The Devil's in the Details–Taking Your Fiction to Higher Level

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There are a few common reasons most of us become writers: 1) We are not normal. Let it go. The Normal Ship sailed long ago while we were bartering for a cheaper price on a t-shirt and souvenir shot glass 2) We hopefully like to read and probably need a 12 Step Program for our book habit 3) We are Masters of “Things Few Know and Fewer Care About” 4) We are  pathological liars born storytellers.

This aside, just because we are born to write doesn’t mean we’re any good, especially in the beginning. I use this analogy. We could see some gal at a club who can really dance. She has great moves. This doesn’t mean she’s automatically qualified to tour with Katy Perry. Training (lots of it) and practice (more of it) and discipline (whoa, crap, even MORE of that) is required to go pro.

Today I want to talk about a key aspect of what can make most fiction better, and what can even tank a decent story—research (or lack thereof). As they say, “The devil is in the details.”

I’ll illustrate with some of my personal bugaboos:

My husband is on a military shooting team. We shoot more than most people. A lot of fiction might involve use of guns, so here’s some basic advice.

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Just so you guys know, a “clip” goes in your hair and a “magazine” goes in your handgun or modern rifles (an M-1 takes a clip, but it’s from the earlier part of the 20th century). I recently read a book where even a gun expert in the story kept referring to “loading a clip” into a Glock and I wanted to scream. Additionally, the heroine “felt the metal” while gripping a Glock, which is interesting because a Glock is largely polymer (especially the grip), so that’s a hell of a trick. If she’s feeling metal? She has a jacked up grip.

***And for the record *shock face* there ARE more handguns in the world than Glocks (and better ones, but this is my opinion).***

There is NO SAFETY on a revolver. I once threw a book across the room put down a book because the author had her protagonist “putting the safety” on a revolver.

Hollywood can get away with magic guns that never run out of ammo. Writers? Guns run out of ammo. To this day I have a habit of counting rounds when watching movies or reading books.

“Bulletproof” vests, depending on the type, can take being shot by most handguns. YouTube has some cool videos. Some vests are slash-resistant, but unless a vest has ceramic or metal plates? Useless against a blade. A knife will penetrate. Vests are also vulnerable from the sides where there’s no protection (unless one is wearing a vest that offers side protection).

When someone is shot while wearing a bulletproof vest? It will hurt. A lot. The impact can bruise, break ribs and, if the bullet hits just right, could possibly stop a heart (especially if the person being shot has any kind of a heart murmur or arrhythmia). Yes, the vest stops the projectile, but there is still a shock wave that will be felt and partially absorbed by the body.

Gunfire, especially at close range, will impair or damage hearing. If your character or shoots a gun with no hearing protection or has a gun fired close to them, they could have a ruptured ear drum and deafness. At the least, they will hear ringing for a while (tinnitus lasting days weeks or even permanently). Voices will be muffled or distorted.

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The “caliber” of a bullet is based upon the inner diameter of the barrel and the size of the projectile the weapon can fire. For more, go HERE. Handguns and rifles have limitations in regards to caliber because, if we get too big? We no longer have a gun or rifle, we now have artillery. 

Years ago, in a writing group, a member was writing a futuristic thriller where he “made up” his own caliber handgun. There was no explaining to him he had a cannon and not a pistol.

I bring these up because many books—thrillers, suspense, etc.—have scenes involving guns. Regular people who don’t know these details might just breeze by, but people who DO know better will become agitated if we get these details wrong, but highly impressed when we get them right ;).

Enough about guns, because this could go on a while. Don’t get me started on silencers. But, to be fair, even I am not a gun expert. I am, however, married to one, so I ask him when I’m unsure.

Let’s talk about some more benefits of solid research.

Impress Fans

Research can add depth, texture and authenticity because it demonstrates we did our homework. Now, I know some things have to be fictionalized. If we were exactly precisely correct about every last detail, a book could be 10,000 pages long and put us all to sleep (I.e. working a crime scene). But it is important to separate what we’ve seen in movies and check out facts that could be urban legend.

Even small details that are correct are enough to impress regular readers and satisfy those who might be experts. Getting some small but important things correct often permits the reader to more easily suspend disbelief in other areas.

Enhances Character

One of the reasons I recommend profiling books and psychology books is that all humans have a distinctive personality profile. They will act according to that profile and need to be consistent or, when deviating, there needs to be a logical reason WHY. Also, the arc needs to make sense. Understanding a bit of psychology makes the writing richer, because we can then pair a protagonist with allies guaranteed to 1) agitate her 2) force him to change and grow.

When it comes to the antagonist, the personality profile is key to locating his Achilles heel. Every strength comes with a weakness. When it comes to the hero/heroine that weakness should be strengthened by personal growth or buttressed by allies.

Since all roads lead to Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, I’ll give an example. Sauron is power-hungry and prideful. He wants to rule them all. What is his weakness? Pride. He never bothered giving the Hobbits a ring, probably because he didn’t think them worthy of controlling…yet Hobbits are who eventually destroy him, since their innocence is what makes them more resistant to the sway of the Ring of Power’s psychic manipulation.

On the other hand, the Hobbits’ strength is their innocence and naivety, but, without allies like Aragorn, they’d have died a third of the way through the first movie frying bacon on a mountain while being chased by evil dead kings. Allies and antagonists help shape the Hobbits’ character arcs organically. By the time they make it to Mount Doom, they still have enough innocence left to finish the journey and defeat Sauron, but are war-hardened and more equipped to venture into a seriously bad neighborhood.

Gives Options

Knowledge is power. The more we research, the more cool directions our story can go. Research is like a toolbox. Do we want to build a “house” with only a hammer and a screwdriver, or do we want everything from a nail-gun to a table-saw? Research can help us make those unpredictable plot turns and twists that thrill readers.

Research is necessary. In the Digital Age, there are some cool and innovative ways of doing this effectively and efficiently, which is why I am teaching how to do this in my World Building class at WANACon (Early Bird Pricing almost over, so sign up HERE).

Research can cause some problems, but that’s a topic for another time. What are your thoughts? Are you flypaper for “useless” trivia? Do you love research? Does it intimidate you? Have you read books or watched movies that made you want to scream because the creator abused suspension of disbelief? What are some of your favorite ways to research? Do you research to get a story idea or once you start?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!


