The Blog of Author Robert K. Lewis

Needed a Little Verisimilitude in My Writing, and so…

Verisimilitude. It’s defined as, “The quality of appearing to be true or real.”

It’s something every writer strives for. It’s part of what we do, right?

My books take place in San Francisco. I’ve lived there many times, and for many years. I know the feel of the place. How it sounds. How it smells, etc. But what if I wanted to place a book in say, New York, a place I’ve never been? (I KNOW, I KNOW, I gotta go!) Then I’d need to either do a lot of research, or of course go there and spend some time. Why do either, you may ask?

Because I’d want it to feel real, of course.

If you wrote historical fiction, and you had one of your characters ask for a Mai Tai, well… that would be bad, right? The writing has to feel real. Authentic. Not a laundry list of facts, either, but just enough to lend it verisimilitude. So somebody who knew New York, or lived there, would think that I either visited all the time, or have maybe even lived there.

It keeps the reader in the story. Because every time the reader stops and thinks something like, “Man, anybody knows the subway doesn’t do THAT!”, then they’ve been taken OUT of the story, and every time they’ve been taken out of the story it’s harder for them to get back INTO the story. End result? You’ve lost your reader.

Makes sense, right?

My books have guns in them. Sometimes a LOT of guns. And sometimes they go off, too. Quite a lot. But I’d never shot a gun in my life. I could point to three instances where I’d actually held a firearm.

1. I once held my dad’s old army .45.
2. I once held a shotgun the drummer in my band wanted to sell me.
3. I once held a .357 magnum that someone was showing off to me.

That’s it. Everything else I know about guns was filtered to me through pop culture. Movies like Death Wish, Dirty Harry, Pulp Fiction, the films of John Woo, etc. Fun fact: when Chow Yun Fat made his first American gun film, The Replacement Killers, he said in an interview he didn’t even know how to really load a weapon, because in John Woo films, no gun ever runs out of ammunition!

So, I figured it was time for me to see what it was really like. My boss’s husband had a couple guns, and invited me out to the range:

That’s me, shooting a .9mm automatic. After running through a safety rundown on how to load, unload, what happens if it jams, etc, away I went. Also got to fire a larger handgun, a 40 caliber automatic. I gotta tell you, there was a lot of adrenalin flowing as I stood there and picked up a loaded handgun for the first time, and took aim. I was nervous about the recoil, but it turned out to not be anywhere near what I thought it would be. There was this one moment, where I was reloading a clip, which can be a little time consuming and tedious as you put one bullet after another into the magazine, like loading a Pez container, one Pez at a time, and I realized that Tarantino doesn’t show THAT side of it, that’s for sure.

So, I shot about 200 rounds off. It was surprisingly fatiguing on the shoulders. My fingers turned black from the gun powder. I got used to the gun bucking in my hands, and even through the earplugs, it was loud. The shells eject all over, too. A couple landed on my head! And as I stood there, I didn’t think so much about how this will impact my writing so much as I realized my awareness of what a gun can do grew with each spent shell. You can’t take back a bullet. Shooting a gun is an irrevocable act, whether at a paper target, or at a person. I think it will be that aspect of it that will find its way into my writing. And I wouldn’t have received this insight, either, if I hadn’t wanted some verisimilitude in my writing.

So, never sell your book short. Do the research. Take that trip to where your book takes place, if you can manage it. Talk to people who posses the information on the subject you’re needing info on. The internet is great for finding information, sure, but really talking to the people that USE that information is, in my opinion, way more valuable. I’ve called homicide detectives, coroners, even called down to the SF morgue to get some information I needed on the room where they perform the autopsies. They don’t give tours, I was told, but if I really wanted to know what it looks like, just watch “Bullitt” with Steve McQueen. That’s the real morgue they shot in, and it hadn’t changed at all at the time I called (about five years ago now).

Anyway, always work for that authenticity. Make the reader feel you know your business.

Oh, and how did I do at the range? I couple people told me I did very well, especially for someone shooting for the first time. I guess it’s all those video games, hahaha.
Here’s a blurry photo, as the camera on my phone is sorta junky:

(Turns out I naturally shoot to the right of target as I’m right eye dominate, but left handed. Or something like that, anyway.)

Until next time!


6 responses

  1. of COURSE the poelle posse doesn’t just talk the talk. you *know* i’m calling you next time i need a refresher….

    07/11/2011 at 7:06 pm

    • Oh, HELL yeah, Soph! And I AM going again, for sure.

      07/11/2011 at 8:47 pm

  2. No matter how well machined and maintained they are, they’re hunks of metal (or plastic) made for heavy-duty. They get hot, they smell, the slides can grab your skin and rip. The PEZ magazines get stubborn to load, and everything’s dirty. As accurate as a shooter may be and as elevated as their equipment, shooting itself isn’t delicate business. I think it’s surprising how deliberate and forceful you’ve got to be with even a smaller caliber weapon.

    07/11/2011 at 7:22 pm

    • SO very true, Clare2e. The 9mm was VERY hot by the time I was done, and that smell of hot metal mixed with burnt powder is something very singular.

      07/11/2011 at 8:49 pm

  3. I’m very impressed! The first time my husband took me to the range, I was so afraid of the noise I wouldn’t even look at the target. I had my head turned sideways and my eyes closed! I never did pull the trigger that day. Too scared. The next time he drug me over there, I was so ticked off at him, I pretended it was HIM I was shooting at and my pattern looked about like Now he calls me ‘Annie Oakley’…;)

    07/12/2011 at 10:35 pm

  4. lolol… nice! Yeah, there WERE a few people I could’ve thought of that probably would’ve turned me into Wild Bill Cody, but that’s for next time. And hey: REALLY glad to see you’re going for BBC’s WoCoMoMo!

    07/13/2011 at 12:24 am

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