|Steve McQueen showing proper trigger discipline|
with his Colt Government 1911 in The Getaway
My experiences with these weapons, and with talking to experts like my father, who knows just about everything there is to know about guns, kept me (I hope) from making embarrassing errors in my book. Not just silly errors like calling a magazine a "clip," but more obscure errors—at least obscure to us non-experts.
As I wrote my book, questions I hadn’t considered while plotting it kept coming up. How many shells can a pump-action shotgun hold? What caliber cartridge (never say "bullet" unless you’re talking about the projectile at the tip of a cartridge) should my characters, male and female, use? Which is better for concealed carry, a shoulder holster or a belt holster? If a character uses a belt holster, does she carry inside or outside the belt?
In one scene, my protagonist, Jane Piper, needs to rapidly switch magazines in her pistol. There’s a lull in the battle, but she knows the threat can and probably will return at any second. Wisely, while firing she counted down her shots, so she’s aware that there is one cartridge left in her mag (meaning the gun’s slide has not locked open, which it does when you’re out of ammo). Time to change mags.
So what does she do next? I knew she would drop the magazine by depressing the release, but how would she slip in a new mag? With her fingers? And where would the second mag come from, her pocket?
It turns out that the fastest and most accurate way to insert a new magazine is to extend your arm so your gun is in front of you at chest level. Then, as you release the mag, you (1) cant the gun so you can see or feel for the mag well, (2) take hold of the new mag, (3) palm it in (push it in with the palm of your hand), and (4) rack the gun’s slide.
You keep the magazine in a pouch on your belt, not in your pocket. The extra mags should be aligned properly so you don’t have to realign them before palming them in, and you always take hold of a mag in the correct way, with your index finger pressed along its front. My heroine has practiced this move so many times that she does it by feel—not by looking at the well—which allows her to keep her eyes on the threat.
Obviously I don’t describe every step of this process—that would stop the action and bore the reader—but I need to know what the process is so I don’t make an error. For instance, sometimes my heroine carries a Seecamp, a tiny pistol with a European-style magazine release (at the bottom rear of the grip, so you can’t depress it with your trigger finger or thumb). When she does, the process of changing magazines is slower, and she’d probably have to take her eyes off what’s going on for a second or two.
If you don’t have access to guns and firing ranges, or experts who can answer your questions, there are many helpful resources on the Internet. Youtube, a goldmine, has some great videos, covering everything from the basics to more advanced information. For instance, maybe you want your hero to turn his pistol sideways as he’s shooting, like they do on TV. First, I beg you, don’t. Second, watch this video on proper gun grips. There’s more to gripping a pistol than you think.
If you need to refresh your memory on a particular gun you’ve tested, or if you don’t have access to a gun but still want to use it in your book, do a Youtube search for it. Many videos feature specific guns, like the Ruger Security-Six .357, a super-reliable revolver with a great feel, and the classic Remington 870, a pump-action shotgun used in my thriller.
Of course, nothing beats hands-on experience, so the best thing you can do as an author, if you write scenes involving guns, is visit your local shooting range (every state has them) and try out your weapon of choice.