Saturday, July 12, 2014

Do the Math

By Keith N Fisher

While writing my historical novel the other day, I discovered a new problem. Well, It’s not that new. How do you get eight shots from a six-shooter, without the cowboy reloading? The endless supply of ammunition has been a problem before. Also a muzzle loader is not a repeating weapon. The mountain man has to set the rifle but on the ground or on his foot, put a load of powder into the barrel, and tamp it down with a patch. Then he adds the bullet and tamps it down. Next he must pour powder into the flash pan, cock the hammer, shoulder the weapon and fire.

This last step became easier with the advent of percussion caps. Incidentally, the term just a flash in the pan, came from the old flintlock muzzle loading rifles. The editors at Wikipedia said it best,

From the days of flintlock firearms, where the main charge was intended to be fired by a small charge of gunpowder in the priming pan. If the resultant fire did not pass through the touch-hole and ignite the main charge, the momentary coruscation produced noise and smoke, but no substantial effect, and was termed a “flash in the pan”. Sometimes called "fluff in the pan", the term refers to any ineffectual, short, spasmodic effort which dies in the attempt, such as an explosion of priming in the lockpan of a gun, while the gun itself does not go off.

Anyway, the problem I ran into was numbers of horses and wagons versus number of available drivers. My character is part of freight hauling wagon-company and the problems they have leave men dead and wagons to drive. Adding the sell and theft of horses, and wagons intensified the problem.

I needed to get out a calculator and do the math. I was right. I ended up with too many horse teams and not enough drivers for the number of wagons. I spent two days fixing the plot. Now, if anyone cares to pay attention, they won’t discover any loopholes with my arithmetic.

I do have another problem though. The story was set during a time just before repeating rifles were invented. And most of the handguns were also muzzle loaders. I keep writing with the mindset of the Hollywood western. Too many bullets flying, and not enough reloading.

Yes I might be nitpicking, but I know there are those who pounce on historical fiction looking for inaccuracies.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.  

1 comment:

Nissa Annakindt said...

Most of what I know on the topic comes from reading Western novels, but I do believe that men often had more than one gun on them to avoid the reloading problem.
That being said, there is no way they could have put the amount of fire in the air that a modern moviemaker would want.

Congratulations on your commitment to being realistic.

Nissa from