Writing Excuses 7.17: Guns and Fiction

Larry Correia joins Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard in front of a live audience at LTUE on Utah Valley University campus. Larry knows guns inside and out, and talks to us about the mistakes that writers make when putting firearms into their stories.

Most of this is simple stuff, or at least it’s simple to fix, but that doesn’t change the fact that we get it wrong all the time. Have a listen, follow Larry’s advice, and get your guns right.


Give us a character who, after reading one Larry Correia novel, goes out and procures a grenade launcher.

Spellbound: Book II of the Grimnoir Chronicles, by Larry Corriea, narrated by Bronson Pinchot

31 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.17: Guns and Fiction”

  1. This is definitely one of my favorite podcasts this season. I’m planing on having firearms in a fantasy/murder mystery for JulNoWriMo, so this was just what I needed.

    Now if only I could get the image of a dwarf carrying a grenade launcher out of my head…

  2. Oh…so you guys want my autobiography for the writing prompt?

    I kid. Canadians can’t buy grenade launchers…at least not unless they’re quartermasters of the military or a SWAT unit.

  3. Did I hear correctly that Mary has a wheel-lock being used in 1815? Those pretty much went out of use 80 years earlier. It certainly wasn’t innovative in 1815. I’m kinda wondering if she meant flintlock instead of wheel-lock. The flintlock doesn’t have much of a delay–only a split second or so. Certainly not long enough to create any kind of dramatic tension. If it was wheel-lock, then I hope it was like some antique that belonged to someone’s grandfather that was pulled off a wall or out of a trunk in an emergency, rather than a weapon that would have been in use in 1815.

    This is funny because I didn’t think I was a gun nut, but this is one of those things that would pull me out of the book. I have a lot of respect for Mary, so I can look past that. I was just floored when I heard “1815” and “wheel-lock” within the same sentence!

    Anyhow, thanks for bringing this topic up. I agree that it’s something authors should look out for. Best regards!

  4. Actually the wheellock was out of service much earlier than that…mid 1600s at the latest. By then the flintlock was gaining popularity. The wheellock’s delay, while noticeable, isn’t terribly long either. Watch the Musketeer episode of Deadliest Warrior for a live example. Definitely prone to misfiring though. /end nitpicking. Great episode!

  5. Awesome podcast.

    I noticed authors like Neal Stephenson and Greg Bear are studying and reviving western martial arts ostensibly for the sake of accuracy in writing sword fights and what not. Is this a new trend in fantasy and science fiction?


  6. I’m probably in the minority here, but I can’t imagine being taken out of the story by a mistake about firearms. That’s partly because I know little about them, but also because I realize I’m in the middle of a story, usually a genre story, and already in the middle of suspending my disbelief.

    People don’t get into 6 or 7 gun fights in a short period of time, so anything realistic, but mundane, like the possibility of hearing loss, isn’t going to bother me one or the other. The guns are there as props in a story. Major mistakes I’m sure would make me shake my head for a second, but I don’t sweat the small stuff.

  7. Hollywood has done novelists no favors here. Since it would be boring waiting for the characters’ hearing to come back after a gunfight they just skip past that, and understandably so. It’s a time-bound medium, although I also think they just get lazy sometimes. And as a result, much our audience is under- or mis-informed about such things.

    But as novelists we aren’t usually time-bound. The story takes as long to read as it takes to read, and while we have to be careful about pacing, we can slip good details in without causing problems. It doesn’t take much to say “Ears ringing from the gunfight, John had to wait a moment before he could understand the policeman’s questions.”

    But even if we write sci-fi (laser pistols) or somehow incorporate exotic weaponry (steam-compression projectile throwers) in our stories so that we don’t have to worry about talking about things people know (like real guns), knowing something about how the modern counterparts operate may still help you compare/contrast when providing detail. “The steam-colt bucked slightly with a pneumatic snap, like a feeble imitation of its black-powder ancestors, but the hole it made in the goblin’s chest bled just as profusely.”

  8. As a military enthusiast, I tend to notice errors in weapons usage and tactics in books or on screen. It drives me crazy. Thank you for this public service announcement.

  9. Yes, the wheel-lock is an ancient weapon in the scene. In fact the actual line is, “They were using ancient wheel-lock pistols.”

    Geez fellows, it’s like you completely missed me saying that I consulted with a black-powder weapons guy to decide what gun to use in this scene. This…this right here is a prime example of how, um, enthusiastic people can be about weapons, sometimes correcting the author without even reading the scene.

  10. I haven’t read Glamour in Glass, but from what you were saying during the podcast Mary I kind of got the idea that it was an anachronistic weapon that was being used. (And yes, I do know enough about Napoleonic period weapons to have realized that).