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  1. Bookmarking for future books with guns in them. 🙂

  2. The thing that makes me twitch is actually book covers where the feature character is holding a gun (or one in each hand) with his/her finger on the trigger. No target around. The barrels are pointed skyward. It’s something that most readers probably won’t notice, but those who know anything about gun safety will be annoyed by that.

    1. *Twitches with you* Or the pistol-tilted-to-the-side-gangsta thing? AAAAARGHHHHHHHHH!

        • Patty H. on January 30, 2014 at 11:19 am
        • Reply

        Here is a great demo on ‘grip’. Funny! Elevated gangsta grip cracked me up.

        1. I’ve seen this video. HYSTERICAL.

  3. I’m still learning the right amount of research to perform. Right now, I probably overdo it. But I like to start with high-level stuff first and then get down into the guts where I can add color to a story. Pro-tip: Depending on the subject, one of the best sources I’ve found for general information and pictures are children’s books.

  4. Oh I so know what you mean about details that are not believable. Especially when just a little research would right the wrong. My husband laughs at me when I get mad, but then he told me what a friend in the military quoted; “this is your rifle and this is your gun. One is for fighting, the other for fun.”

  5. Another terrific blogpost, Kristen! You didn’t mention one error I see constantly–characters sniffing “cordite”… Kind of hard to do since it hasn’t been manufactured since right after WWII. You’ll be glad to know that author Ben Sobieck is writing a guide for Writer’s Digest on this very subject–working title – WD’s Guide to Firearms and Knives in Fiction, to be released later this year. Also, Lee Lofland has a wonderful blog that addresses countless details on firearms, knives, etc. The one bugaboo I see often and can’t stand is when a military or police communicator ends a transmission with “Over and Out.” Kind of difficult to do when “Over”means “Invitation to transmit,” and “Out” means “End of transmission.” See this a lot in bad movies, too.

    Great post! As always…

  6. I’m with you on counting rounds in a gunfight. It’s amazing how those bullets just keep coming. As to vests; one of the first murder trials I covered as a journalist was a case where the bullet was stopped by the vest, but the materials in the vest created a cone that pierced the victims heart and killed him. Weird things like that are what I try to look for to enhance the story.

  7. I love a stickler for detail! Detail is what makes the good very good and not so good just plain lazy.
    Great post.
    Like the other comment above, don’t get me started on firing sideways or diving behind a barrel and still hitting right between the eyes. It doesn’t happen people!!

  8. Details can make a serious moment turn humorous. Take the movie, Steel Magnolias, for instance. Drum (Tom Skerritt) and his boys are shooting into the trees to scare off the bajillion birds before the wedding. Then he’s at the church about to escort his daughter, Shelby (Julia Roberts), down the aisle, but he can’t hear her say, “It’s time.” No one has to explain that shooting impaired his hearing, and it’s a perfectly memorable moment.

    • Jaycee Edward on January 30, 2014 at 11:09 am
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    I recently read a book where the hero pulls the trigger with his thumb. Another had a heroine who was given a revolver, which she stuck in her purse. When she pulls it out later in the book to use it she “checks the magazine”. Yeah. I shoot. Yeah. I noticed.

  9. Like your comment, Kristen, about the “Pistol tilted to the side, gangsta thing.” That started with the movie BOYZ IN THE HOOD. I talked about that with my police friend, Scott Morales, both of us laughing at how even if you use proper procedure it’s difficult to hit anything beyond a few feet and that sideways thing only works if you’re using a machine pistol or something that sprays dozens or hundreds of shots. Scott said cops love that because it took all the accuracy out of the bad guys’ hands…

    And, Trinity didn’t tell the whole story… When quoting that, you hold your rifle in one hand and your male sexual part in the other… That was one of the first things we learned in boot camp…

  10. Kristen,
    Your post made me laugh. I so agree that research gone awry is annoying to readers. I love how you enjoy connecting writers to experts. (Aside–for anyone doing research on quilting, I know a fair amount and am happy to share.)

    I love the research process. The best thing I ever did for my novel Moonlight Dancer was to study Korean for five years. There is so much you can learn about culture from language. I also developed a friendship with the teacher, and that led to other research opportunities. Research can be so serendipitous. While researching locales for my setting, I stumbled upon a sea-parting phenomenon that I incorporated into the story. This never would have happened without a little over-the-top attention to detail.

    That being said, I hate research dumps and have stopped reading authors who do it. I was reading a mystery that took place in the underground waterways of New York City. The author felt compelled to interrupt the story in order to tell me the entire history of boring, which soon became BORING. I like Hemingway’s 80/20 glacier theory…

      • Jennifer Rose on January 30, 2014 at 12:18 pm
      • Reply

      Knowing that you studied Korean for your novel makes me want to read it! I have somehow developed a lot of Korean influences in my life (my voice teacher is Korean and now I study a Korean martial art!)

      1. That’s so cool, Jennifer Rose! I think Korean culture, art, and history are so interesting (and so often underrated). You are studying tae kwon do? I took one lesson in Korea and was intimidated and impressed by the focus and skills involved.

  11. Hi Kristen, I know what you mean about shock waves from bullets. That’s actually caused by the bullet’s kinetic energy which has to go somewhere when it comes to a sudden halt, and “bullet-proof” vests don’t really absorb it. A few years ago, some idiot neighbor was target -practicing and one of his shots hit my home. I was there at the time and distinctly remember the dishes rattling in the cupboards. I didn’t know what caused it and looked around – inside – the house but could find nothing wrong. (Once a heavy picture fell off my wall and caused the dishes to rattle.) It wasn’t until next morning that I thought to check outside. That’s when I discovered the bullet hole. The kinetic energy was strong enough to have that effect on the dishes even though the neighbor was a bit of a distance off.

    Incidentally, Kristen, even Frodo succumbed to the Ring’s allure in the end as he was standing over the seething caldera.

    1. Yeah, but it took THAT long and also, if you remember, the allies were seriously affected by the Ring, but Samwise wasn’t. Boromir went off the deep end, but Samwise was able to keep pressing.

