By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes
In both movies and books, we are inundated with magic sniper rifles that fire with a whisper, bodies that silently crumble to the ground, assassins who shoot successive shots from silenced pistols without a hiccup, and all other manner of . . . fictions.
In our last post, Firearms: Know Your Weapon! we looked at the various types of firearms espionage and crime characters might use and took a bit of the fiction out of fiction. Now let’s turn our attention to silencers and what cannot be silenced. For simplicity’s sake, we will use the terms “suppressor” and “silencer” interchangeably.
The purpose of silencers in the field is to keep anyone from recognizing the sound of a gunshot and screaming, calling 911, or returning fire.
In most cases, the shooter doesn’t care if someone hears the shot as long as they don’t recognize it as a shot. People will normally ignore noises that they hear but don’t associate with gunshots or other dangers. Because of this human tendency, the level of “silencing” our characters need with their firearms depends on their situations.
For example, if a character intends to walk into a functioning steel mill and shoot someone, they don’t need much in the way of silencing. On the other hand, if they want to shoot someone in a library without being noticed, they will want the best silencing available.
So how do we attain maximum silencing?
We’ve all seen characters with cylindrical silencers screwed onto the barrels of pistols which, in fiction, range in size from a Saturday night special to Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum. Then they fire with a pftzzz so quiet that couldn't alert a perky guard dog. But a silencer on the barrel is only the first step. For maximum silencing, one must also consider the things that cannot be silenced.
Suppressors can be used on revolvers, but with much less effect than can be achieved with a semiautomatic pistol; therefore, a shooter would most usually use a semiautomatic handgun. (See Firearms: Know Your Weapon!) Semiautomatic pistols have a slide along the top.
This pictured .40 Smith & Wesson has the slide locked open. Note the round in the chamber. The slide comes back when a shot is fired. The spent brass is ejected, another round is fed in, and the slide comes forward, readying the pistol for the next shot. This motion of the slide can’t be silenced. So what is a shooter to do?
When it comes to dealing with slides, size matters, so let’s talk about size for a moment.
Ever wonder why Bond always uses the Walther PPK .380 in the field? It’s not just because it’s cute and German. It’s because the .380 semiautomatic provides enough energy for close-up assassination while still being capable of effective and inexpensive silencing.
In fact, the only more powerful mass-produced auto-loading weapon that can be efficiently and cheaply silenced is the Russian knockoff of the Walther PPK, the Makarov .380, which is like a regular .380 on steroids. With a bullet slightly wider and heavier than that of the standard .380, the Makarov has the maximum energy of any subsonic cartridge that the Soviet firearms specialists could put into a straight blowback semiautomatic design. We’ll get back to that “subsonic” part in a moment.
The other benefit of the .380 is that it has a straight blowback design, unlike larger handguns. With the straight blowback design, the pistol can be modified to manually lock the slide in a closed position so the weapon can fire without causing the rounds to jam. The locked slide prevents the noise of the slide operation along with the sound that escapes the ejection port when the pistol cycles.
The noise of the slide cannot be silenced except by locking it in place.
We know what you’re thinking. . . . But wait! If the slide is locked in place, how does anyone fire a second shot?
So glad you asked.
To fire successive shots in real life, a shooter of a silenced pistol must manually unlock the slide, cycle out the cartridge, and then relock the slide.
Locking and unlocking is accomplished with a small lever that would resemble the safety lever on a slide. With a bit of practice, it can be operated in approximately one second without much effort.
While a pistol with a manual slide lock does not allow for the quickest successive shots, it can be quite discreet, making it ideal for some situations. For example, if the shooter intends to assassinate an individual who is walking home on his usual route after work, the shooter could get a close-up head shot on a side street, and someone walking twenty yards ahead of the target would not notice it.
Another example is if the shooter catches the target alone in their hotel room, home, or office. In such circumstances, a trained assssin could easily take the time to deliver a second “insurance” shot on a high-value target without a hotel maid in the hallway or people in the next room hearing anything.
Writing Tip: One danger to silencing properly with a handgun is that the shooter will forget to lock the slide after cycling in the second round. The weapon will still be suppressed, but it will still make more noise than it would if the slide were locked. If you need a character to make a mistake while firing with a silencer, this is a logical one to make.
The Sonic Boom
Note the emphasis on the word “subsonic” in the section above. That’s because the crack of a bullet breaking the sound barrier is impossible to silence. That is true no matter what firearm or suppression equipment is used. As a result, for the maximum silencing, it is important to use subsonic cartridges.
