The Silenced Revolver: Poor Research and the Death of a Story

A long, long time ago, when I was in high school (which, contrary to what you may have heard, was after the invention of gunpowder, not before), one of my fellow students in a composition class got up to read his latest effort. I’ve forgotten now whether it was a short story, or an essay, or what. No, I won’t tell you his name, but you know him. This is that kid that looks like he’s made out of broomsticks, stuck like Tinkertoys into the cantaloupes that serve as his knees and elbows. Black-framed glasses, with a strap around the back, adorn his pizza-face. Yeah, that kid.

Forty years later, I don’t remember the name of his story. I don’t remember the plot, or the characters, or his writing style, or even if it was any good. I remember the silenced revolver the bad guy shot the good guy with. (The good guy didn’t die. He was the good guy. He won.) Unfortunately for Broomstick-boy, he was a city-slicker transplant into a rural school in farm country. All the kids in the class knew you can’t put a silencer on a revolver. Well, you could, but it wouldn’t do a lot of good. I was another transplant, but I’ve always been an information sponge, and even I knew it. That silenced revolver shot his story as dead as if he’d aimed it at the story’s heart and pulled the trigger. In effect, he had.

Fast forward to now. Uh, 2009? Is that right? Is it 2009 already? I watched Seven Pounds, starring Will Smith, last night. Forty years from now, I’ll only remember two things about this otherwise forgettable movie: I’ll remember the Shakespearean allusion of the title, and I’ll remember that Will Smith’s character has an Australian box jellyfish that he keeps in a tank. When he moves into a hotel, he fills the tank with tap water. Five minutes on any search engine on the internet should have convinced the makers of this movie that no one would do such a thing. Later, he dumps the jellyfish into a tub full of ice water, thus proving beyond any reasonable doubt that it was CGed. Well, we all knew that, but still. . .  Actually, I’m not sure you can get one of those things in the United States without some kind of permit, but you can bet that I’d find out before I went writing a story about it.

One of my novellas features a girl who’s planning to kill herself by cutting the femoral arteries in her legs. That’s in your thigh, right? Well, yes, but ten minutes on the internet taught me that the best place to cut it is actually near your knee. I needed a young man to scare someone else by firing a bunch of blanks at him. Good thing I checked. Turns out you can’t do that with an automatic, so I gave him a revolver. No silencer, though.

Don’t let bad research, or no research at all, be the silenced revolver that kills your story.

By the way:

Don’t believe the rumors. Peeing on a jellyfish sting will only get you stared at. Read the story at ABC News.

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