  12. I do A LOT of research as I go. I use Google, but looks a many different sources, and I ask people who might know. I try my best to get things as accurate as possible, and if I can’t find what I’m looking for (medical stuff drives me crazy…. “NO, my MC can’t see a doctor… all I want is a rough estimate of how long it would take this gunshot wound to turn septic if it’s getting ZERO treatment.” You’d think that would be an easy find…. I searched for hours over days and days… I still don’t know for sure. Bleh.)

  13. Great post and I agree with pretty much everything you said. As a reader, I’d like to add a further caution, an object lesson, if you will. Exhibit A: REAMDE, by Neal Stephenson. A lot of guns. A lot of firearms action. Good guys. Bad guys. A protracted tactical chase through woods and across mountains. And he gets most details, so far as I can tell, perfectly right,. The guy apparently knows him some guns.

    So why doesn’t it work? Why is it such a drag to read? To me, because there’s too much of it. Too much detail. Passage after passage seems to just scream, “I know firearms!”

    Could be just me. I usually love Stephenson. But it’s one thing to get the details right, and another altogether to let them hijack your entire narrative.

    1. That’s one of the rings I was going to discuss in How Research Can Get Us in Trouble. We want a story, not Wikipedia.

  14. Wow, you do know your guns and ammo. Nice post. I had no idea there could be so much damage with vests on.

  15. One word. Architecture. Coming from this background, there are really weird things that we notice in movies that really shouldn’t be there. Less so in books, because every building usually isn’t described, but please, please, please get the terminology correct. But I will tell you this: The city description of hunger games looks nothing like the movie. And in the first reboot of StarTrek, my husband just about lost it in the movie theatre when he saw concrete on the ship. I know it had to be filmed somewhere, but space ships do not use concrete. Or concrete blocks. (Also, not ever called cinder blocks… and cement is not concrete, cement is what you use to make concrete). Finally, we don’t actually call drawings blue prints any more. And most of us carry tablets, not drawing rolls or sets to a construction site. So please, do not think Howard Roark when you create an architect as a character. Nerdy? yes. Egotistical? sometimes. Snobs? well, we likely appear that way. Okay, end of my rant. But seriously, if you have questions about architects as characters and what we do? Please, ask me! I’m happy to tell you!

    1. That’s why I LOVE Dean Koontz’s books. He has vast manuals of architecture, plants, etc. His details are mesmerizing.

      1. I haven’t read his books since I was 14, and I started to predict the plots so left them. I’ll have to reread my favorites so I can have a look at what my younger self would have missed.

  16. Great post Kristen. I research details as I draft and during revision. Then I choose beta readers who can hold my feet to the fire on police procedures, technology, and anything else where I want to make sure I have the details right. It helps to know cops and geeks!

    • pjsandchocolate on January 30, 2014 at 11:32 am
    • Reply

    I read your gun commentary out loud to my husband and he broke out in applause at the “clip” vs. “magazine” comment. He also pointed out that there are 2-3 little .22 revolvers on the market with safeties, but that by and large, you’re correct on that point. His main comment though, was “Thank you, lady! You’ve restored my faith that there are writers out there who actually get this stuff right.”

    1. In the book I tossed, it was a .38 revolver. THERE IS NO SAFETY! *left eye twitches*

  17. I’ve often said that my way out of hell is boring the Devil with all the trivia I know:) NOW if I can just get to writing…..!!!

  18. I love the ‘research is a toolbox’ analogy! As a YA Fantasy author (dragons and fairies!) a lot of people think that I’m just making it all up…and I am taking a lot of license with my characters because, well, they’re dragons and fairies. But even then, I do research and have been researching for my entire life the fairy tales and their origins, different types of dragons/fairies/mythological creatures, and even the old religious texts and buildings that have artwork and blurbs pertaining to those creatures. I also have a degree and certification in Elementary Education, and a deep background in music so when I read books portraying teachers, classroom management, college students/classes, band kids, etc. I usually have a twitch.

    I know nothing of I don’t usually write them in. I know nothing of boats, so I did, and am still doing, background research on everything from salvaging to centuries old ships…and everything in between. Book four in the Stone Dragon Saga Series has become a story of shipwreck and salvage…and I’m greatly enjoying the combination of paperback and digital information that I’ve been using.

    Thanks for a great post!

  19. This is a great post! Details really are so important. Now I’ve got to go research horses…wouldn’t want my stallions riding day and night without stopping. 😉

  20. Excellent post, Kristen. Am saving it for future reference. Thank you.

  21. “Even small details that are correct are enough to impress regular readers and satisfy those who might be experts. Getting some small but important things correct often permits the reader to more easily suspend disbelief in other areas.” I loved this paragraph. It is so true. A little knowledge is dangerous because it makes experts out of idiots. That’s perfect for fiction writers to use when manipulating readers. For the record, you will NEVER see a Glock in my stories. Too many better choices unless you’re writing about modern law enforcement departments.

  22. Al this is good, but my favorite section is “Enhances Character” — far too often, especially in romances and thrillers, protagonists act out of character. Smart cop goes off ALONE to confront a killer. (Hello. Call for back up first.) Gruff, macho hero suddenly spouts words of tenderness and profound psychological insight. Arrrgh! As if!!! Let’s not even mention a 200-year-old guy trapped in a 17-yr-old body and doomed to repeat high school year after year. Come on. At least attend college, where you could easily study new subjects for 200 years. But…high school?? What a nightmare. Thanks for this, Kristen, and may lots of indie authors see this common-sense advice and show those “for-real” published writers how it’s done.

      • Jennifer Rose on January 30, 2014 at 12:07 pm
      • Reply

      That bit about attending HS instead of college? I never thought of that before, but SO true! HAHA!!

      95% of people would NEVER go back to HS if they had a choice.

      1. That and it kinda made him pedophile-creepy.

    1. I tried not to hit reply and give my two cents, but I can’t help it! I just have to. First: He was only 109. BUT, his maturity and development is literally stuck right there at 17. He IS a 17 year old. He thinks and acts like one (given he’s had enough experiences to not repeat some of the stupid things 17 year olds do.) But all his reasoning and such is the reasoning of a teenager.
      He actually has been to college, he even has a doctorate. (or two, can’t remember exactly)
      The high school thing is done so they can blend in to the community of wherever they are living for as long as possible, and since they look very young they try to start out that way. I’m sure *before* they came back to Forks they did HS and College before moving on. They could decide to not to school at all, but that would mean less opportunity to interact with humans in the community, and since they seem strange, not being around much would cause more people to question them when they actually did come around.
      And lastly: It’s not like they are really repeating our HS experience over and over again. The work isn’t work… they can do it in their “sleep,” it’s all done for the social aspect of it.

      1. Great response!

    2. College…. how did I never even think of that before?!?!

    • pjsandchocolate on January 30, 2014 at 11:46 am
    • Reply

    I think part of my problem is knowing when NOT to put in certain details. Most readers will get confused if you use the proper plural for boars (a singularity) or try to get fussy about the difference between a dislocated shoulder and a subluxed shoulder – sublux you can push back in and move on, dislocation requires surgery and PT. But unless you have a professional in that field talking about the subject in the story, chances are you’re going to lose your reader a bit (or risk losing them anyway because they don’t care about the difference and the explanation slows down the book).

    1. This is where beta readers can help. Put in the details and see if it distracts them.

  23. I love this post, Kristen — I had to do a lot of research for my thriller — and still had a reviewer point out (quite graciously) that a .38 Chiefs Special snubnose can only shoot five bullets without reloading. Rectified it in the paperback but the ebook stands due to whispersinc issues 🙁 Oh well — now I know who to consult!

      • Shawn on January 30, 2014 at 1:48 pm
      • Reply

      That, and when you carry a revolver, you carry it on an empty chamber, so really its a 4 shot. The empty chamber acts as a safety to keep the firing pin from freely moving in the event its dropped. Yes, the kinetic energy from the gun being dropped is enough to move the firing pin, and creating an accidental discharge.

  24. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who counts the bullets fired at movies! 🙂

    • Jennifer Rose on January 30, 2014 at 12:04 pm
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    As someone who has zero familiarity with guns and will probably never write about them, I found this information interesting. I will say, that I would like to learn how to shoot one, just for the experience. But I’l probably have more fun with bows and arrows. 😉

    For me, I started tae kwon do JUST so I could learn more about martial arts for one of my characters. Not only has it enhanced my story in ways I never imagined, it has also added a new dynamic to my life I never expected. (I was just going to take one 3-month session and now have been practicing for 5 years, so it’s become a way of life!)

    Research? OMG – I spent the first 8 years of my adult writing journey spending too much time researching and never getting to the actual writing. I LOVE research, and learning new things – and I’ve since learned to balance it with actually writing.

    1. You sound just like me–studying tae kwon do for five years to understand your character’s issues. It is amazing the little details you can bring in to deepen theme or plot that you never expected.

      1. Jennifer, your love of research is sure to make your writing more vivid, as long as you don’t do like I do, and get so derailed with research, you forget to write. Eep! Funny, I studied Tae Kwon Do at age 25 but all I remember learning is that even Black Belts will kick you in the head during practice even though they’re supposed to make sure they “just miss.” You look a lot younger than I am, so double the kudos to you for finding balance (between research and writing) so early in your career!

  25. I LOVE listening to people who know what they’re talking about 🙂 Thank you for the gun lecture… there’s a little old man who goes to a country fair that’s held near us every summer. He can’t cope with a WOMAN being interested in his cartridges, but if I stand near someone else and ask questions, he’ll tell them the answer – I’ve learnt so much that way 🙂

  26. For my story, my protagonist is a Vietnam Vet. It was something I just missed, so I had to research and research and research. Initially I had my guy go to a hospital in Okinawa and learn the martial arts of that country. BUT, I found out that the Army sent wounded soldiers to Japan. The book was pretty much done by then and talk about a deep rewrite. Japan is prettier and lent itself to a better flow.

  27. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  28. I once tossed a book because the demon (or maybe it was ghost–whatever) hunting heroine opened a shotgun shell, dumped out the shot, refilled it with rock salt, and CLOSED IT WITH HER FINGERS. Having spent hours and hours of my youth at a reloading machine with my dad, this one blew my mind. Not only impossible but a misfire waiting to happen…

      • Jennifer Rose on January 30, 2014 at 12:30 pm
      • Reply

      I’m totally going to be looking closely to see what they do for this in the show Supernatural now, since they use rock salt in guns all the time…

      1. They’ve never showed them actually making the shells (I’ve watched)–just loading them or cleaning guns and such. I’m sure SOMEWHERE in the bunker there’s a reloading station…

  29. This is an excellent article, thanks for posting it. The magazine vs. clip thing gets me every time.

    One thing about gun (and knife) research: Yeah, it’s easy to overdo. But that doesn’t mean you have to put every bit of what you know into the story.

    It goes back to the “tip of the iceberg” thing that comes with plot and character development. The author knows way more than the reader, but only shows enough to advance the story. You might decide a character is using a Browning Hi-Power pistol with 13 rounds of 9mm because the setting is 1938. But you might only show the character firing 13 times, skipping the technical details of everything else because it would’ve slowed down the story for the reader. You’d still be able to keep things accurate and well-researched without putting an action scene to sleep.

    Anyway, great post. Glad to see these things being discussed. As a reader, I do take notice when an author gets guns and knives right.

    • MikeW on January 30, 2014 at 12:21 pm
    • Reply

    I love that.

  30. I love research. I will hours trying to find the perfect first or last name for a character

  31. I believe strongly in using authenticity when writing. Like you – I will toss a book when the author makes up facts and procedures. Most of the time the real stuff would have been just as interesting. How hard is it to check the web for info? I would probably never read that author again.

  32. I love to research, and when I’m writing about things I’m not positive about, I start googling or checking books out of the library. Little things do matter. I completely agree. It’s why when I read stories about sword fighters and their swords are huge, ten or twenty pounds, I giggle. Most swords for regular sword-fighting were three pounds or less.