    A great way to see black-powder weapons in action is to go to the old forts in the Niagara Region of Southern Ontario. Fort George in Niagara on the Lake has hourly demonstrations where one of the re-enactors walks through the parts of the gun and sets one off. Very cool. If you want to see a large scale battle then attend the Siege of Fort Erie at, funnily enough, Fort Erie, Ontario. You can see the “fog of war” and the night battle and tour is an amazing experience.

    I would recommend checking out the Siege of Fort Erie this year or during 2015 as they’re likely to put on an extra special show for the beginning and ending years of the War of 1812.

  11. The thing that irks me about those laserpistol is that they doesnt heat up or ionize the air.

    Hollywood guys seem to fail all physic, or at least logics. You push a mass of energy through air as a continuous line for half a second (just so audience can see the lines) and the generated energy is not big enough to heat up the air? heat up the barrel? Or ionize/ozonize the air?

    I can agree that advanced material might solve the barrel thing, but I doubt you can solve the basic physical interaction between air and energy.

  12. I was surprised nobody mentioned weight. Characters seem to carry around an awful lot of stuff sometimes, and weapons and ammunition are particularly heavy. Just recently I finished a book which contained a scene where a guy carried a light machine gun with several hundred rounds and several rocket launchers on top of his survival gear. I don’t know wether this is realistic but it feels a lot; at the very least the author should give credit to the weight in some way (“He ran towards cover in an awkward imitation of his usual sprint, weighed down by his equipment” or “A normal person could not have walked carrying that much ammunition, but his soldier boosts made it easy.”).

    You have to be careful not to overdo things, though, if you don’t target weapon experts. I myself have never held a gun so I am easily annoyed with too much detail. What do I care which model of pistol or assault rifle they use? Is the precise calibre really relevant to the story? Probably not, in most situations. So please leave out the technobabble. Use your knowledge to write around weapons realistically, but don’t try to educate me.

    Another thing that came to mind is weapons in general. It starts with swords (which, as people who have wielded a real swords, are usually not depicted realistically) and bows (people who have shot bows told me that the accuracy many fantasy authors assume is impossible) and ends with siege weapons. You have to do your research here, too, no matter how many fantasy books you have read.

  13. One thing that has always bothered me is the accuracy of the more primitive firearms. As mentioned some what in the podcast the reason the british were on line was because the firearms were smooth bore not rifled. This basicaly means the projectile bounced up the barrel, you were lucky to hit the guy next to who you were aiming at.

    Also, thank you Mr. Corriea for metioning hearing loss. As a combat vet I have a 15% loss in hearing myself and I am always amazed at how often this gets overlooked in fiction.

  14. Great topic. I wonder if you could cover other subjects in future casts, say swords or armor or vehicles. Obviously this doesn’t replace proper research, but it would make a good summary and primer of common mistakes. I think Thom above has the right idea. Hollywood and it’s time-constrained medium has put a lot of incorrect ideas out there that people accept as fact.

  15. @Christopher

    The primitive firearms, as you say, weren’t all that accurate. On the other hand, they were generally able to hit something downrange fairly consistently.

    The balls didn’t really bounce up the barrel, they rode in wadding (a small patch of fabric). The wadding was a flexible gasket to hold the pressure behind the ball, so it could get some decent velocity.

    As to accuracy, remember, there were people who used them to hunt for a living, as in lots and lots of settlers and the occasional professional hunter, such as a buffalo hunter.

    If the old muzzle loaders were as inaccurate as we offhandedly think they were, the crossbow would never have been replaced by them. A good crossbow is deadly accurate, perfectly usable by idiots, and can punch through middle ages armor plate. Therefore, the arquebus must have had something going for it.

  16. “A good crossbow is deadly accurate, perfectly usable by idiots, and can punch through middle ages armor plate. Therefore, the arquebus must have had something going for it.”

    Yep. An arquebus can be used by idiots, quickly.

  17. I agree, Hollywood hasn’t helped. Such as in the (I believe) second of the Rambo series, he frees some POWs and then is escaping in a helicopter when they are attacked by the bad guy in a gunship. Rambo pulls out his trusty LAW Rocket launcher and blows the attacking party away. Sadly, a LAW has up to a 40 meter backblast. Those poor POWs behind him would have been toasted, not to mention that a fireball inside of an aircraft isn’t really beneficial to its structural integrity.

  18. @Steve

    I love what you said about the cross bows use by idiots and have to agree.

    I am sorry I guess I should have been a little more specific but I was trying to go for less techno babble. I should have said the over looked accuracy problems of smoothbore firearms as compared to rifled bores.

    Even with the wadding you mentioned the round still bounces up the barrel of a smooth bore with an accuracy of roughly 150 yards as compared to the sealing, compression and revolutions imparted to a Minnie ball from a rifled bore which can go to 500 yards and more.

    It’s this part that bugs me. When I read a story and the characters use a match lock or flintlock musket to make a deadly accurate hit at 800 yards. I own and shoot a 1853 model three band Enfield (reproduction of course) and even with the help of some of our modern products it is hard to hit a target at 800 yards.

