Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Write what you know

Write what you know.

This is the mantra of writers.  I sometimes think that the code should be "If you don't know it, don't write it." One of my biggest pet peeves is not so much when someone writes something that's just a little off but when it propagates significant misinformation on a topic.

For example, in the 18th century, women wore pouches under their skirts called "pockets".  It was a relatively new invention to attach these directly to garments as we know them now.  Back then the pockets were separated from the garments and worn on a separate band about the waist and under their skirts.

Despite this fact, over and over, at re-enactments, women will walk around with their pockets on the outside of their skirts and show off the lovely embroidery on there.  They'll talk about the hours women would spend on needle work to adorn the pockets (they did) and the pride they would put into making them (they had it) and how women would be happy to show them off (they did not).  To suggest they did is a bit like talking about how women today would show off their lacy bras to anyone and everyone because they were so proud to wear such cute underthings.

So to this end, I had a unique opportunity last month.

Over in Mind the Thorns, Regan found herself faced with choices as to how to deal with a band of vampire hunters coming to kill her.  As of Thursday morning, the day the poll closed, the vote was heavily favoring the use of a sword.  Then, over the single day, the entire thing shifted, with several votes in a row deciding that she would pick up a pistol instead.  I wrote the addendum and stared at it.

What was it like to shoot a gun?

I'd fired a musket before for re-enacting.  It's a loud beast but when there's no ball loaded it doesn't do much in the way of kick.  I've been told the kick is fairly substantial and my physics background supports that.  An 18th Century musket is, after all, a .75 caliber firearm.  By most classifications today, that rates as an anti-tank weapon.

So I hopped on Steam chat, found my friend Derek and within a few minutes arranged to meet him the next morning at the gun range.  There we talked about the guns Regan was likely to fire, I got a crash course in how the guns were set up, and what "features" each offered, and then we shredded some paper targets.

I mostly fired the 9mm that he had brought.  I have to say that the gun was remarkably easy to use and fit very comfortably into the hand.  Just like the airsoft pistol I have, there was a button under the thumb that releases the magazine for quick reloading.  It had surprisingly little kick to it and I was able to fire it fairly well  simply resting it on my off hand rather than really bracing it hard.

The second he handed me was a small holdout pistol, a .38 Ruger.  This is the pistol that he carries as part of his CCW and that was what it was designed for.  Unlike the 9mm it had no hammer to pull back and thus had less things to catch on when you pulled it from a purse or pocket.

This gun scared me.  Every shot felt like it was going to leap out of my hands.  We loaded 5 rounds in the magazine and I was glad to put it down.

In Chapter 7 Regan really gets a chance to let loose with the pistol:

Planting her foot on the ground outside again she popped out into night and braced her arm along the side of the SUV. The cool clean air struck her as a stark contrast to the acid smell inside the SUV. She took aim at a dark spot she thought was one of the hunters and snapped the trigger back. 
 She felt the shot far more than she saw or heard it. She already had a rising ringing in her ears from the crack of Jeremiah’s assault rifle, and the steady destruction of the SUV around her. But it was the wall of force that slammed against her chest that she truly took notice of. She blinked and tried to line up another shot. She pulled back and again the wall of sound washed back over her as the gun fired.

It was an incredibly fun exercise as a writer and I think one that too many of us don't value in our craft.  It's all well and good to have mental pictures, or rough ideas of what something is or feels like.  It's a completely different thing to get out there and experience it, and then write about that experience.

Lastly I want to recommend the movie:  Happy Together staring Patrick Demsey and Helen Slater.  In short Demsey's character of Chris wants to become a writer and write the next great American Novel.  Only he's never known love, he's never known heart break, and he's never known life.  His writing mentor comments on this early in the movie, and again when appropriate for a Romantic Comedy (because you know there's going to be heart break at some point).

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