…that can throw a reader out of an otherwise good book. You know, those little details that suddenly reveal that the character (and by extension the author) doesn’t really have the knowledge they were supposed to have.
**Brief pause for self-promotion: A good copy editor can help you avoid these mistakes!**
This happened to me twice today (well, I guess technically one of the times was last night when I was reading because I couldn’t sleep, but 2am is still today) when the first-person narrator of my current urban fantasy book talks in detail about moving the hammer of her gun (okay, I’m with you, go on), which is a Glock (wait, what? No. Let me reread the last page…)
(For those of you not interested in basic gun-related mistakes in fiction, the bottom of the post has a list of other annoying things I’ve run into over the years, and an invitation to add your own pet peeves in the comments.)
I know I haven’t talked about it much here on my blog, because most of my readers come here for temari or cute dogs or books, but over the past year I learned to shoot. I do pistol target shooting with Mark, primarily at Zombie Shooters Association (ZSA) events, but I have done at least one USPSA (US Practical Shooters Association) event now, too. I shoot a Beretta 92FS, although I’m told that makes me weird, because supposedly only people who were in the military and had to carry a Beretta actually choose to use them for competition shooting, but it was the gun I was the most accurate with when I tried them all out at my first lesson, and that was all I cared about.
Mark, on the other hand, shoots Glocks, so I have become very familiar with them as well. (I am also about to get a Glock of my own, due to a long, involved joking bet made on Twitter that Mark wouldn’t shoot a gun that was painted purple.) One of the primary differentiating characteristics of a Glock is that it has no external hammer. There is no way for a character to “click the hammer all the way back with [his/her] thumb and ease it gently down” (paraphrased), because there is nothing there. Both times this has been referenced, I have been thrown out of the story entirely, which resulted in me Googling for references that writers might want to consult if they wish to include a badass shooter in any of their stories.
This Livejournal tutorial offers “A Fic Writer’s Guide to Firearms,” which, while originally intended for writers of Inception fanfic, offers a nicely informative overview of pretty much all the practical basics of firearms use, from the parts of a gun to how to carry one realistically. This is a 3-part tutorial, and there’s good information in all three parts. (I will note that the author of that piece disparages both Berettas and (especially) Glocks, but the tutorial is good, so I am letting it slide. But it does show that there are certain schisms in the shooting world over the usage of Glocks in particular. I am anti-gun-snobbishness, because I think placing too much value on a particular gun platform (1911, Beretta, Glock, etc.) for ideological reasons means that some people end up using a gun that is completely wrong for their body type and/or shooting style. But then, I care much more about hitting the targets than I do about looking cool.)
And then our friend Ben pointed me in the direction of Larry Correia, an SF writer who used to be a firearms instructor, who wrote his own blog post on the subject, “Ask Correia – Writing Gun Stuff,” in which he goes into more writerly detail about what kinds of characters are likely to know a lot about guns or a little, and how much actual hardware information you need to be dumping on an audience the majority of whom probably don’t know (or care) much about guns in the first place.
One thing both of these tutorials mention is something I have yet to see any mainstream urban fantasy writer get right*, which is the use of the word “clip” instead of “magazine.” Both of these are things that hold bullet cartridges together. However, only a magazine has a feeder mechanism to load the cartridges into the gun. Therefore, when a characters talks about loading another “clip” into their empty gun, they are actually talking about a magazine.** If that’s too long, “mag” is an acceptable shortened form. As Correia says in his post:
If the character is a hard core shooter, then they will never refer to a pistol’s magazine as a clip. They are magazines. If they’re Sally Soccermom who just picked up a gun off a partially devoured cop and is fighting off hordes of suddenly (and mysteriously) ravenous squirrels, then she may very well need another “clip.”
To be honest, I feel kind of weird about having this knowledge. Shooting was never a hobby I envisioned myself taking up, and I am at most a casual shooter. I’m not particularly interested in guns and am certainly not in danger of transforming into a “gun nut,” but even I have been made to understand the difference between a clip and a magazine, and now that I see these kinds of errors, I cannot unsee them.
I just want to read my book, you guys.
For fun, some other jarring details I have encountered in fiction that threw me out of the story due to annoyance:
- UUs as a fundamentalist religious group, complete with a charismatic “preacher” and women in conservative dress.
- A character taking insulin for LOW blood sugar instead of high.
- A character taking just a few minutes and a simple box of dye to go from black hair to blonde.
- Ancient Egyptian artifacts at a curio shop in Elizabethan England.
- No understanding of military rank in a book trying to be military SF.
Got a pet peeve you want to vent about in the comments? Go ahead!
*I’m sure there are authors that get this right! I just don’t seem to read them on a regular basis.
**Unless they are talking about a revolver, and the “clip” they are talking about is a moon clip.