Weapons: Helping Descriptions Feel Natural

The biggest challenge when working with description isn’t the act of describing itself. It’s knowing the when or where. Sometimes, describing weapons can get awkward. This happens a lot for me in fiction, especially when an author plunks all the description down in a place where it doesn’t belong. It’s important to remember even when writing Third Person Omniscient that when a character thinks about their weapon or talks about their weapon, they need to do so in a manner which feels natural to how the character thinks and acts.

Think about this, which sounds more natural.

Gerald’s hand shifted back and pulled his Glock 17 9mm off his Sam Browne belt.

Or:

Gerald’s hand shifted back and he pulled his sidearm off his Sam Browne belt. His fingers locked easily around the silver grip. It was a Smith & Wesson 5906. No longer standard issue in the LA Department, they’d moved on with the times to other, newer, models. Still, Gerald thought, can’t beat a classic.

The thing about description is you need to find reasons why you’re characters are describing the object to begin with. The Glock 17 is standard issue in most police departments around the country, while the reader might not know that a cop like Gerald certainly would. If his gun isn’t important or special to him in some way, then dropping description of it randomly into a sentence feels out of place. It’s just his sidearm, standard issue, nothing special. Comparatively, in the second example Gerald uses his weapon as a stand in to tell the reader that he’s out of date. It was standard at one point but we’ve moved on with the times, Gerald has a reason to tell us about his gun and we get some character development out of it too.

This transitions into working with a sci-fi or fantasy setting, even if the weapon the character wields is like nothing we’ve ever seen on this earth they still need to treat it like it’s normal (unless it isn’t). There’s a time and a place for extensive navel gazing about what the weapon can do, but if it’s slowing down the scene then chuck it.

Sam swung her XLJ452 lasgun around and pointed it at the dreaded bug monster. She fired, reducing the beast to a smear of chunky, blue salsa.

Let’s change the scene and compare:

“And this one?” Drill Sergeant Martez’s finger dropped, pointing to a long silver cylinder with a bulky handle. The full collection of standard issue lasguns and pistols sat on the wide table.

Sam straightened. “The XLJ452! Marine issue! Fires a beam of light straight down the bug humpers gullet and reduces them to a blue smear.”

“A blue smear?” Martez lifted an eyebrow.

To be honest next to the XIL321 and the XLJ456, the XLJ452 looked a little like an oversized penis. “Chunky salsa?” Sam asked.

“Chunky salsa, Private?”

“Yes, ma’am. Chunky salsa, ma’am!”

The idea is to give your characters a reason to talk about details in your setting and not just drop them in at random. Make them a natural extension of how your character feels, thinks, and talks about their weapons. The explanations need to feel natural and support who your character is supposed to be and what they are supposed to know. If your character works with their weapon often, they may not have a reason to share exactly what it is and the story behind it unless they are pressed. Or they are nerds. Or it’s their job to know.

-Michi

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