The Falling Brass
The sound of falling brass is also impossible to silence. Only shooters in movies don’t have to worry about that ping of flying brass hitting objects or the floor.
To prevent the brass from falling, shooters can carry specially designed brass catchers that they can attach to the pistols. However, the act of attaching them can slow down a shooter. Also, the catcher, itself, is one more piece of evidence that can be found on a shooter, and less evidence is always better.
A more down-and-dirty trick, so to speak, is to use a sock as a brass catcher. However, there are three problems with this method. First, it blows out the end of the sock, which could lead to the brass falling anyway. Second, the sock could catch in the slide and jam it. And third, the sock covered in gunpowder and residue is one more piece of evidence. So as a general rule, most professionals risk the sound of falling brass.
We know what you’re thinking . . . Isn’t the brass evidence?
Not so much as one might think. That’s because an intelligent professional uses “clean brass.” Clean brass is brass that would not be identified to the country of origin, and it would have no fingerprints, so the shooter doesn’t have to worry about leaving it behind.
The Falling Body
The third thing that cannot be silenced is the sound of a falling body. Dead bodies drop, and they aren’t always conveniently located in an open space with a thick carpet. They can smash into furniture and knock things over. They can break glass and thump into floors and walls. If in a bathroom and the body falls against a cast-iron tub, it makes a loud, heavy ringing sound.
Catching a body to prevent the noise of the fall poses the equally risky problem of the shooter being covered in blood. Bloody people tend to have trouble blending in when walking out of a building or down a street. It’s just an inconvenient truth that bodies fall where they die.
Writing Tip: An assassin’s inconvenient truth is an author’s plotline. While you could have dead bodies collapse in neat little heaps on a shag rug, you could also use them to punch up your plot. Have fun with them. Let them break things, tip out of windows, fall onto hot stoves, or even create a domino effect that leads to widespread disaster on the set. You’re not likely to go too far with it.
Bottom Line: Three things cannot be silenced—the shells being ejected, the crack of the sound barrier, and the drop of a falling body. Which brings us to the fourth thing that cannot be silenced—the savvy reader who sends angry e-mails if an author gets this wrong.
Do your characters use silencers? What sort of problems do your shooters have with sounds?
* * * * * *
About Bayard & Holmes
Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes of Bayard & Holmes are the authors of espionage tomes and international spy thrillers. Learn more about the firearms of spycraft in their latest release, SPYCRAFT: Essentials. Designed for writers, SPYCRAFT: Essentials addresses the functions and jurisdictions of the main US intelligence organizations, the spook personality and character, tradecraft techniques, surveillance, the most common foibles of spy fiction, and much more. It is available in digital format and print at Kindle, Amazon, and Kobo.
Visit Piper and Jay at their site, BayardandHolmes.com. For notices of their upcoming releases, subscribe to the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing. You can also contact Bayard & Holmes at their Contact page, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard or Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.
By Susan Haught
Have you ever watched a child blow bubbles with a little wand and a bottle of soapy water? Perhaps you’ve taken a turn yourself. If you have, you’ll know there’s something magical about bubbles.
When my son was little, we’d spend Easter with friends, and every year the Easter bunny would leave a bottle of soap bubbles in the kids’ baskets. A dozen or more children would dance around in the warm spring sun and blow wand after wand of bubbles. The air would be filled with giggling kids, barking dogs, and the occasional bout of tears. Bubbles are mesmerizing, and I’d soon find my imagination drifting away and the world around me would disappear. Until someone popped my imaginary bubble.
As writers, I think we all create some sort of “bubble” where our fictional characters live, talk, play, and generally wreak havoc on our sanity, but it’s also a place where we turn off the world around us. Tune out the other humans who share our space. Escape life’s distractions. Retreat into our fictional world. Inside our bubble—however you choose to define it—is the place where the magic happens. And it’s proven once our train of thought is interrupted, it takes several minutes to reconnect, to recreate our imaginary world.
I was lucky. We have a den in our home, hubby was still teaching, and our son was away at college. Hours of quiet. Hours of happy writing. No one to pop my bubble when I sat down to write.
And then hubby decided to retire.
