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  1. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Niggling problems in reading other stories.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by The Tourist, Apr 13, 2012.

    I have a "hardware" problem in reading fiction. Now in writing it.

    It has to do with authors, who in their real lives are newbs when it comes to cars, tools or weapons, and they make a blunder during a story. To be fair, it seems to bother most of my gun savvy friends, too. Once the error has been made, the rest of the scene is one blurry fog.

    I feel I over compensate when writing my own stuff. For example, my lead favors a 10mm pistol. His preference is for a stainless Delta Elite. I had several, nice guns. I had a Bren Ten, but I thought it was too fancy-schmancy for the lead. (I also had one of Colt's Double Eagle tens, showing that even gun designers should take a day off now and then just to rest.)

    Most of you don't care. But if a writer mentioned a the Elite chambered for .44 AMP, every gun nut would probably put the book down.

    I'm getting better in overlooking sloppy research in books I read for fun. But as I write, I want to try to get away from "numbers" or automobile minutia or my love of motorcycles. After all, it's the story that is important.

    I guess every keystroke is acompromise, but I have lots of polishing to do, and I want to make sure I make the correct revisions. Where's the line?
     
  2. Just Jon
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    Just Jon Member

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    One thing that annoyed me about The da Vinci code was that the first two or three chapters could have titled "Look how darn much I know about French architecture and art". It was just an endless stream of artist and architects and what they did and how they were different. I found myself flipping through the pages until I got to the real story. I think the author wanted to make sure he got everything right, but in doing so he drowned the opening of the book in useless information.

    So, where is the line? I don't know. Hand your draft to a beta reader who does not know anything (or much) about guns or motorcycles, and if their eyes start to glaze, then cut out more detail.

    To be honest, the fact that you're so conscious of it (e.g. getting away from numbers or minutia), makes me think there really won't be an issue in the end.
     
  3. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    The only advice I can offer is what I use with my own writing - is the detail necessary for the reader to understand/appreciate what's going on or is it just a bit of research/knowledge you have? Is stating the character has a revolver versus an automatic as much detail as is needed? Usually. One could add how many rounds fit the chamber of that particular pistol, if that could make the difference between victory and defeat, for example. I don't see it as a matter of 'dumbing down', as some writers believe, as much as remembering the purpose of fiction - to entertain, first and foremost. Any other purpose (education, enlightenment, whatever) needs to come second to that.
     
  4. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I guess you gotta ask yourself if it's important to the story to have this piece of detail or that piece of detail.

    But where you do mention something specific, like what kinda gun your action hero finds in the villain's hide-out and especially in a scene like that, having the specifics could add to the drama and tension, then use detail. But at the same time, you must detach yourself from your vast wealth of knowledge. You might think writing something like, "He found an Elite" very impressive because clearly it's such an amazing gun (I really haven't a clue, hence why I'm saying this) but on the majority of your readers, this fact will be lost. Be careful to stay with something that the general audience would understand unless you're trying to show off your character's knowledge, or else you do a short bit of explaining why exactly XYZ is such a lethal weapon.

    I'm afraid the only gun I know is the AK-47 and that's cus it's used everywhere :D or machine gun. Or shotgun/pistol.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I think this "problem" shows that you have the necessary critical mind for writing, provided you are as tough on your own prose until you get it right. Even of some of your dissatisfaction turns out to be wrong, due to misunderstanding usage (or whatever), you will learn, and probably not make the same mistake again.
     
  6. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    You can't expect writers to be experts in everything. Authors will make mistakes even if they do some research beforehand. Furthermore, as you have pointed out, those details might not be important to the storytelling and should not affect the quality of the story unless you really want it to. Fiction requires after all the suspension of disbelief.

    If you like writing about details and you have the expertise, you should go for it. You can decide what you keep when rewriting as it's really something you can gauge once the whole story is fleshed out.
     
  7. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Contributing Member

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    There are a lot of issues with books when it comes to reflecting reality. You can't research every detail and what an Author might consider something minor is often something of extreme importance to an efficienato or expert on some topic. The logic of many stories leaves much to be desired. But I don't let it ruin a good tale and that's what I consider such stories. I know a spooky ghost story around a camp fire is not real, but it's not going to stop me from enjoying the tale anyway.

    It's always what you chose to make of it. When you write make it as real as you have the time for, but if it stops or side tracks the pace of the story it won't be half as good a yarn as it good be.
     
