10 Things Authors Get Wrong When Writing About the Military

(U.S. Department of Defense photo)

Writing about military characters in fiction takes a little legwork. Here are 10 tips for avoiding the most common pitfalls. (U.S. Department of Defense photo)

This guest blog post comes from Joshua Hood. I’d normally summarize a guest writer’s bio in my notes before the article, but Hood’s background is too extensive to outline here. Read the bio at the end of the article. Let’s cut right to the chase, because Hood has some excellent tips for writing about the military in fiction.

~Ben Continue reading

Why Do Characters Flip Over or Fly Backward When They Are Shot?

The rider on the left was shot, but he's not being thrown off his horse from the impact of the bullet. The horse reared up and tossed him backward. (Shutterstock image)

The rider on the left was shot, but he’s not being thrown off his horse from the impact of the bullet. The horse reared up and tossed him backward. (Shutterstock image)

TLDR: Dramatic movements after being shot are caused by a secondary effect, such as an involuntary muscle reaction, not from the force of being hit by one or more projectiles.

If you’ve read my book, The Writer’s Guide to Weapons, (you have right?) you know that characters hit by gunfire wouldn’t fly backward several feet from the force of being shot. It’s simple physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If the target flies back several feet after being shot, the shooter should, too.

For the sake of space in my book, I couldn’t take the next step in that discussion. When characters are shot, they can still make movements that make it appear as if they’re being manipulated by the force of the shot. Here’s why.

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Will a Gun Go Off If It’s Dropped?

Just for the record: That's moss, not the carpeting in my house. (Shutterstock photo)

Just for the record: That’s moss, not the carpeting in my house. (Shutterstock photo)

TLDR: Despite how it might benefit a fictional scene, it’s extremely rare for a gun to off accidentally, even when it’s dropped. It’s far more likely the “accident” is due to negligence.

Pictured: Life. (GIF via giphy)

Pictured: Life. (GIF via giphy)

I have great luck with my push lawnmower. It’s old, missing a few bolts and requires just the right touch to operate, but it gets the job done. If I’m lucky, it’ll start before pull number three. If it doesn’t, I know there’s a mechanical error. I might not know exactly where, but I follow a logical path to find it. Is there gas in the tank? Is the spark plug throwing a spark? Is the throttle adjusted correctly? Is there grass preventing the blade from spinning? Continue reading

Why Do Characters Blow Away Gun Smoke from the Barrel After They Shoot?

Why do characters in movies, TV shows and (sometimes) books blow smoke from the end of their handguns' barrels after a shootout? The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is because it looks cool. But history shows this trope once served a practical purpose. (Shutterstock image)

Why do characters in movies, TV shows and (sometimes) books blow smoke from the end of their guns’ barrels after a shootout? Also, is this person blowing away the smoke or sucking it in? Is this a hookah by way of a pistol? Is that even possible? Asking for a friend. (Shutterstock image)

TLDR: This trope serves no practical purpose with modern firearms, but it did play an essential role many years ago.

I hate to break it to you, but much of the “cool factor” surrounding guns in fiction is based on what looks cool. Take away the arbitrary cool factor, and firearms are pieces of nerdy metal, square chemistry, dad jean physics and Nickelback designs. On their own, they’re boring. Just try talking to one.

It takes someone or something else to make them “cool.” One way characters in fiction do that is by blowing the gun smoke away from the barrel after an intense volley of gunfire, usually but not always involving a handgun. The website TV Tropes even has a page dedicated to this cliche.

Is there any point to this trope or is it just blowing smoke? Let’s break it down.

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FACT or FICTION: Forensics and Crime Scene Investigation Portrayed in Entertainment

The CSI Effect

Skilled investigators work to unravel crime scenes, but it doesn’t always follow the process portrayed in pop culture. For example, in this photo, it’s clear that someone spilled white paint on himself/herself, then tripped while doing a Wile E. Coyote impression. ~Ben (Image by Nate Nolting via sxc.hu)

If you’re not already reading crime writer/criminologist Jennifer Chase’s blog and Emily Stone series of novels, you’re missing out. In addition to those great reads, Chase cranks out posts on her website worthy of a college course in criminal justice. I’m privileged to host another fantastic post from her here. Enjoy!

~Ben

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