His naturally loud fifth-grade teacher voice was perfect for ten-year-olds, but his inside voice failed to make it home with his last paycheck. Reminding him I needed quiet didn’t work. He took up the grocery shopping chore to help out but called an average of three times for a six-item list. And somewhere between “I’m not signing my contract this year” and “Today’s my first day of retirement”, he forgot how to read the sign on the outside of the den that said Do Not Disturb. The day he tiptoed into the den and said, “Shhh…I don’t want to disturb you…” and proceeded to use the shredder was the day I was done playing nice.
Having a space to write is essential, but it doesn’t have to mean robbing a bank to add a room to your house. It can be as simple as the corner of the sofa at a designated time with a set of headphones and your favorite music. Some pack up their laptops and head to a coffee shop. One author I know cleaned out a closet and made it her writing “cave”. Another told her family if she was in bed with her laptop, she was unavailable-period. And still another fixed up a place in her basement. Reminded me of The Book Thief meets Bates Motel, but it worked—her kids refused to go down there.
Defining your needs is the first step to claiming your own writing space.
Then, decide on a budget and what it will take to make it happen—it can be as inexpensive as a thrift store desk and painting it your favorite color, or as elaborate as turning an extra bedroom into the ultimate escape. Or hey, that treehouse I saw on Pinterest might catch your eye.
When you’re finally able to sit down in your space, it’s a good idea to turn off distractions (who doesn’t get lost on Pinterest or FB?) so you can retreat into your “bubble”. A soap bubble is fragile. Once the pearlescent surface is touched, POOF! it’s gone. And so is your concentration. And in order to stay there, it’s essential you aren’t disturbed. It may take some time, but your favorite humans will get the hint.
Unless you’re married to my human. You remember, the guy with a master’s degree in education who suddenly forgot how to read?
Six months into his retirement I had written very little. Deadlines weren’t met. I was cranky and angry at him for invading my precious time day in and day out. He whooped for the Diamondbacks. Watched rodeo and discussed it loudly with the dog. Whistled. Ran the vacuum. He didn’t get it. He didn’t understand the “bubble” concept. Something had to give.
We brainstormed, even thought about finishing the attic. Adding a room (eeek!) was out of the question. I came up with a solution that fit our budget and my needs, and two months later, I vacated the den. Now my writing space is an 8’ x 12’ She-Shed in the backyard. It’s a Tuff Shed he and our neighbor finished inside, and I decorated in a beach theme. It has heat and AC, a coffee and wine bar, bookshelves galore, and a spacious desk. The best part? He knows I’m not to be disturbed unless the house is on fire or he’s bleeding from an artery. My bubble stays blissfully intact.
When I came up with the idea, it didn’t take a whole lot of convincing that this was the ideal solution. Hubby decided my 96 square foot sanctuary at a cost of $8,000 was cheaper than a divorce.
What’s your idea of the perfect writing space?
Susan Haught writes emotionally powerful stories of family, friendship, and the healing power of love, with characters in their 30’s, 40’s and beyond. A multi award-winning novelist, Australian black liquorice connoisseur, and hopeless coffee & wine addict, Susan believes Love is Ageless and has the power to change lives--one step, one touch, one kiss at a time.
Susan is the author of the Award-winning Whisper of the Pines series—A Promise of Fireflies, In the Shadow of Fate, A Thousand Butterfly Wishes, The Other Side of Broken, and Outside the Lines.
When Susan isn’t writing, you’ll find her burying the evidence of a notorious brown thumb, teaching her hubby the difference between red leaf and romaine lettuce, or curled up with someone else’s words.
Won’t you join Susan for coffee?
Many Scrivener users aren’t familiar with the split screen feature, and if they are, they don’t realize its potential.
Introducing Split Screen
The Split Screen feature allows you to, well, split your screen. You can divide the single Editor pane into two panes, either horizontally or vertically.
Here are a few ways to use it:
- View the end of the previous scene while working on the opening of the next one.
- View another part of the current document while working on it.
- Compare two versions of a scene, either in Snapshots (Mac only for now), or if you saved the previous version in a separate document.
- Copy text from the same or another document without losing your place.
- Refer to research files or photos while you write.
- View your manuscript's structure in the Corkboard or Outliner in one pane, while you write in the other.
In my experience, the main source of confusion with Split Screen is that, initially, both panes display the same document (see images below). That can be handy for referring back to an earlier point.
But if you don’t want to view two locations in the same document, you can easily choose to view something else in one of the panes.