    Regarding the ringing and deafness because of standing near or shooting off a gun: I’m no gun expert, but I’ve used a shot gun and a rifle. The strongest gun I ever shot was an old Mauser my brother owned. It was loud and had quite a kick, but it didn’t bother my ears. We used to shoot targets mostly, though I’ve gone deer and duck hunting a few times. I don’t ever remember any of my brothers, my dad or brother-in-laws owning or using ear protection. Maybe high-powered rifles or something else is what you’re experiencing. It can’t be a 22-gauge shot gun.

  33. Great post. I never get worked up about “clips” being used in dialog. It’s common for even knowledgable folks to call them that.

    Many revolvers have a safety setting in the hammer. This should never be trusted.

    My peeve is when some pumps a shell into a double barreled shotgun in the movies.

  34. I forgot add: Myth Busters had a great episode on bullet proof vests. It’s worth the watch.

    • Doran W Ingrham on January 30, 2014 at 12:51 pm
    • Reply

    Excellent blog today! Inactive USMC here and I am with you 110% on inaccurate details concerning firearms. I will toss a book aside without a second thought if the details concerning weapons is incorrect. As for bullet proof vests? Great details you pointed out. I’ve worn them and definitely had bruised or broken ribs doing so. There are several manufacturers today that have addressed the penetration by blades. Heavier vests but worth the $$$ in the long run. One small footnote… there is not any such thing as a silencer. Hence the name… suppressor.
    I agree with you completely that the Devil’s in the Details!

    1. Exactly. “Silencer”…*head desk*. Thanks for the feedback.

  35. This, in a nutshell, is why the characters in my story have laser pistols which I’ve invented myself. Mwahahahaargh. Then again, there’s a sword fight. I bet I’ve stuffed that up. 🙂

    Great post.



  36. Do you ever get stuff wrong on purpose because the MC doesn’t know what they’re doing/talking about?

  37. great article, research is a great thing. but to much info or things outside the experience of reader might bog down the story or lead them to set aside the book out of disbelief. Like the fact that an MRE contains the full daily caloric intake of fairly active person.

    a note on words like magazines. when I was in, clip was used almost as often as Magazine. During quals and at the range, Magazine and mag were used, but normally people just the word that they had grown up using. In my job, or MOS, AFSC or what ever term other branches use, we used Magazine because it was hammered into your brain every waking moment.

    a clip or stripper clip and was used to store multiple rounds of ammunition that then could be inserted into a magazine or weapon like the M1.

    the word gun was not supposed to be used, they were weapons. yet it was in constant daily use in the service. there is a nice little ditty about that. “this is my weapon, this is my gun, this is for shooting and this if for fun.” the instructors would display the weapon he held, then would tap his crotch when saying gun for those that don’t know that ditty. the only official usage for the word gun was in referring to Artillery weapons.

    from experience I can say that terms and usage differ from Seal to SF, to Ranger and the 82nd to line grunts. I and other soldiers used Battle Rattle when talking about the gear and armor we wore, Others would use strictly official terms, or some would just use a variant of the word Crap. Some units even have their own slang that no one else uses in the service.

  38. Movies make for great visual inspiration for novels, but I’d never trust one for my research.

    Kristen, any specific titles you’d recommend for books on profiling?

    1. For anything involving crime? “Anatomy of Motive,” “The Sociopath Next Door”, and the DSM-V are all great tools. There are a lot of FBI profiling books you can get at the library or used book stores. Depends on genre. If I were to write YA, I’d probably read books on adolescent psychology.

  39. Love this post! Thank you. I agree that research is extremely important and adds authenticity to any piece, whether fiction or non-fiction. I write screenplays as well as non-fiction. One of the challenges is finding ways to incorporate research organically, so it doesn’t sound like exposition, especially if something is historical. Also, it’s easy to get sucked into your research because what you’re learning is so interesting (especially online research). I think you have to be fairly disciplined about it, know what information you need, go find the answer, get out. Otherwise, you might end up spending half your day “surfing” your topic.

    • Melissa Lewicki on January 30, 2014 at 1:46 pm
    • Reply

    I write mysteries. I assume that the people who read mysteries also tend to watch mystery-related movies and TV shows. We know that they do all kinds of stuff on NCIS that real investigators can’t do (Abby has all the lab results and DNA matches and bullet comparisons in a couple of hours. And McGee hacks everything.)

    So, my question is: if I do the proper research and write realistically about crime scene investigation, would that be jarring to readers who are used to NCIS? Or should I just write the way the TV and movie writers do?

    1. That’s why I made the comment that we DO have to fictionalize. And we do have what is called the CSI Effect now harming jury decisions, because they have people who don’t understand that DNA isn’t fool-proof someone is guilty (only they were there) etc. Most will have to be fiction, but good details and the right details can just add that extra WOW. Make sense?

      For instance, Bond movies make me twitch, but in Skyfall, his gun RAN OUT OF AMMO. Yay! I was willing to indulge the ridiculous fight scenes no human body could endure, but the one part with him running out of ammo was cool.

  40. Some good points (the magic/infinite magazine thing drives me nuts) On a couple of your points, and this is nitpicky, but —

    Clips don’t just go in hair, they also refer to strips of bullets — but I agree with most of your point. It’s almost evolved in vernacular, though, to the point that “clip” is accepted (at least with respect to handguns).

    There are revolvers with safeties. Both hammerlock and grip safeties. It’s the exception more than the rule, but they’re out there.

      • Shawn on January 30, 2014 at 1:51 pm
      • Reply

      you are correct, and I told Kristen that there are a few, but the mostly not. Yes, you can have a moon clip to reload wheel guns, but most writers don’t know about those, so my advise is to stay away from using fringe weapons and describing the features, unless you research. I also believe that there is a polymer revolver made by Ruger..

    1. And if the writer was using this gun, I’d give it a pass. But when it’s a common gun you KNOW doesn’t have those features it’s annoying. Also, in the book I was referring to, if the protagonist (who didn’t know guns) used the term, okay. But the gun INSTRUCTOR? No. Maybe it’s picky but it bugged me.

  41. Great post Kristen. I do count the bullets! lol and I work in a jail. the “Stab Resistant” vest is just that stab resistant not Stab proof! and the sides don’t stop crap. I needed the laughter your post brought thanks 🙂 reposting.

