I know next to nothing about weapons, other than that they’re used to kill others and protect ourselves in an emergency. However, that doesn’t stop me, and many others, from wanting to use them in our fictional tales.
The problem that I have is that there are a lot of weapons out there, and it can be hard to choose the right one for my characters and stories. Do I pick a bow, firearm, or knife? What about bombs and torpedos?
Like most things in the writing universe, you can figure all of this out by doing a bit of research. And I wanted to help you get a head start on that research by giving you as much information as possible to begin your search and then apply what you know.
A Writer’s Resource Guide to Weapons
To make your research process a little easier, I decided to help you out by collecting as many resources as possible. The first one on the list is Wikipedia’s master list of weapons.
It’s an excellent place to start your journey into the world of weapons because it summarizes all of the real-world tools used in armed conflict. It classifies things by weapon type and period, making it a lot easier for you to find exactly what you’re looking for.
Another weapon Bible you should consider picking up is The Writer’s Guide to Weapons by Benjamin Sobieck. I’ve seen numerous authors reference it as a lifesaver when writing weapon scenes.
You also might want to check out this article by Chuck Wendig. He has grown up around guns and owns some, and knows a thing or two about them.
Laws and Regulations for Weapons
*Please note: I’m not advocating for or against gun regulations. I don’t want to talk about this in the comments below. This information is for educational purposes only.
The second thing you should look into is the laws surrounding weapons. This is especially important if you’re writing a modern-day story because warring nations and law-abiding citizens must follow these rules. If they don’t, we get some tense situations.
I want to note that before we get into the rules and regulations, we are writers, and we can take some creative license with these rules and regulations. So feel free to make up your own laws, but make sure they stay consistent throughout your narrative.
Without further adieu, here are some resources for international and North American (aka Canada and the US) gun laws:
These are the international laws that all governments are supposed to follow:
- UN: International Law and Justice
- International Committee of the Red Cross
- US Department of Defense Law of War Manual 2016
- International Committee of the Red Cross: Geneva Protocols – The Geneva Protocols outline how war should be conducted in today’s society. This is an excellent resource for those of you wanting to write a modern war story.
Your country’s weapon laws will be different from another country’s, so please visit your government website for the latest information. I’ve linked to Canada and the US regulations, but you can always find other countries’ information online.
- The US:
- Gun Laws by State (Wikipedia) – please check your state’s website for the full legal details.
Bonus: The Law of Self-Defense
Self-defense is one of those things that blurs the lines between what’s lawful and what’s not, which is a line some protagonists play within the heat of the moment.
And if you don’t know what self-defense laws are, then here’s a quick explanation: self-defense addresses disparity of force in a confrontation. It means that deadly force can only be justified if it evens the odds to prevent loss of life (or other conditions).
If you want to learn more about self-defense, please visit your local government’s website to brush up on the rules. Here’s a link to Canada’s stance of self-defense and the US National Conference of State Legislatures to give you an idea of what to expect.
Other Research Avenues
The best way to learn about weapons is to use them in a controlled setting with an instructor. And yes, there are classes and courses you can take to teach you about guns and knives. And I know many gun ranges have walk-in options where they rent the equipment that you’ll need.
However, I know this isn’t for everyone and can get pricey very quickly. Thankfully, I have some alternatives for you to aid you in your research. (Thank you, Rachel Amphlett, for the suggestions!)
If you can’t get your hands on a particular weapon in your area or don’t want to touch it, there’s a way around this issue. YouTube has a vibrant community of reviewers that can offer you a real-world perspective. You can watch their videos to see how specific weapons work and use that information for further research.
Ask a Weapons Expert
This one goes hand-in-hand with networking, so make sure you’re talking to all different types of people on the internet, at conventions, etc. You never know when you might find a missile guidance systems expert or the founder of some obscure weapon company.
Always keep a business card on hand, and don’t be afraid to tell people you’re a writer. It can open many doors for you, and you can learn some fantastic things.
Historical Re-enactment Societies
These guys take their hobby seriously, and they can be a treasure trove of information when it comes to using historical weapons. And they love to talk about this kind of stuff, so it may be a good idea to have a tape recorder or a notebook handy to take notes.
Talk to your local and national police and military agencies.
Check their websites first. You’ll probably find the information you need there, but if you don’t send their media department an email. And if you have the option, go to open police and military recruitment days and ask questions.
