Choose Your Weapon

PJ here, talking about hand guns and blow guns, and everything in between.

I apologize ahead of time if this post is disturbing to readers who struggle with even the mere mention of guns these days. The tragedies of gun violence in society aside, weapons are a common theme in many of our fiction works. From Harry Potter’s wand to Katniss and her bow, most of our heroes and heroines use some kind of weapon to gain the upper hand against the villains in our stories. So whether you write YA, Mystery, Thriller, Romantic Suspense, or even Regency, you have likely had to research and decide how you would best arm your characters. So how does one decide what weapons or skills to give to imaginary people? If you write Regency or Historical romance–you might want to stick with swords and bayonets. Perhaps having your character be proficient in martial arts will be enough to give them skills to save the day. In my near future dystopian world, I considered that many people will still be carrying and fighting with guns, so that’s where my focus will be for today.

Although I’m a relative newbie to the weapons world, I’ve spent considerable time over the past few years researching handguns and weapons for various characters. I used to write adult romantic suspense and paranormal romance before I “shifted” to YA—no pun intended. I think choosing weapons depends on your character’s personality, training, purpose for having a weapon, and what fits best with the setting of your story. A cross bow is swift, silent and deadly–a definite consideration when fighting zombies. But in many cases, your characters will HAVE to carry guns as part of their job. If you are dealing with cops, PI’s, or military heroes, be sure to talk to someone in that field who is familiar with weapons and ask what they use so you can keep your story authentic and accurate.

Since most of my research was aimed at my female characters, here are a few tips I learned about arming your heroines with guns.

This post is in no way making any political statement about guns or gun control, and is purely for theoretical and research purposes in fiction writing.

Guns are generally chosen according to the purpose for which they are bought. Target/range shooting, sport shooting, concealed carry, or home defense are your main categories. Let’s talk handguns and heroines for example. If your character carries a gun for self-defense, she wants one that is compact and easily concealable. She also wants one that has some stopping power but isn’t going to have a ton of recoil. Revolvers, a.38 for instance with a 2 inch barrel, might seem like a good choice for a reliable, easy to use, and easy to conceal weapon, but unless she is very practiced, the recoil and sting will likely discourage her from pulling the trigger more than once, and accuracy might be affected. If you are target shooting, this is not the gun you want. A slightly longer barrel—say a 4 inch—will add some front weight that will reduce recoil, but is then much less concealable. This might be a good home defense weapon because of its “point and shoot” ease of use for someone who doesn’t plan on spending a lot of time at the range but wants protection.charter_pink_lady_right

Semi-automatic pistols, on the other hand, have a little more weight to them, generally have a smoother shot, and are made to fire rounds in quick succession. They make some very nice compact pistols that are good for both range-shooting and concealed carry, as well as being great for home defense. Yes, there are more moving parts to semi-autos, but once you learn how to use one (racking the slide takes some practice), a revolver seems archaic and impractical. In a zombie apocalypse, a semi-auto is what I’d want! Smith__Wesson_SW_MP_SHIELD_9mm_Sub-Compact_Pistol_MP9_NDIA_Joint_Armaments_2012_DefenseReview.com_DR_17

With new gun laws sweeping the nation, the days of fifteen round clips for semi-autos are likely soon to be over. In Massachusetts, we have had legislation for years that only allows for a maximum of ten bullets in a clip or magazine, which is more than enough to stop an attacker or a bear, providing you can shoot what you’re aiming at. It’s probably not surprising that men typically like larger caliber guns and will usually go for a .40 or .45, while a 9mm will put down an assailant with no problem and doesn’t have quite the same kick for us ladies. S&W, Browning, Ruger, and Sig Sauer all make fine hand guns. It’s all a matter of what features are important to your character and what matches them best. I’ll save shot guns for another time.

I’ve found a ton of YouTube videos on this topic and spent countless hours comparing handguns and shot guns. If you have specific questions, I’d be happy to answer if I can.

In the case of my character in THE CHRONICLES OF LILY CARMICHAEL trilogy, finding just the right weapon for Lily was exceptionally challenging. Lily is only sixteen and she is a healer, and as such, is opposed to weapons of all kinds, especially guns. Not that she hasn’t been trained how to fight and use weapons. Life in 2057 is rough, and after the collapse of society as we know it, weapons and who has them will ultimately determine our survival. It is a sad fact of our humanity that weapons equate with power, but in my future world, this is indeed a fact. One that Lily will struggle with throughout the trilogy.

Coming June 24th!
Coming June 24th!