  42. Reblogged this on Cynthia Stacey and commented:
    Great post on getting the details correct in writing by author Kristen Lamb

    • Tamara LeBlanc on January 30, 2014 at 2:18 pm
    • Reply

    First off, LOVE the painting with George Washington and the Death Star! So cool.
    Second, I’d like to own a gun or three one day. They fascinate me, and so do the people that know how to use and take care of them properly. Thanks so much for the short class on particular weapons. I have characters that weild guns in some of my books and it’s good to get things accurate.
    When you mentioned that research helps enhance character, I couldn’t agree more. I would love to take a psychology course just so I can learn more about what makes certain individuals tick. I’ve been wanting our Ga conference Moonlight and Magnolias to get a psychologist to head a workshop so that we can pick her/his brain about that exact thing. Maybe this year we’ll find one.
    I’m so glad I’ve gotten into the swing off things at work and found a rythm that allows me to visit my favorite blogs again. I’ve missed your wisdom!
    Thanks so much for the post and have a great day!!

  43. My pet peeve is horses being used like cars – and they never put petrol in either (much like the endless supply of bullets).

    Phillip McCollum (Comment 5) has a great tip about using children’s non fiction for research. I find the librarians super helpful too – maybe they just enjoy talking to someone over three feet tall for a change.

  44. I guess it all depends what out personal bugaboos are… gun stuff doesn’t interest me (nor do I write about it) but then there was that day on your blog Kristen when you talked about the Roman Empire lasting thousands of years… now that _really_ got to me…

    1. A tricky one to answer. When is the actual starting and ending point? Many experts disagree. Are we beginning with the early Roman society and continuing up to implosion then to final full disintegration after the Empire split in two halves? Are we referring to the Empire as a whole or Easter vs. Western? Eastern is estimated at 1,200 years and Western at 2,200 etc. But trust me, if I’d been writing a historical book people paid for I would have definitely checked experts to keep my historical fans happy :D. Sorry for the twitch *bows graciously*

      1. Well, the empire started 27BC – you’d find very few people to disagree with that. The Western Empire fell in 476 (again, few disagreements). The Eastern did indeed carry on a lot longer, arguably until about 1450 but its greatest expansion point was around 600.
        So even if you included the Roman Republic pre 27BC (which would be a clip vs magazine issue for me) you can’t really get the west anywhere near 2000 years. The Holy Roman Empire (962-1806, but again the later stages were rather nominal) was a totally different entity.
        However, I totally believe you when you say that if you were writing a book you’d have checked all that lot out, no quibbles there at all.

        1. Thanks. Oh and I love using ZILLIONS of hyperboles, too. Just a warning. Though only on the blog. Promise. A MILLION hugs to you for clearing up that Roman Empire thing. Actually History of the Roman Empire was my favorite class in college. Unfortunately, I have slept since then, LOL.

  45. Thanks Kristen for explaining what I do at the laptop in paragraph one. Most people who see me think I’m sending pornographic e-mails to nuns. Yes, I read. Yes, I am not only a pathological liar I’m really good at it. About weapons, did military time and was fortunate (?) to have my sister marry a gun, scratch that,weapons aficionado. Learned a lot and got to like shooting stuff up (sorry). I know the last bit makes me sound a tad out of control, but you’ve got to hit a spray paint can with a .225 round.

  46. I would much rather write than research. Most of my research is while drafting or on the first rewrite (circles I leave that say ‘fill with description of desert’ or whatever). I find if I don’t have the exact idea for what I’m looking for and why the information is needed – I can surf for hours chasing all the interesting rabbits that flit by.
    I agree that details make the story better and accurate details help readers retain the illusion.

  47. Great post, Kristen; ya done good!

    And by the way, “Seething Caldera” is going to be the name of my next villain. Just saying. 😀

    • Bill Bartlett on January 30, 2014 at 6:30 pm
    • Reply

    This is wonderful, Kristen. It isn’t just about the weapon, though, it’s also about what the weapon does. I read a draft where a person is shot in the foot with a .45 Colt and then limps to the door, grabs someone else’s weapon and returns lethal fire. The character does this after being hit in the foot at a range of less than a yard. The bullet is nearly half an inch in diameter and would break at least one metatarsal, probably more than one. That person isn’t limping anywhere. In another draft, a character gets out of bed in the middle of the night, wearing only his PJ bottoms and grabs his gun. Still holding the gun in his hand, he edges around a corner. Where else is he going to put it? In his pajama waistband? I may have become the ‘gun guy’ in my writing group and I don’t mind. Just because it’s fiction, doesn’t mean it can’t be believable.

  48. As usual, Kristen, you’ve provided an excellent and informative article. I’m closing in on the end of my first draft of a thriller. Once I have a loose outline for my story, I like to do some preliminary research to get me going. On my first draft I focus on just getting the story out. When I hit a scene that requires more research, I use brackets, [check city for area with sleazy bars and back alleys] . When I finish, I go back and do specific research for all the places I’ve marked. I feel you have to have enough realism that people familiar with that area, occupation, use of guns, etc, aren’t going to be turned off. Then, as you pointed out, they are more willing to suspend disbelief on other things. Your gun examples are great. I always groan when characters slide another “clip” into their gun. Too many of those moments and your reader is lost. I so appreciate all the great information you so willingly share with us. We’ll all be better writers for it.

    1. Thanks, Linda. It is always a joy (((HUGS)))

  49. Kristen, this post is just in time for me as I am writing the first draft of my first mystery novel. I’ve been considering asking the advice of a retired police officer that I know, and this post motivates me to at least bring up the idea with him. I’m so glad that another blogger told me about your blog. 🙂

    Blessings ~ Wendy

    1. If you need any help with guns, make friends with my husband on Facebook. He is the Oracle of Boom, LOL.

      1. 🙂 Thank you, Kristen, I’ll remember that. One of my sons airsofts — so I am thinking I may have that hobby in a future book. I love hearing the adventures he has with his buddies as they compete against each other.

  50. Great post! You’re so right about the details. They can be very important. I try to just write and then research as I go along. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

  51. I always get hacked off with ‘historical’ novels – or movies – completely disregarding the mores of the time. E.g. the recentish Pride & Prejudice with Keira Knightley (SPOILERS!) where Lizzie goes out in her nightie and coat to passionately kiss Mr Darcy in a field in the early dawn. Well, he has to marry her now because HER REPUTATION IS RUINED!!