Splitting the Editor
To split the Editor, select a document in the Binder, and then do one of the following: Mac: Click the Toggle Split button in the upper right corner of the Editor (see image below). Hold the Option key on your keyboard to switch the split button between horizontal and vertical. Scrivener will remember your most recent orientation choice until you change it again.
Windows: Click either the Horizontal Split or Vertical Split button in the upper right corner of the Editor (see image below).
The Editor splits into two panes with the selected document displayed in both.
NOTE: Each pane can have separate settings, such as Zoom level, ruler display, Page view (Scrivener 3), and Focus (Scrivener 3).
Working with Split Screen
Each pane has its own header (see image below). The active pane’s header is blue. This is the pane that will be affected when you select a document or adjust menu settings. The inactive pane’s header is gray.
Choosing the Active Pane
To designate the active pane, click anywhere in that pane’s editor. If it wasn’t already the active pane, the header will turn blue.
Assigning a Document to the Active Pane
Once you’ve designated the active pane, click any document in the Binder to view it in the active pane.
Viewing a Group in the Active Pane
To view a group of files in the active pane, select the desired folder (or multiple-selection of files). By default, you’ll see the Corkboard view for that folder, as shown below. You can choose the Outliner or Scrivenings (multiple document) view from the toolbar or the View menu.
Adjusting the Split
To adjust the relative split of the panes, drag the bar between them.
Locking the Contents of a Pane
To prevent yourself from accidentally changing what’s viewed in a pane (by clicking something in the Binder while that pane is active), you can lock it. Here’s how:
- Mac v3: Right-click the header of the pane you want to lock, or go to Navigate>Editor. Windows, and Mac v2: Click the icon in the header of the pane you want to lock, or go to View>Editor.
- 2. Choose Lock in Place. The header turns pink/salmon to denote that the pane is locked.
3. Repeat for the other pane, if desired.
4. Unlock by repeating Step 1 for each locked pane.
Exiting Split Screen
Choose No Split button for whichever pane you want to keep viewing.
That’s split screen! Is it more useful than you thought? Can you think of how you might use it? What Scrivener questions do you have for me?
By Tex Thompson
Striving scriveners. Intrepid introverts. Fellow fearless fictioneers. I am so honored to write for Writers in the Storm today. I’ve recently enjoyed a ridiculous near-death experience that I think may help you make a serious, profound change (in your life or in your work) … and funnily enough, it involves actual writers in an actual storm.
The event we call Writers in the Field came from a simple idea: a thirteen-acre, mostly-outdoor annual weekend experience where writers can actually make, use, handle, and DO the things they’re writing about. We shoot bows and arrows, work mock crime scenes, handle horses, study ballistics and poisons, try on period garments and armor – the whole nine yards.
It was fantastically successful during its first year in 2017, and we were so excited to bring out even more experts and hands-on sessions in 2018. We worked hard on it all year long, promoted and planned it for months on end, and… well, you know how announcing your plans is a good way to hear God laugh?
Yeah – He busted a gut all over us. We got over a foot of rain in 24 hours. Rivers of mud. Flooded roads. Just an absolutely Biblical deluge.
Y’all, I was sure we were sunk (especially after the food truck fell in a ditch and blocked the entrance). I was SURE we would have to cancel, refund, and go bankrupt.
And then the most amazing thing happened.
A writer wandered up to the ticket booth and said “is this where we check in?”
And then another two. And then a group of three. A dozen more. A hundred more. They were streaming in, y’all – parking out on the main road and hiking a quarter-mile in the mud and the pouring rain. And they were READY.
We couldn’t believe it. It was the most incredible thing. And even as we frantically cancelled, swapped, postponed, and slapdash-surgeried our Saturday schedule around every new contingency, the writers joyfully took in everything we offered – and started engineering novel experiences of their own.
‘Foot selfies’ became a hot thing. So did full-body mud-shots. And as our grounds crew tamped down straw-and-branch walkways and ditch-witched cars out of the muck, the last thing they expected was an eager note-taking audience.
And then the tornado hit… but that’s another story.
And that’s when the light bulb came on, y’all. That’s when the big idea hit. I realized that my job was never to control or dictate what kind of experience writers would have at our event. My job was to offer them a place where they COULD have a new experience.
I’ve come to all sorts of conclusions since then. About what a joy it is to discover your own resilience, and how deeply our under-brains are stimulated by the raw and natural world, and (paradoxically) how much less fragile we feel whenever we escape the rut of our daily lives. More than anything, though, I believe one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves or someone we love is a place where new experiences are possible.