You can also reach out to retired military and law enforcement officials to see if they’d be willing to help you. Please be respectful of their time if you’ll be contacting any of these people in person or online.
Read some nonfiction or watch a documentary.
Many bookstores have space on their shelves dedicated to military nonfiction, and you can learn a lot from those books. They’ll tell you not only what weapons are used but how they’re used.
Documentaries work in the same way but will tell you more about the people behind the weapons. It’s the people using the weapons that are important because our characters need to mimic them and their mindsets in particular ways to be believable.
Practical Tips for Writing Weapons
Once you have waded into the world of weapons and picked the one you want to use, you’ll need to apply it to your story and your characters. And for that, I’ve got some practical tips for you to follow:
Don’t overthink things.
I’ll let Benjamin Sobieck explain this one:
Figure out what you need to know more about, see how it works, throw it into the story, and be done with it. Unless you’re tapping your inner technical writer, just shoot for accurately depicting the weapons in your story. “Maynard shot the revolver” is just as accurate as “Maynard thumbed back the hammer on the single-action Ruger revolver, anticipating the shot as the cylinder wheeled a fresh chamber into place.”
In other words, you don’t have to add every detail you learned about that particular weapon into a scene. You can keep it as simple as “Johnny shot the rifle” or “Sally stabbed the bad guy.”
Know the weapons and their terminology.
But if you are the type of person who wants to add in those little details, you must know your weapon well and its terminology. There is a substantial difference between precision and accuracy in the gun world. Or the difference between a clip and a magazine.
You can find a full list of gun terms from the NSSF here.
Let’s look at the different types of bows you can use. Not all of them are created equally, and some are more useful in particular situations than others are. For example, recursive bows are commonly used as hunting bows because they add velocity to your shot, which comes in handy when hunting a fast animal.
Match the weapon to the user.
Most of the time, we think, the bigger the weapon, the better. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s a horrible idea.
Think about it. Would you give a frail character a weapon they can’t use because they lack the strength to use it? I bet you wouldn’t because it doesn’t make sense.
It would be best if you found something that plays to your character’s strengths and skill level. A hit with a pipsqueak .22 handgun is always better than a miss with a .50 caliber pistol that kicks like a mule. Your character needs to be able to use the weapon effectively, or you might as well send them in with nothing.
(Mythcreants has a great post to help you decide what type of weapon your hero should use.)
Your weapons research doesn’t stop with the weapon.
Knowing the terminology and the weapon your character is using is only half of the battle. You also need to know the type of damage that weapon can do to a person, animal, or landscape.
Guns, bombs, and knives have repercussions that extend beyond death. This is based on where a person is shot or what artery is nicked with a knife. Nuclear bombs have fallouts that last years in effected areas.
Cops and criminals use different weapons.
If you thought that the police had the black market under control, then you’ll be sorry. It’s alive and well, my friends, which means your bad guys have access to some pretty serious weaponry. So let your imagination go wild here, and give your villain all the destructive toys he wants.
As for your law-abiding hero, he’s stuck with his standard-issue equipment. But don’t think it means he’s not packing some cool tools as well. Police and military equipment has been rigorously tested to make sure it works, and he’s got ammunition stored up in bulk. And those knives fit perfectly with the rest of his gear.
So think twice about giving them some obscure weapon to use because it may not make sense. It also means that you’ll have to do more research to get it right. The same goes for law-abiding citizens. They will only have access to certain weapons, so make sure you check out local laws.
You will get something wrong.
And someone will point it out. Don’t take it personally and wait a bit before responding, especially if you have done the research. Chances are someone else will yell at the nay-sayer for you.
If not, take a page out of Patricia Briggs’ book, and set out to prove them wrong. You know, by making your own silver bullets.
If you do make a mistake and get caught, don’t beat yourself up for it. Weapons are weird, and there’s a lot to learn about them. Take the hit and move on with the lesson.
Weapons are used in numerous genres, including horror, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, and mystery, to name a few. They have a significant impact on the lives of the characters in these types of books. Not just in terms of death, but how they live with injuries and the destruction weapons leave behind.
And to get all of this right, writers need to do their research. Yes, we get things wrong at times, but as long as we’re willing to learn from our mistakes, we’ll be fine. We will continue to create stories that draw our readers into action or break their hearts when we kill their favorite characters.
I hope the resources help you in your writing journey, and if I left anything out, please let me know! What’s your favorite weapon to use in a story?
Stay safe, everyone.
Until next time