Down the research rabbit hole

Even when you’re writing fiction, there’s a whole lot of research involved, and a simple question can send you down into some really weird places.

I’m sure that sometimes it can seem like I’ve given up on writing entirely, but I promise, I’m still working hard at it. It takes a long time to put a book together, and putting words on page are only a fraction of the work that goes into it. Even when you’re writing fiction, there’s a whole lot of research involved, and a simple question can send you down into some really weird places.

Photo by Pixabay on

For example:

I need to know how long it would take to properly clean and disassemble a gun, so I know how long the other character in the scene has to perform an action.

Turns out that time depends entirely on the kind of gun we’re talking about. It’s a trope at this point that a modern handgun can be disassembled and reassembled in a matter of seconds, typically while the petulant protagonist keeps eye contact with whoever just challenged them. But I’m not looking at a modern handgun, I’m looking at something significantly lower-tech than that.

So let’s look at rifles circa 1840.

Turns out that’s actually a turning point between flint-lock and modern weapons. And since our gun-wielding protagonist is lower-class, she’d probably be using an old gun rather than a shiny new one. So let’s look through the same database but back up a few decades, and search for guns in the first quarter of the 19th century.

I throw out the pistols and revolvers– I wanted this to be a rifle. Reading several paragraphs into the description of the first, I toss that one out as well: it’s a smooth-bore gun, meaning it’s about as accurate drunk as it is sober. I said this character is a pretty good shot, so that won’t do.
Which leads me to this one:

Picture from

A rifled barrel, a little more than twenty years old at the time, but one of the first models to use interchangeable parts (and therefore relatively inexpensive and fairly easy to disassemble and reassemble for cleaning). And then I can start the process of watching Youtube videos of gun collectors talking about their favorite antiques.

That’s where I find out that in a pinch, the rifle can be converted into a smaller (and less accurate) handgun, and that it had an adjustable trigger to make it a good gun for sharpshooters (relevant to another character).
I also learned that the assembly of this gun requires a screwdriver, which would make it take significantly longer to assemble and disassemble than modern handguns. Plenty of time for the other character in the scene to get pretty far along his task.

And sure, I probably could have saved myself an hour or so of research by just making up a number and handwaving it as “it’s a fantasy story, don’t worry about it”, but from that I got a whole lot of detail that I never would have gotten otherwise.

It’s one of the things I really love about this job.

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