After all, that is literally the core of the Hero’s Journey, isn’t it? Powerful, transformational change only happens once we leave our ordinary world behind… even if only for a few hours. And you don’t need a capital-E event in order to treat yourself to a singular, electrifying, inertia-smashing change of scenery. They’re literally all around us.
Three thoughts, then:
- When you need to think new thoughts, put yourself in a new place.
- Radical changes in behavior happen with radical changes in environment.
- As a storyteller, you are already more powerful and resilient than most. But you will never discover your true strength from comfort and safety of your own cozy hobbit-hole.
That’s the thought I’d like to leave you with. You have already weathered every storm that’s come your way – but even more wonderful things can happen when you willingly venture out to meet them.
So What do you think? Have you ever survived an experience to take something very different away from it than you planned?
Arianne "Tex" Thompson was once described as "an explosion of 52 enthusiastic kittens latching onto everything at once." In addition to writing the 'Children of the Drought' epic fantasy Western series, Tex is the founder and 'chief instigator' for WORD - Writers Organizations 'Round Dallas. When she's not leading the charge at home in Dallas, Tex brings her particular brand of 'red-penthusiasm' to conferences, conventions, and workshops all over the country - as an egregiously enthusiastic, endlessly energetic one-woman stampede. Find her online at The Tex Files!
How many of you meditate?
It’s a practice we’ve started building into our family evenings each night, and something I hope to one day be good at. Meditation is good for managing anxiety, depression, stress. It’s also good for learning to be open to new ideas and people who may be threatening to our own ideals.
And really, that’s what being a creative is all about. Being open.
I recently did a virtual creativity retreat with Creative Wellness Retreats, and our creativity coach, Kerry Schafer, led us through a guided meditation, but at the end, she did something I wasn’t used to.
She geared the meditation toward our creative projects.
I started the meditation not feeling excited about my project because I’d hit a bit of a wall, and by the end of the meditation I’d not only found renewed energy for the story, but for the entire creative process.
That particular meditation was two days ago, as of this writing, and I’m still feeling the positive effects. And it took less than 5 minutes.
What is meditation?
I feel like a lot of people think meditation is some new-age, woo-woo thing that only hippies and hipsters do.
Meditation is an ancient practice to transform the mind. That sounds woo-woo. Let me try again.
Meditation is a thing that’s been around since forever and is a way to train your brain to be aware of your own thoughts and emotions.
Not zone out or go to your nothing box. But to learn how to observe your thoughts, reactions, and emotions, and begin to understand them and yourself better.
See? Not woo-woo.
Writing is a form of meditation.
I think that’s why so many of us first turned to writing. We had a need to understand some deep emotion or reaction or thought we didn’t have the words for. And our stories were a way to help us dig down into that feeling or reaction or thought until we found the center of truth.
When you meditate, you turn off your worry, anxiety, negativity, and when you’re on the other side of it, you have a new perspective. It’s a little like sunlight pouring through a window. After meditation, the light reaches that angle where the window turns it into a rainbow.
Could meditating speed up your writing process?
Think of how much deeper you could go with your writing if you started your writing session by first meditating for five minutes. Even better? Present yourself with the next scene or story problem at the start of your meditation, then, through the practice of meditation, let it go. Let it flow. Then let it come back and present itself to you in a new light.
Other forms of meditation...
Meditation isn’t a rigid practice. Sometimes, meditation can be a simple as listening to the wind blow through the trees, or breathing while watching the ocean. Even reading can be a form of meditation, when it takes you away from your worry and allows you to reflect on your own reactions and thoughts to the story, and your life.
Before your next writing session, try five minutes of meditation and invite your creative project to join you. I think you’ll be surprised at the renewed energy you’ll find.
About Christina Delay
Christina Delay is the hostess of Cruising Writers and the brand new Creative Wellness Retreats as well as an award-winning author represented by Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency. She may also have a new series out with Jules Lynn under a pen name. When she's not cruising the Caribbean, she's dreaming up new writing retreats to take talented authors on or giving into the demands of imaginary people to tell their stories.
About Cruising Writers
Cruising Writers brings writers together with bestselling authors, an agent, and a world-renowned writing craft instructor writing retreats around the world. Cruise with us to the Bahamas this November with Alexandra Sokoloff of the internationally-renowned Screenwriting Tricks for Fiction Authors, Kerry Anne King - Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestselling author, and Michelle Grajkowski of 3 Seas Literary.