  8. Floatbox
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    Floatbox Member

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    Oh nice! A fellow gun nut! I have a sub-compact 17 mm "throwback" Beretta 92F, 6. Inch Barrel with a homemade silencer attachment unit made out of recycled leather belts and tinfoil!

    Does your brain hurt reading that?

    Your niggling problem does make sense, as it should make one painfully aware of the illusion and the author's ignorance. A writer should respect the world he is writing for by putting in the work to know it. But I guess the way I get around having such niggling problems is by avoiding all thoroughly in-depth knowledge on any topic and stick to the broad strokes of emotion and general causal relationships. In this way, I avoid niggling and suffering - but at what cost?

    Where's the line? You'll probably find it in how you value pacing, tone, dramatic tension, thematic signifigance, and detail against one another. When push comes to shove, what would you sacrifice/prioritize in your story? That's not the best way to put it. Maybe this - the answer lies in how you prefer to integrate these facets of your story together. In this way, it becomes easy to see if detail is adding to the story in a substantial way (in which all qualities of the story are strengthened) or a superficial way (talking about research for it's own sake). The line must work to make a cohesive product, so I think that is what defines the line in the sand.
     
  9. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Thanks, guys. As you might guess I'm polishing. My guess is that a lot of stuff will be toned down, but some stuff is central to the plot. Like I said, I do mention the model of the pistol, some guys like that--I did leave out the handload I used to keep most readers from dozing off. Oh, and the lead carries my personal EDC folder.

    After my creds are established and I can start printing passages, this is one aspect I'll ask for a solid critique. The overall message is not violence, but perhaps living in violence and struggling with spirituality.

    (My apologies here to Cogito and the rules of the forum, but this passage applies to Floatbox' response.)

    Floatbox, LOL, I also made up a fake weapon for my book. Kind of an inside joke for all of the gun nuts who read my story. Here's the weapon I made up...

    “Gentlemen, the Simonovs to be placed on that platform before you will be the working prototypes of the new electronic aiming, 11.3 millimeter, rotating, recoilless, personnel suppression, squad-automatic weapons system. You will notice that it is devoid of any external battery power supply. Within the shoulder stock, a self-contained rechargeable lithium power source has now been integrated into the weapons system for a reliable source of power now lasting a full seven minutes of use in armed engagements. It has a maximum cyclic rate of 1,800 rounds per minute, and each of its six reciprocating barrels is capable of 6,000 rounds in its useable life with total replacement of all six barrels easily completed in 23 minutes, but now requiring only two soldiers. It is estimated that forward gunners equipped with this new technology will gain a full 35 seconds of additional life expectancy, extending their survivability rates to almost a full minute.”

    Cutter didn’t know whether to laugh or puke. The weapon was such a dismal example of a suicidal fragmentation device that he just had to raise his hand. “Administrator,” Cutter called out, “I have a few questions and comments about that Simonov, if you don’t mind.”
     
  10. Floatbox
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    Floatbox Member

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    (I LOVE IT.)

    You know. Even without intimate knowledge of the hardware, the confidence of passion makes for incredibly seductive writing. I'd say to leave as much hardware in as you want and see what beta readers do with it. It's incredible what a curious reader will pick up just by being around it, like any foreign language. There's some serious value to that.
     
  11. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Contributing Member

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    That piece was fine and not uninteresting since it wasn't just a stream of numbers but enough comments to give the reader a good idea of what's going on. And the irony and depth of stupidity some people are oblivious too.
     
  12. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is one reason I write mostly science fiction and alternate-history fiction. I get to invent my own guns, if I need them, or any tech I want. I'm not a gun expert, and I don't expect to become one by reading Wikipedia articles. So I wouldn't dare provide technical details about guns my characters use unless I get to define them myself. I don't want to have some gun fanatic throw my book across the room because I got some technical detail wrong. I also wouldn't want a hairdresser to throw my book across the room because I introduced some hair coloring chemical that doesn't exist. I am not Tom Clancy, researching relentlessly to bring technical accuracy and detail to my work.

    To me, if a character has a gun, he has a gun. He can shoot some bullets and kill some other characters without me having to explain exactly what kind of gun he has or what caliber of bullets it shoots or how many rounds there are in the magazine or anything of that sort. I suppose if I was writing about the REAL world, and I needed a gun that had a specific, extreme capability (a sniper rifle that can accurately hit a target at a one-mile distance, for example), I'd do the research. But I'd rather not piss off potential experts who know far more than I do, so I like to make up my own hardware.
     