    1. Yes! I’ve stopped reading Regency romances (unless they’re written by Georgette Heyer) because so many of them are just modern characters dressed up in period clothes!

    2. Which is one more reason I don’t watch a lot of movies.

    • sao on January 31, 2014 at 6:15 am
    • Reply

    Counting rounds made me laugh. I tend to notice rounds of drinks and find plenty of characters can down 5 double scotches without getting drunk, because the author is punctuating talk with stiff drinks. Then they hop in their cars and drive.

    I’ve lived in Russia, and I get annoyed at books and movies that don’t get Russia or Russians remotely right. The Harlequins have turned them into Billionaire Italians with slightly different type of name.

    On the other hand, once, years ago, I saw Huckleberry Finn on Russian TV and the river looked nothing like the Mississippi, Huck looked decidedly Slavic and Jim African (not African-American). It was Huckleberry Finn filmed by someone who knew little about American culture or geography.

  52. Oh please do get started on silencers… I was enjoying all that information!

    I have to reiterate that you should never, ever believe what you see on TV. Even reality shows have an element of behind-the-scenes manipulation. And I’ve worked in TV and movies enough that I can say often the expert adviser will say “but that’s not how it’s really done” and will be over-ridden because it doesn’t look as good in camera as the way the director wants it done!

    1. No such thing. Granted, they are called that, but it is really a sound suppressor. You still hear it. Cool thing is when you use one, you don’t need ear protection, which is why I enjoy shooting with one because I am lazy and anything on my head gives me a headache. But the bullet can be heard. TRUST ME. The suppressor speeds up the bullet because the gas is more compressed. It doesn’t greatly affect accuracy, but will deviate the shot by 3/4 to an inch, which can be accounted for if one practices with a suppressor. This notion that one can “whisper” through whacking people unheard is a myth.

    2. Which is why mythbusters is awesome 😀

  53. Reblogged this on Charlotte Gerber.

  54. Thanks for the reminder. I can’t tell you how many times I have described a character walking a neighborhood I know well and get the lefts and rights confused and it looks like I’m not from SF but Mars!

  55. Many thanks! Research is fun too. My husband helped me with a duct tape experiment. Turns out all those people held captive on TV with duct tape over their mouths, so not true! It comes off with minimal effort. Tied hands, not so much. But, with mouth free, you can bite through the tape on your hands if taped in front of you.

  56. Wonderful post and fully agree. I was chatting with a friend of mine who likes facts, but not details. I like to learn new stuff when I read. Like ready Tracy Chevalier’s “Lady and the Unicorn” I learned about weaving. I found it fascinating. Not everyone does, I guess. I like the details and agree about research. Thanks 🙂

  57. Kristen, you’re so right, research is incredibly important.

    I’m writing a novel (query-ready in 3-4 months) set thousands of years ago, across an entire continent, covering seven religions, so you can imagine the amount of research I’ve had to do. Documentaries, internet, books and more books. Every time I think I’ve got it, I find something else that I just have to read, or get a new insight. I love it, but it IS work.

    In about a month the book will be ready for Beta-readers, and I’m giving it out to some people who belong to a few of the most common religions, only because – argh – if I should get something trivial wrong.

    There will be mistakes, of course, but I’m doing my very very very best to keep them to a minimum.

  58. I’m a pharmaceutical chemist, and my family makes me leave the room whenever CSI, NCIS, or any other show that claims to use science comes on, with the notable exceptions of Mythbusters and Big Bang Theory (I’ve been know to pause the latter and read the equations on the boards). My children have gotten used to me saying “No you didn’t!” whenever someone on those shows says they did something in the lab.

    I know that many times shows purposefully get it wrong when describing how a bomb is made because they know that someone somewhere will try it, but it really isn’t that difficult to get other stuff right. Feel free to contact me if your characters are in a laboratory. I’ll never let you ‘run a protein analysis on a mass spectrometer’ (actual quote from NCIS), unless, of course, you’re sabotaging another chemist’s instrumentation.

    *takes deep breath and jumps off soap box*

    PS – as we say in my writing group, if you aren’t on one of the government’s watch lists (or maybe even the do-not-fly lists) you aren’t doing enough research.

  59. Wonderful article! Reblogging it.

  60. Reblogged this on Thriller Writing Help for Authors.

    • shannonleegonzalez on January 31, 2014 at 2:28 pm
    • Reply

    Slightly off topic-thought you’d find interest in Reality of 3-d printed gun blog post at Romance University from Weapons expert Adam Firestone

  61. What profiling books do you recommend?

    1. What I both love and hate about NCIS is that Pauley P (Abby) actually has the degree that Abby has. She IS a forensic whosit (sorry, I didn’t do the research well enough to remember the actual name of her degree path) and they STILL mix a lot of things up. In one interview she said she sometimes does it on purpose as inside jokes to her classmates and friends.

      I’m just happy I don’t know enough to know she’s wrong and that there are people like you, who do! It makes everything so much more interesting!

      (Also, Big Bang Theory has a physicist on staff to help the writers and write out the formulas. I love that show for the humor and the brains!)

  62. Ugg so now I have to write in that my protagonists have tinnitus after the back moment?

    1. Not necessarily. It might not be bad. She might notice a ringing. Where my peeve is (especially with Hollywood) is people endure these massive explosions and 1) they would be dead, internal organs liquified by the shock wave 2) they have no injuries from flying debris and even all that aside 3) they hear PERFECTLY. I think the movie Safe House provides an excellent example of blending a tad of reality with fiction.

  63. One highly successful author has his bad guy take off his ankle bracelet and put it on his wife so he can go do more bad things. I want to scream, “They put them on so tight you can’t slip them off, and if you cut them off, an alarm goes off at the monitoring station.”

  64. The same author has a teenager walk up to a locked sliding glass door and lift it out of the tracks with her bare hands. It can’t happen. A friend of mine accidentally locked herself out and had to break a window to get back in. If it were possible, burglars would do it often. Still, I have my old twirler girl baton in the tack so no one can get in way.

