Writing Tips: 10 Ways to Research Weapons Without Touching One

(Image by Eduard Piél via sxc.hu)

(Image by Eduard Piél via sxc.hu)

Rachel Amphlett writes thrillers, most notably the Dan Taylor series, from her home in Australia. You might recognize her from the James Bond movie, The World is Not Enough, where she was an extra. (OK, you wouldn’t have known that without reading her bio, but how cool is that?) In all seriousness, go check out Amphlett’s bio. Guitars, movies, bars, globe-trotting, she’s done it all. How could that not result in some great reads?

Tight regulations on firearms in Australia means Amphlett has to get creative when researching these critical story components. If you live in an area where firearm access is limited, or just don’t feel like putting one in your hands, I think you’ll enjoy her tips below.



10 Ways to Research Weapons Without Touching One

Check out all of Rachel Amphlett's books at RachelAmphlett.com. (Author photo)

Check out all of Rachel Amphlett’s books at RachelAmphlett.com. (Rachel Amphlett photo)

For thriller writers like myself who have no prior experience with handling weapons, it can be a little daunting when faced with the all-important fact checking required to give our novels that touch of authenticity readers demand.

However, there are ways to find out more about all sorts of weapons, and you don’t even have to touch one – in some cases, you wouldn’t want to anyway! Here are 10 ways that you can research weapons. I’ve tried to include ideas for authors that might write outside of the thriller genre as well.

#1 – YouTube

I’ve listed this first because, for some reason, I always overlook YouTube when it comes to researching weapons, and I’m making a mental note to myself to try this resource first in future.

The best places to start are the official Army, Navy and Air Force videos. From there, you can explore up-to-date equipment and military weaponry and see exactly how our armed forces put these to use.

#2 – Simulator

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One of the best research trips I’ve had this year involved attempting to fly a Blackhawk helicopter simulator. With no previous flying experience, you can imagine how well that session went (!) but it was invaluable experience, helping me to get a real sense of environment for one of my scenes.

Of course, not everyone has access to a flight simulator, so what about a computer game? There are many on the market, and these often include more than one type of aircraft to choose from.

#3 – Ask an Expert

You never know where you might meet someone who can help you with your research, so always have some business cards to hand, and don’t be shy in telling people that you’re a writer.

Some of my best points of contact have been project managers and engineers I’ve worked with who come from a military or defence department background. From having only a textbook understanding of missile guidance systems, for example, I now have a better “on the ground” appreciation of this weapon’s capability, and all from one chance conversation over the office coffee machine!

#4 – Network

As with experts, mine your own contacts for experts you can ask. I put a call-out in my newsletter occasionally for people to get in touch with me if they want to be added to my research database, so I’ve got a note of people I can e-mail if I need to find something out.

If you don’t have a contact in a particular specialist field, ask among your peers via your social media. Chances are, you’ll know someone who can put you in touch with an expert.

#5 – Historical Re-Enactment Societies

For example, this guy might know something about yelling in your ear while holding a portable birdhouse. ~Ben (Image by Ted Rosen via sxc.hu)

For example, this guy might know something about yelling in your ear while holding a portable birdhouse. ~Ben (Image by Ted Rosen via sxc.hu)

Members are often keen to explain what they’re doing and share their knowledge. Again, this is often a great way to add to your list of experts for future reference.

From medieval weaponry through to civil war re-enactment (both English and American), you’re exposed to people who take this sort of thing very seriously. So go ahead, ask your questions and soak up that knowledge.

#6 – Military and Police Recruitment Open Days

I had a fantastic time earlier this year at a convention the Queensland Police had organised. It’d filled an exhibition hall with stands representing the different police departments that operated in the state, and invited the public to wander around and talk to all the police officers.

Of course, I honed in straight away on the Explosive Ordnance Response team, and also spent time chatting with the officers manning the police weapons display. It was a real eye-opener.

#7 – Watch Documentaries

There are plenty of programmes on television, and available on replay on sites such as the ABC, National Geographic, and Discovery channels. I’ve watched everything from how snipers are trained to a day in the life of an explosive ordnance operator.

It’s a great way to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. You’ll get a real sense of empathy for the people interviewed, which is a great help when you’re putting your characters into dire situations and working out how they’re going to survive.

#8 – Read

Military non-fiction books take up a whole shelf and a half of one of our bookcases at home. As I’ve never served in the military, it’s important that I understand not just what the weapons my characters might use, but how those weapons are used.

Right now, I’m reading about 3 PARA, having recently read a book about what jobs ex-SAS personnel might take on around the world. It’s a never-ending learning curve, and there are plenty of books out there to help with my research.

#9 – Media Departments for Local Law Enforcement and Armed Forces

FBI logo

Or, depending on your writing project, maybe you don’t want the FBI to be your first call. I’m looking at you, crime and thriller writers. ~Ben

Check their websites first. Often, you’ll find all the information you need by spending an hour or so pouring over the “About” pages.

I know for a fact that the British Armed Forces have some incredible information spread over their various websites, and the FBI website is a good one to take a look at as well. If you can’t find what you need though, don’t be afraid to drop the media department a line – more often than not, they’re more than happy to point you in the right direction.

#10 – Buy Ben’s Book

The Writers Guide to Weapons-1Seriously. I was chuffed to bits when this was published, and I wish it had been available years ago. It sits right next to my writing craft books so if I get stuck in future, I can just spin round on my chair from my keyboard, look something up, and get straight back into the writing. It’s a great investment.

The Bottom Line: You Have Options

In summary, if you never have the chance to pick up a weapon to see what it’s like to use, you don’t need to worry. As you can see from the above, there are plenty of (safe!) alternatives you can employ instead.

We’d love to hear from you about some of the tactics you’ve used to research weapons for your writing in the comments below.

About Rachel Amphlett

Three Lives Down Rachel Amphlett

Amphlett’s latest thriller novel, Three Lives Down, part of the Dan Taylor series, will be published Nov. 16, 2015. Click the cover to order it now.

Rachel Amphlett previously worked in the UK publishing industry, as a TV/film extra, played lead guitar in rock bands, and worked with BBC radio before relocating from England to Australia in 2005.

After returning to writing, Rachel enjoyed publication success both in Australia and the United Kingdom with her short stories, before her first thriller White Gold was released in 2011, with the Italian foreign rights being sold to Fanucci Editore’s TimeCrime imprint in 2014.

You can keep in touch with Rachel via her mailing list by signing up at www.rachelamphlett.com.

3 thoughts on “Writing Tips: 10 Ways to Research Weapons Without Touching One

  1. Excellent tips, Rachel! All of which I use too. Ben’s site is usually my first stop for weapon-related questions. Digging around in past posts has sparked so many great ideas. You’re right Ben. Her bio is awesome. *waves at both of you* Have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

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