Blam! Blam! Black Sombrero fired his Colt .45 at the shadow in the barn, then spun and snapped three shots at the posse approaching across the coral. Zing! A shot from behind creased his shoulder, and he wheeled back, fanning four quick shots at the figure in the gaping doorway.
Damn, he was empty! Black Sombrero hit the dirt while grabbing a fresh clip from his belt…
And the reader groaned and threw the book across the room, vowing to never buy another Black Sombrero novel again.
What made the reader so upset?
Perhaps the reader knows a bit about firearms, while the writer seems to know nothing. That opening scene could read well for many people, but if you’re familiar with handguns, it makes no sense and is a mishmash of technologies and eras.
The opening appears to be from a stereotypical Wild West cowboy-outlaw yarn. We’ve got Black Sombrero firing a Colt .45 at a posse. But he shoots it, let’s count, nine times. Nine times without reloading. That’s impossible, since a Wild West-era .45 Colt Single-Action Army revolver has six chambers, and there is no mention of a second gun.
But wait, there’s more – confusion that is.
In the second paragraph Black Sombrero is reaching for a clip. Oh, so it’s a 1911 Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol, not a six-gun? OK, there were outlaws and posses into the early 20th century so I guess I can buy that.
Hold on! But it says he “fanned” the pistol. You cannot fan a .45 Auto, you fan a single-action revolver by holding down the trigger while slapping the hammer with the other hand.
And there would still be the issue of the number of shots fired without reloading. A clip for a 1911 Colt .45 holds seven rounds.
Picky, picky, you say? As a reader, I have thrown books across the room and not finished them because of such errors. As an editor, you have to be able to catch things like this that your writer may have, er, missed. Get it? Missed. Blam!
To get readers to suspend their disbelief and get into a tale, the basic facts have to ring true. Even fantasy and sci-fi genres have to adhere to some framework of physical reality.
Good writers of historical/period novels sweat the details. Heck, all good writers in any discipline should sweat the details. Sweat them so hard that, to the reader, everything flows seamlessly and naturally.
So should editors sweat, too.
Disentangle yourself from grammar and structure, and take another pass looking at plausibility and continuity. How far can a person walk in a day? Is that on a road? Through a forest? In the desert?
What would a character realistically wear? Eat? Where would she sleep? Bathe? Take care of bodily functions? If a character acquires anything, be it weaponry, food, clothing, or knowledge, ensure that there’s a reason for the change.
Readers enjoy surprises, but they have to make sense.
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