For one thing, in this future world I’ve created, guns will likely be controlled by the government and by the few rebels who are able to hide them and find or create ammunition for them. In deciding what weapons Lily would carry, I figured utilitarian style tools would be her preference. In WESTERN DESERT, Book Two in the trilogy, she carries a buck knife and a blow gun given to her by a family friend. She is also armed with a very nifty high-tech gadget disguised as a locket. Her uncle, a former NASA engineer has retrofitted her aunt’s locket with a GPS tracker, a laser that can cut through metal, and an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) that can knock out electronics within a hundred yard radius. Lily prefers to use her brains rather than risk injuring someone to accomplish her mission.

On the flip side, Will is a typical seventeen year-old boy, alone and hardened by the harsh realities of a world in chaos. He would happily take a handgun, a shot gun, or any incendiary device he could get his hands on…if not for trying to appease Lily. An old Louis Ville Slugger and a hatchet hardly seem like enough weaponry to take on the Industry, a rogue government agency set on using Lily’s brother Zeph for some nefarious plot. You’ll have to wait until June for WESTERN DESERT to find out what happens, and see just how they survive the dangerous journey.

As far as my personal favorites, I’d pick a 9mm Smith and Wesson M&P Shield for a handgun, and a Mossberg 500 tactical 12 gauge for my home defense weapon and bear gun. Zombies beware!

How do you decide on weapons for your characters and what kind do they have?


29 thoughts on “Choose Your Weapon”

  1. It was tough, Paula, reading about guns in the wake of Newtown. One of my neighbors works in the middle school and is in counseling. However, in my story, my villain will take a pot shot at my protagonist, so I will need to know with what. Who even thought about how that would happen? What would you recommend for a mid-nineteenth century handgun for an upper class gentleman?

    1. Thanks for commenting, Gail. I considered the timing of my post, and have a feeling there will never be a “good” time to discuss guns that won’t grip the hearts of people effected by gun violence. I lost a brother to suicide by hand gun and there is no end to the sadness that accompanies such senseless acts.

      My purpose in writing this post is informational and research driven only, and not meant to disturb readers or promote the use of handguns. I chose to focus on hand guns because these are often the weapons of choice for our characters in law enforcement and security and I wanted to pass along my research.

      As to your questions, I know little about antique weaponry. I do know that Colt has been making revolvers since that time period. This article in Wikipedia about the 1851 Navy Revolver might be just the thing you’re looking for.

  2. Thank goodness you advocate research. As a shooting enthusiast I get so tired of reading absolute idiocies about guns and other weapons in otherwise decent novels – one example being when a character fitted a silencer onto a revolver! As for guns themselves, they are just tools – non-sentient objects and no better and no worse than the hand that wields them.

  3. When I started working on my current WIP, I really wanted my hero to have a no dachi – for those who aren’t familiar, it’s basically a bigger version of a katana. Couldn’t justify it though – he needed something he could reasonably carry concealed, so he wound up with a tanto.

    I personally own a few guns, one of which I’m going to have to register with the state due to the new legislation. Got a bit of buyers remorse on that one. Not because of needing to re-register it, but because I’ve since found out that Taurus Firearms makes handguns with built-in locks, which I think is an awesome safety feature.

    I’ve got 3 firearms on my must-have list: a Taurus 1911, a Remington 870 pump shotgun, and a Marlin 1895 lever action rifle. Anyone with those 3 weapons is well enough armed for any even remotely likely eventuality.

    1. Thanks for jumping in, Gerard. Practicality is a huge factor in arming our characters. It would be laughable to give my 5’2″ heroine a .45 magnum. Yet I will admit that seeing Linda Hamilton single arm pump her shot gun in Terminator gives every woman a boost of motivation to step outside the stereotype.

      Your personal picks sound perfect for you, Gerard. The 1911 is a solid and practical range and home defense weapon, although .45 rounds are hard to come by these days (as is most ammo for common handguns). I liked the Remington 870 as well, but decided on the Mossberg only because of the change out features and ability to add tactical gear. For my size it made sense to be able to change the 24 inch barrel to an 18 and have an adjustable stock with extra recoil padding. The 870 didn’t have those features. The Marlin looks like a beauty and would make the perfect hunting rifle for wild game and deer.

  4. I’m out-of-date on my guns knowledge. Learned to shoot as a kid. Only have a .20 gauge shotgun now for home protection and varmints. But my martial arts weaponry knowledge is pretty current as those are my weapons of choice (unfortunately all illegal here in Massachusetts but that’s what locked cases and the phrase ‘here’s my board-of-bar-overseers card … do you have a warrant’ comes in handy). My heroes come from an advanced technological society and use pulse rifles, a weapon I never describe in any great detail except for the damage it inflicts, and swords, because only an idiot would fire a pulse rifle inside a spaceship and risk explosive decompression.