    In short, authors please take into account whether your muzzle loading fire arms are smoothe bore or rifled.

  19. *Nerd Alert* My favorite RPG character of all time was a grenade launcher using bunny girl from years back. She had a thing for demolitions. I wonder if I still have the character sheet on my hard drive…
    Anyway, the crew produced yet another informative episode. I can attest to having fired off a few rounds on a pistol range as well, checked the temperature of shell casings of a Browning fired minutes before. I’ve also used a Glock 22 during these same visit.

  20. Larry Correia, making the world more dangerous, one book sale at a time.

    He’s serious, though. I’ve been a fan of the Metal Gear Solid series for a long time now, and never once felt the desire to own any of the guns used in the game (well, the Rail gun, but as that’s not currently existing technology, it doesn’t count. (My physics prof in first year has built one, but it’s the size of a small room and needs one of the components replaced every time it fires.) Perhaps my own Metal Gear, but again, those aren’t actually for sale.)

    One Larry Correia book later, in audio form (which usually degrades the experience in my view), and I wanted to buy a 1911. (That said, in all fairness, the person reading the Grimnoir Chronicles is spectacularly beyond the norm and did not degrade the experience in any way. It was an excellent use of my free trial for Audible. I still need to actually buy that book. I feel like I owe him some money. Aside from that, authors I like get a dedicated shelf in my library once they’re prolific enough to have books not topple over. Larry might just make it if I had a physical copy of all of his books.

    (Brandon, you’re already there; Dan has a shelf waiting for him to write enough books; Mary, I need to find a place that actually sells your books; Howard, I’m not sure how to deal with. I’ve not yet bought any kind of comics, and tend not to like the format except online in small doses. Maybe the miniatures?)

  21. @Steve, another reason those inaccurate muskets replaced the crossbow was that they were loud and intimidating. Something that goes “BOOM” scares the guys downrange and build confidence in your own men more than things that go “fwip”.

    It is one of those small psychological factors that affect the outcome of the battle in ways other than merely how many people get little holes in their bodies. Its also why troops from Roman centurions to Napoleonic musketeers wore helmets/hats that made them look taller than they really were. It built confidence and intimidated others. However, when both sides used the same tall hats and noisy guns, the advantages kind of cancel out. Battles have been won or lost by which group of scared guys broke rank and ran first.

  22. “Yep. An arquebus can be used by idiots, quickly.”

    So can a decent lever action crossbow, or one with a decent crank. Both of these models existed by the time the arquebus showed up – what we generally think of when we say crossbow is generally the archery version of a musket (which is to say, a hell of a lot more sophisticated than the original model (early bows and arquebuses) but far less sophisticated than more recent innovations. (I put the late medieval crossbow somewhere in the middle, ’cause sport archery have some really fancy bows that parallel modern rifles in relative complexity.) Another advantage of the crossbow is that it doesn’t require your army of morons to have access to potentially fatal amounts of not-particularly-stable explosives. Talmage is right about the intimidation factor – crossbows were generally considered more effective assassination tools than bows because you could make small concealable ones (well, relatively; making a crossbow out of the 2 cubic inches of material used in those micro-pistols would result in something that could give you a minor cut at a pace, maybe) while maintaining the 100 pace effective range.

    And Thom, having steam-powered slugthrowers actually increases the knowledgeable audience. Anyone who’s worked with pressure vessels of any kind knows what that pneumatic snap sounds like and what that kind of pressure can do to your ears in the wrong circumstances. Many of us who’ve never seen a gun aside from strapped to a cop or soldier’s hip can even diagnose what kind of problem said pressure vessel has based on what kind of sound it’s making (and used to be making).

    (On that note, if you use a pressure cooker and it starts making a kettle whistle sound or any other high pitched keen, then goes completely silent, run away and hide behind something thick (even an interior wall might not do it). The cooker will explode and make a huge mess (and significant damage), but you will avoid being blasted by what’s essentially a homemade bomb.)

  23. When you give your manuscript to an expert to read, do you give the expert the entire MS or just the parts relevant to their expertise?

  24. I just finished reading The Partials by Dan, and this is one of the things that drove me nuts. Within the first few chapters, the main character refers to her weapon as both a rifle and a shotgun, as if they were two terms for the same thing.

  25. Just ’cause, I’d like to point out that longbow archery and other non-powder weapons fall into this category too! And… having been on the field with black powder, I second the noise comment.

    Also reminds me of how people think crossbows are superior to bows, when really, they are only superior in that any idiot can fire one. But boy are they slow (or at least, the late medieval ones I’ve worked with.)

    So… yeah. Know what you are talking about, because it makes it that much cooler. One author that does this well, in what I’ve read so far, is Bernard Cornwell.

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