  65. Really useful, thanks!

    • Robert O'Daniel on February 1, 2014 at 11:35 am
    • Reply

    Correct details are important in every story. Visualize this, something about a book’s back cover piques the reader’s interest and she buys the book…at home curled into a favorite chair, a glass of Zin and the bonding adventure with the book, the characters, the plot begins. Sometime after the first word the reader discovers the clumsy construction by the author’s lack of facts causes the insulted reader to realize she’s been flimflammed out of her money. The natural instinct is to throw the book into the fireplace and rush to the shelves grabbing Karen Gordon’s tome, “The Deluxe Transitive VampIre” in search of humor being wise yet poorer by the price of the now burning book.

  66. Hi, gosh it looks like I found your blog just in time as I’m finally trying to write the novel i always promised I would and you offer such sound advice. Not really sure how to use trackback but I’ll find out.

  67. Browning .9m semi-atuomatic. Sweetest thing I ever fired.
    I could quite literally make bullets before I could properly boil an egg — my dad was a card-carrying gun-nut, owning around 150 long guns and 50 hand guns back in the day — and I *still* fact check.

  68. I too think, that proper research is important for a book. A reader can become terribly annoyed if he knows exactly there are too many things wrong – and it won’t probably ruin his fun to read the book.
    Thanks for this very important lesson, Kristen!

  69. “Masters of Things Few Know and Fewer Care About” this should be on a window decal. I could paste in the back of my pickup under the rifle rack. It will match the “Honk IFF you Love Formal Logic” XKCD sticker on the bumper. Always give them something to think about. Nice post as usual.

    • lje1 on February 1, 2014 at 8:52 pm
    • Reply

    Reblogged this on Laurie J. Edwards ~ Author, Artist, Dreamer….

  70. Details have always been the bane of my writing existence. I tend to focus far more on characters, personalities, and their interactions. When I find myself writing just about anything that isn’t involved with that, I run into trouble. Details bother me, but I know how important they are, especially to readers like yourself who sound like detail sticklers. Just something else I have to work on.

  71. I completely and utterly agree with you. My personal bugbear is science. I love sci-fi, although I mostly watch it rather than read it, but when the science is off I start grinding my teeth. There has been many a film trailer that I’ve seen which initially looks good, but the science is tosh. I freely admit that I’m only a layman and that most of what I know has been gleaned from years of watching documentaries, so if I can spot it, it must be pretty ropey. I’m happy to suspend disbelief if they’ve included some actual science or scientific theory as bending the rules is sometimes necessary for the story. Opening with suspension of disbelief is not good for me either, cue Star Trek Into Darkness. I may have been able to overlook those few minutes had they occurred in a later part of the film not at the start. It was designed solely for the wow factor and that’s where it failed for me. On top of that, the writers decided that established canon prior to the divergence of the time line didn’t matter but I’m not even going to start on that. The only time I’m willing to completely suspend disbelief is if it’s something that’s not supposed to be remotely real. I’m more than happy to accept something like Doctor Who because it’s not intended to be accurate and it’s not trying to be. It’s a programme where anything and everything can happen, you have to throw science out of the window for that to work.

    I’m currently researching while writing, for example I want part of it to be set on a world with a green sky. I’ve got Stephen L. Gillett’s World-Building and it gives an example of what type of planet would have a green sky. I’m intending to show the conditions by the life that has evolved there rather than giving an explanation of a chloroxygen world which would be superfluous to the story. The scientific accuracy of a green sky is something that most people probably wouldn’t know about but it doesn’t hurt to include it.

  72. Thanks for the reference to caliber – it’s a lot more complicated than I had thought.

  73. Reblogged this on Florida Writers Conference Blog and commented:
    Change in plans today. Due to circumstances beyond control, our regular contributor today was unable to post their blog. Instead I bring you an interesting post I came across regarding research. Enjoy!


  74. I write fantasy so I don’t have to deal with guns 😉

    1. But you DO have to deal with weapons and armor :).

  75. I LOVE and truly appreciate this post for many reasons, but mostly because I’m in this situation with the series I’m currently writing. I knew (actually, still known very little) about guns, but I’m writing a post-apocalyptic series where a handful of the characters are military trained….ummm yeah. I’m not sure why I signed myself up for that, but I’ve had to work and rework all my “fight” scenes so that they’d be realistic and factual to the best of my ability. A beta for book one told me it sounded like an old west gun fight–I wanted to laugh and cry. Although it’s all fiction, I still want my story to be somewhat plausible and engaging. Achieving that is hard work and can be frustrating, especially when you don’t have a gun at your fingertips to practice with and feel and hear. Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I’m “pickin’ up what you’re layin’ down” :). I’m learning as I go, and you’ve provided me a good reminder as to WHY it’s important to research and find that one extra descriptor that really pulls the audience into the story. So…thank you.

    1. Old West ain’t bad. You might have done something right :D.

  76. Kristen – great info, but there have been several revolvers with safeties (British),and an American company who converted S&W K-Frame revolvers to have a safety that replaced the cylinder latch. Also, there is currently a single action .22 with a safety being sold domestically, but the brand escapes me. Just for the record.

    1. But unless an author is specifically mentioning an obscure revolver, there is almost never a safety.

  77. Reblogged this on Sophia Kimble.

  78. Ah, research. The number 1 thing I’m dreading once I finish the ugly first draft of the story itself. 🙂

  79. great blog. love that all roads lead to Star Wars or Lord of The Rings. I fully agree

  80. Not to leave the gun meme, but I put down Gone Girl for several days because I grew up near the town in which it’s set. She totally got it wrong, including how long it takes to get from there to Hannibal, which google maps could have told her.

  81. Have been gone (family) for awhile and look at all I MISSED! Thank you for this series of posts. I am also a stickler for details and now that my ms is ready for final edits and clean up I am hitting a detail wall I haven’t been able to address yet…and since it is, in one small part, gun related I shall ask you 😀 I need information on the firearms park rangers carry so that I portray it accurately. I know they have them, I spend a lot of time in parks as I love camping and hiking and frankly, in our wilderness areas and where they risk coming in contact with poachers or smugglers, they need guns for self defense and to do their job. This isn’t something I would want to get wrong. Suggestions, oh wondrous warrior woman? 😉

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