Like blue jeans, some weapons in fiction are standard fare for characters. Ubiquity doesn’t equal accuracy, though. How do you know where to draw the line? (Shutterstock photo)
“But ‘Switchblade’ Sounds Cooler”
I’ve beat the drum about “switchblades” and “assisted opening knives” nearly to death (see here, here and here for examples), so I wasn’t surprised to get a little pushback to my (alleged) dogma. If you don’t care to read up with those links, the nut of it is that any time you get the itch to write “switchblade” in a story set in modern times, replace it with “assisted opening knife” or “assisted opener.” One writer thanked me for the explanation, “but ‘switchblade’ sounds cooler,” so that would remain the preferred term.
Can you tell just by looking whether this is a switchblade or an assisted opener? Most people can’t. Click the pic to find out why. (Image via BLADE)
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It’s my lucky day, because the hits keep on coming. Lee Lofland hosted my guest blog post about the differences between switchblade and assisted opening knives over at The Graveyard Shift. Check it out for an interesting analysis of knife laws and current events as they relate to fiction. Continue reading
The classic switchblade of fiction most people picture in their minds is an Italian stiletto. That’s not a model per se, it’s more of a style, and it looks like this:
As I’ve written before, that’s an old school style that’s fallen by the wayside. New switchblades use modern technology and are so different that they’re called “automatic knives.” They look something like these Protech models:
But that doesn’t mean Italian stilettos are off-limits for modern day settings in fiction. Even though they’ve dropped out of popularity, the style has evolved over the decades. A character with a brand new Italian stiletto might carry something that looks like this:
That’s a Bear OPS AC-300-ALBK-S Stiletto. Writerfolk, if your character needs old school flair in a modern package, this is a great pick. I dare say you could break from convention and write it as a “switchblade,” even though “automatic knife” or “automatic” would work just as well. Just be sure it’s legal for the character to carry if that’s important to the story. Law enforcement, military and criminal characters could use this knife without another thought. Your Joe or Jane Citizen characters would require some more legal research.
- 3-1/4″ blade
- 7-5/8″ open length
- 4-1/2″ closed length
- Weight: 4.3 oz.
Despite the differences in design and materials, one thing all switchblades and automatic knives is the button on the handle. The blade pops open when it’s pressed. That button (sometimes also a switch or lever) is a defining characteristic that makes a knife a switchblade/automatic both legally and technically.
First switchblade pic via Shutterstock, Protech knives pic via BLADE magazine, Bear OPS pic via Bear & Son Cutlery
Get the Book
The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books) comes with everything but the ammo. Pick up a print or digital copy from these fine retailers:
I was reading a thriller last night where a character popped open a switchblade to slit the throat of someone pinned in a car wreck. (Took a lot of guts to do that, chump.) There’s nothing wrong with that passage, but it made me wonder if writers and readers know what it is that makes a knife a switchblade.
Switchblades’ Two Key Features
When most people picture a switchblade, they imagine something like this Shutterstock pic: