up, meaning the bullet came from down low, and the guy appeared sad and remorseful.  He’d gotten  the dead woman’s family—and his own family—pretty well convinced it was an accident—until police forensics thoroughly tested the guy’s Springfield and determined that the weapon could never, ever have discharged as a result of being dropped.

If writers choose to get into some details about firearms they risk inaccuracies and gun loving readers complain. I’ve heard people who know about firearms say they will stop reading a mystery if they encounter a firearms error. I’ve heard them say they will “throw the book across the room.”  If you’re the author of that book, you’ve lost a fan.

You, as a writer, don’t necessarily need a firearms adviser.  Use the internet, search for firearms manufacturers, and ask them. They’re the ones who make the guns. They know how the guns work.
Most firearms manufacturers have responsive customer service people who answer phones and reply to emails.  Tell them you’re writing a mystery and you want some information.

Finally, this: I grew up hunting. I was in the Army. I still like guns and I like to think I know about firearms. I read and write crime fiction—and this brings me to a shameful story wherein I screwed up in giving gun advice to another author. I’ve repressed the nature of the error but it went to print and her firearms savvy fans called her on it.  I felt, as the British say, “small,” and the best advice I would give authors who want their novel vetted by a firearms consultant is: Ask the firearms person to read the entire novel so they’re reading the firearms information in total context. 

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