  13. MVP
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    For what its worth, I don't much about guns, what I pictured from that passage was a big dam high tech scary weapon, that is posed to being manned by a spec ops soldier, from a helicopter, rapid-firing an obscene amount of bullets.

    About the gun details stuff, an author can write about anything. You have to do it in a manner that your audience will believe in it. This is where creativity comes into play. Creativity is not at its best when you have free thought to just dream your story to page. Its at its best when you are in a corner, and have to create your way out.
     
  14. The Tourist
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    Considering I jerked that description out of context, you guys got the feeling pretty much spot on.

    As for its intended use, the purpose of such a bizarre weapon was for a "pawn." That is, a forward position rank amateur ground-pounder, firing at almost point blank range into the maw of similar troops of the opposing force. Mutiliation be simple attrition.

    As for the size and sound, imagine a 1930s or '40's wooden stocked Russian rifle, outfitted with a spinning, six-barrel, .45 calibre, screaming electric gatling gun.

    BTW, this delightful piece of ordance was invented before superior steels hit the market. The stress of firing makes the entire receiver a potential fragmentation grenade. It is learned that the designers figured that by the time the rifle blew up and killed the operator, he would be close enough to opposing troops to blow them up, as well.

    Nice clean arrows fired by cute little girls is not the way to portray taking life with its fear and pain. Watching boys your own age get ripped apart in a hail of bullets before your entire torso is blown to bits conveys what really should be shown.

    To offer my opinion, I had to invent a fantasy weapon as depicted.
     
  15. naturemage
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    naturemage Active Member

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    That's why I stick to fantasy... you can make up all the info. Also, I know that some readers tend to get bored with endless details (Just Jon's Da Vinci Code example), even if it is something they understand. And, in my opinion, you can't please everyone. Even something as simple as cooking, you could find someone who isn't going to be happy with something ("No, that's not the way a pepperoni pizza smells. The author got it completely wrong....") You can't please everyone. You would either have too much detail, and drag the story out, or not enough, making the world unrealistic (because we as readers can't get the image into our minds). I think there should be just enough detail to keep the story moving.
     
  16. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am having a problem similar to what you described. I am next to clueless about guns beyond knowing which one I like the look of. But, one of my main characters is an SAS trooper (sniper). In the beginning of the book, I follow him from a halo jump all the way through the assassination of a target, past an accident and then it just carries on from there. I am lucky I have a friend who is ex SAS but with all the info he gives me, I still have no clue what he's talking about. Remington with Swedish ammo, he shouted as he was leaving my house last week, ok, cool, so I go on the internet, I have the idea about the Remington, but the ammo? Wtf? 7.26 versus .308 Win? That makes no sense! What the heck is a caliber anyway? Then I stumble upon a website by another SAS bloke who details the differences between the two and why only a dou**e would choose a .308 in a combat situation. At this point I am completely lost and I just know someone will throw my book against the wall because they'll figure out that I have no idea what I'm talking about.
    But I have no choice, my character is who he is. So I carry on.

    I think lots of writers end up annoying people who are experts, the best we can do is try.
     
  17. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    LOL. Well, you've demonstrated my concern. BTW, it's 7.62 and to make it more confusing, it's the same calibre as .308, just called differing things in the civilian versus military world. In fact, the cartridges for a civilian .308 Win are interchangeable with the 7.62x51 used by NATO.

    And some writers don't bother to do research or seem to care. Lots of newbs know that a 7.62x39 fits in a Kalashnikov, because every idiot knows that's an AK-47. But do your research. A .38 SPL is not a .38S&W. The latter fits in a Webley, and a 38-40 is actually takes a 10mm bullet.

    It's simple, after 40 years.
     
  18. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Awww, seee? Lost cause, I am, because I even looked it up in my file before I posted and I still remembered it wrong. It would be nice to already have that knowledge, but one person can only have so many interests and areas of expertise. My brain seems to be saturated with stuff I already know (and there is tons of stuff in there, some completely useless but unforgettable) so it's really difficult to just absorb complex technical information about something I am completely unfamiliar with. Luckily I am obsessive about getting the details right and I won't leave it alone until someone who knows more ok's my writing (like my friend who will be proof reading all the weapons and combat related scenes.) Still, I would never make something I know nothing about a main theme of my story. Instead, just enough details to spark the imagination and focus on other aspects in more detail.