  5. A 20 gauge will do you fine, Anna.

    I love that you are concerned about explosive decompression in your stories…perfect.

  6. I’m retired military & know a bit about weapons (not as much as a Navy SEAL or Army Special Forces member undoubtedly would). If your character needs ultimate concealability (weight & “printing*” being an issue), check out the Diamondback .380 or KHAR .380. Both are very small (about 5″ long and 3/4 of an inch wide, with six in the magazine & one in chamber). Called 9mm Kurts in Europe, .380s aren’t as powerful as a full 9mm, but modern “defense” ammo makes them usable. Regular, siliver, nor wooden bulets stop vampires, but if you read my “Immortal Relations” series it has projectiles that work. This is to say that the projectile is the key not just the caliber of weapon. A box of 9mm at WalMart (if you can find any) is usually “practice ammo” with little power compared with expensive “defense” ammo. Also of critical concern is how the pistol is held. A simi-auto will not operate properly if “limp wristed.” It must be held to resist the up and back recoil so it’s slide (top part of the action) can properly eject the spent cartridge and load the next. Firearms, IMHO, are no different than a hammer or automobile, as tools, how they are used defines the use as good or ill (remember Lizy Borden?). Yes, she was acquitted; however, someone used that axe to do away with her parents. Had just one teacher been armed at Sandy Hook, many more children might have lived. Gun Control isn’t about guns, it is about denying the people the ability to resist abrigation of the Constitution and removal of personal freedoms by a rogue regime. If you have a question on a weapon a character may need, I’m at

    *Printing is where the firearm is outlined against the fabric of the cloths your character wears – generally not a problem with heavy winter clothing.

    1. Hear, hear! I agree with everything you said about the Sandy Hook tragedy and the current rogue regime. Just think – if guns killed people, how would anyone ever get out of a gun show alive? Guns can only do what the human holding it decides.

      By the way, have you tried the new S&W 9mm Shield? I am positively drooling over that pistol – the most comfortable I’ve ever held. I have a little .380 Ruger for a carry pistol (low weight, decent stopping power) but it pales next to the Shield.

      1. Yes, the M&P is a fine weapon just too bulky for conceled carry (unless you can wear a jacket). I’m in West Texas so jackets are three or four weeks out of the year things. It’s been in the 70s mostly in the daytime this Winter getting into the eighties on some days. That is why I discussed the Diamondback and Khar .380s, both more compact and lighter than the Ruger. It’s not that I dislike the Ruger but carrying in a pants pocket I wanted the lightest and most compact .380 that was still reliable, thus no Kel Tec). At one time I wore an under-shirt sold by the NRA that had built in slots under the right and left arm-pits for pistol on one side and spare magazine on the other. That was the ticket when I went someplace I knew might be dangerous…the rest of the time the small .380 or my slightly larger 9mm Khar got the nod.

    2. Thanks for your input and for clarifying an important point about types of ammunition–another aspect of weapon choices to be considered.

  7. Janis, your comment “As for guns themselves, they are just tools – non-sentient objects and no better and no worse than the hand that wields them.”

    I just have one thing to say to you: I think I love you.

    No, seriously. Thank you for speaking my thoughts so beautifully.

    Sharon, fascinating post 🙂

  8. Interesting post, PJ. In my historicals, I’ve armed my characters with machetes, spears and knives. In my paranormals the characters have used magical daggers. I’m yet to arm a character with a gun. But soon I’m sure I will.

  9. As with anything technical, the use of firearms in fiction or real life needs to be accompanied by education. In fiction, the proper presentation helps assure the immersion that we all crave for readers and avoids distracting inaccuracy. In real life, efforts toward regulation provide an object lesson in the differences between espoused and actual goals of the people who we have come to empower through the political process.

  10. Hmm, will have to check out that Shield, because a S&W Bodyguard .380 has an awful trigger pull for a small hand. I’m curious as to how hard the trigger pull is on the Shield compared to the Bodyguard. Most of my female characters either have or will have to use a handgun sometime in their story. Some are trained and legally carry, others know how to use the weapon they have at hand.

    Vampwriterblog we might have to talk.

    Thanks for writing this post in such a tactful way, PJ.

    1. You’re welcome, Mary. I know it’s a hot button issue for lots of folks, but from a research standpoint for writers, it’s a must-know kind of topic.

      The trigger pull on the Shield is awesome! There is a slight spring in the first part of the pull that allows you to ease into it. Once you hit the resistance barrier, it only takes another bit of pressure to fully engage the trigger. It’s very smooth!

      Although the Shield is a little bigger than the ultra compact Body Guard, it’s still quite concealable even with the extended 8 round clip. Check out this You Tube video for a clear comparison.

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