Tuesday, February 16, 2010

God is in the Details

By Martha Reed

The subject of my blog today might sound a little obvious but I come from a society where people do not carry handguns in their day-to-day living. When I lived in Texas I did occasionally see a locked gun cabinet as part of someone’s living room furniture and I did fire a shotgun once at a wide open field just to see what recoil felt like but it occurred to me while I was writing Chapter 25 this morning that my main character, Sarah Jarad, lived with a man who carried a gun as part of his everyday business accoutrement because John Jarad is a police Lieutenant.

This concept stumped me for two good long cups of coffee this morning because I had to consider a whole new train of thought: what would it be like to live with someone who went to work armed? What type of rules would Sarah and John agree on about carrying a semi-automatic weapon into their household? Does Sarah even allow the gun in the house? If not, is John comfortable about leaving his gun locked up outside in the lockbox of his truck every night?

This gun revelation caused all kinds of kerfluffle in my manuscript this morning mostly because I had to spend a couple of hours researching my knowledge of a ‘gun’. Oh, sure, I knew what a gun was but I had never had to define it down to specificity before. I knew about Colt .45s because of the beer and Dirty Harry’s .44 Make My Day Magnum but every detail I really knew about guns I had learned from television. Never before had I considered the very real and important details like make or model, caliber, drift & drop, trigger pull, handgrips or manageable recoil.

This research opened up a whole new world to me this morning and thank goodness for the internet because doing this much research ten years ago would have taken me a month. Now not only can I surf through police blogs to read the passionate arguments for and against each type I can also visit YouTube and more than likely find a video of someone demonstrating each exact make and model.

The upshot is that once I realized which gun John would carry (do you want to know?) it allowed me to go back through my manuscript and tighten it up in places I would never have considered before I understood how important this gun detail was. I realize now that John would be comfortable with carrying a gun, he would practice with his, and after reading through all those blogs I came to realize that gun collectors are fascinated by the mechanics of their particular piece of weaponry. This opened up a whole other line of conversation between the officers at the station and when I was done editing it in I sat still in amazement at how this one detail added so much color to the whole story.

Gustave Flaubert (1821-80) was quoted as saying ‘Le bon Dieu est dans le detail’ (God is in the details). I think he was on to something. How much of writing is in taking the proper amount of time to really think things all the way through? Have you read anything lately that offered a detail in it so perfectly in tune with the story that you were left with the detail even when the reading was through? I did. Recently I finished Phil Rickman’s The Cure of Souls (a Merrily Watkins Mystery) and I know I’ll never look at the color yellow the same way again. How about you?


Joyce Tremel said...

Glad you were able to make it work.

Remember you can always email Lee Lofland when you have any police questions. He'll make sure you have your info right. I don't always trust what I find online.

Jenna said...

Personally, I love how an hour spent researching something on the internet, and dabbling that information throughout the manuscript you're writing, can make you sound like an expert on damn near anything.

Ramona said...

Martha, God is in the details when you get them right; the Devil's in them when you get them wrong.

Guns are a funny thing. My dad was a hunter and a working cowboy, so he owned a variety of shotguns. I never thought a thing about it until, as an adult, went down for a visit, and one of my young sons said, "Grandpa's house is full of guns." He was right: Gun rack over the washing machine, gun rack in the guest bedroom, gun rack in the truck, gun rack on the ATV. I wonder if your Sarah would become so accustomed to her husband's weapons that their presence hardly registered?

Rosemary Harris said...

Those details, even if they don't effect the solution of the crime or the outcome of the book, add such a richness to the book. I had a brief phone interview with my favorite cop yesterday and even just picking up some of his phrasing was helpful.
And it's not just law enforcement details which most of us (in our real lives) don't know that much about. They can be details of the victim's hobby or art collection. The killer's taste in music..

Gina said...

Guns, guns, guns. One of my favorite movie scenes is from Twilight, when Bella's father, a police chief, is cleaning his gun as she's about to introduce him to her vampire boyfriend.
You're right about those details, though, Martha. For people who only know the generalities, it doesn't matter if you get it just a little wrong, but for those who know, it really rankles, and calls the rest of everything you write into question.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

This is exactly why we had a gun class and shooting range at the SinC National Conference in St. Louis a few years ago.

It wound up being the most popular event of the weekend. We had an instructor who dabbled in writing teach about guns with actual guns in the classroom then they went to the range and fired a .22 first then a 9 mm.

We finished by taking pictures of everybody holding an Uzi.

And yes, I think choice of gun can reflect a personality.

"I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?" Harold Francis Callahan 1971

Wilfred Bereswill said...

But Laurie, you remember how that cool steel felt against your fingers, the sqaureness of the Glock's composit grips in your palms, the heft as you raised it to level, the kick of the recoil, the smell of the spent shell, the sense of confidence knowing it was within reach and the fear you had of having to draw it in a situation.

You have all that to pour into writing.

Anonymous said...

Wilfred, You are so right about that. Well said! :-) Particularly the part about "the smell." The smell is definitely something that stays with you.

Martha Reed said...

Thank you all for your insightful comments! I really do feel like I got my eyes opened with this subject. Hopefully, I can reflect it in my work going forward.

Patg said...

Yes, details are important, but get one wrong and you usually hear more about it than all the other right ones in the manuscript.
And it mostly depends on the reader. Most people who know nothing about the item won't mind because it doesn't interfere with the story for them. But just know a lot about the subject and the littlest thing sets you off. I started reading a book that had the protag flying first class trans-Atlantic, and I knew, no not assumed, I knew this author never flew first class cross any ocean. Maybe she peaked into the first class cabin of a domestic flight, or saw business class on a foreign flight and assumed, but she never was in a first class, international cabin. How could this matter? Well for most it wouldn't, but most aren't 40 year veterans of the travel industry.
Just saying. Sheesh, sure hope I got the guns in my book right, but they don't play a big part.

MaryQ said...

Details are important to me, too, even if the reader never really knows the difference. Since my story is set locally, I drove the route my MC would drive from his house to his work, just to see how long it would really take, what he'd see on the way, etc.
In the big scheme of things, it probably doesn't matter, but I think these kind of details bring a story to life.

nancy martin said...

Martha, I have a wonderful resource in Nancie the Gun Tart, who's terrific about reading chapters and helping make the weapon details perfect. Email me if you'd like to get in touch with her sometime.

kanishk said...

can make you sound like an expert on damn near anything.

Work from home India