    Like in the story I am writing, yes he is a soldier, yes he is enhanced using cutting edge concepts in modern physics (which I know marginally more about) but focus on the biological effects of those enhancements, which is something I know quite a bit about. So in the end, it works :)
     
  19. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Oh, it's not just you, it's me, too. Let me give you an example that discusses the point, and hopefully makes you laugh.

    In my story, some of the characters are from the upper crust of society. The mythical country is on the brink of spotty rebellions, and my lead is hired both as a mercenary and armed escort. I thought I'd fire the opening shot at a dignitary at a fancy-schmancy formal dinner and dance.

    The problem is that I don't dance a step. I do not know the moves, the names of dances, the steps, or any other phrases in their nomenclature. However, my wife watches DWTS, and so I sat down with her to catch a smattering of info to later research.

    While I doubt my book will appeal to "religious, coiffed, militant, action-adventure, competitive ballroom dancers," it would be nice to respect that genre as I would expect them to respect mine.

    Oh, sooner or later you'll post a snippet from your story. My value to you might be to point out unintentional errors on firearms.

    BTW, do you dance?
     
  20. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Haha, yes, I can sympathise with your predicament :D Well, I used to dance when I was younger, and I have a few ballerina friends so I am a harsh armchair judge of such shows. But when I need details on dance moves, there are tons of sites (including Youtube) where they demonstrate various steps, whichever style of dance you need, in pictures, videos and descriptions. That's where I go for my info when I am structuring a warm-up exercises or a name for a certain pose or what have you. So yes, I too will try to be helpful if you post a snippet of your story with dancing in it, and thanks for the offer! :)
     
  21. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    See, I learned something. I'm in YouTube all of the time researching new knives for my business. It never dawned on me that I could use that same site to research oddball plot points and descriptions.

    BTW, I created a female character who's ideas on nomenclature derives from a comic TV alien character named "Alf." When asked about his spaceship he shrugged and said, "Hey, I just put the key in and I go!"

    My comic relief and dialogue spear carrier is a female mercenary with a sharp tongue. When faced with something like errors in weapons choices or routine maintenance I plan to have her say, "Look, I just use 'em, I don't build 'em."

    Hey, I didn't even know where the CPU interface on my own bike resided until the mechanic took the seat off.
     
  22. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Contributing Member

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    I'm the type of person where even in scifi I have to make sure the weapons will actually work. Many scifi stories use needle guns. Since I couldn't design one that would actually work, I don't use them. Understand, I did some work for JPL on rail guns so I don't mind designing advanced weapons. I don't go into a lot of detail on how something works in a story but I try and make sure that whatever I use has some foundation in reality.
     
  23. Late Starter
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    It's about context. If someone stumbles across gun X whilst on the run from zombies/mafia/robots from the future then the situation is unlikely to require, and the MC is even more unlikely to be able to provide, a full critique of it's cailber, particular type of reflex sight (and the pros and cons thereof), custom grip options, handloaded ammo and the neatness of it's ballistic nylon case.

    On the other hand, if it's a professional and/or gun geek with time to spare then detail and accuracy is warranted. But not everything they have/find should have it otherwise it comes across like catalog blurb. Being vague isn't the same as being wrong.

    The kind of fiction I enjoy is primarily written by gun ethusiasts of one kind or another who have yet to appreciate that less is often more.
     
  24. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    I agree. In fact, I have to admit that I find some of the "hand cannons" these authors use border on ridiculous.

    I carry everyday. Most of the time I carry an SW642. If I need a holster weapon, I use a CZ83 with a right kidney Bianchi 'pancake.' I prefer Eldorado hollowpoints, Gold Dots and Golden Sabers.

    Not heavy artillery, and if presented in a story I'm sure some snobs would classify them as 'mouse guns.' However, light alloy frame weapons allow me to comfortably carry 24/7 and you seldom walk away after being hit by modern ammunition.
     
  25. Late Starter
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    It's not even that the weapons are wrong which annoys me.

    90% of the weapons found are going to be fairly run of the mill and 90% of people running around in a shtf scenario are going to be fairly ignorant of the finer points of weaponry. Of those 10% of people who do know about guns who find those 10% of guns which aren't "bog standard" - 99% of the time they'll be too busy to give a shit what they've found and be blatting off rounds over their shoulder as they run down the road.
     
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