There’s No Such Thing as a Silencer

By John Gilstrap

Sometimes, I think I think too much.

Our job as authors is to create fictional worlds that resonate with our readers, and in the process tell stories that keep them turning pages. That means making sure that “the narrative spell” is never broken. If you throw in a twelve-dollar word in the middle of a paragraph, or if your subjects and verbs find themselves suddenly at odds, that spell is broken, and the reader realizes that he’s hungry and he puts the book down. I hate making it easy to put my books down. In fact, if we all do our jobs well, we bear responsibility for sleeplessness and ruptured bladders.

Okay, that last part is actually an unpleasant image.

Here’s my dilemma: Everybody who’s watched more than a dozen movies in their lives knows that a silencer can be fitted to any gun, and when it fires, it goes phut and no one in the next room can hear a thing. That’s the comfortable reality that will keep them turning pages.

But the comfortable reality is wrong. There’s not even such a thing as a “silencer.” There are suppressors, however, and they’re considerably larger than the ones that movie guys use. When you shoot one, that tiny phut is in reality a significant crack which will easily draw attention from the neighbors. It’s way better than the unsuppressed bang, but it ain’t no phut.

And that scene where the assassin makes the 700-yard shot with his “silenced” sniper rifle? Absolutely not.

Thing is, I want there to be a silencer. I want it to be on a pistol that is easily pulled from a shoulder holster, and I want to be able phut, phut my way through a shoot-out. It’s a crutch that would make my life as a writer easier, even though I know it violates the laws of physics.

Is it worth incurring the wrath of my buddy John Miller—or worse yet, the wrath of the people whose respect I gained in writing Six Minutes to Freedom—for the sake of a plot point that 98.999% of the reading public would accept as reasonable? Or is it better to shock that majority out of their spell by startling them with something new? I mean honestly, is it worth calling into question all the good done by the likes of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin simply for the sake of accuracy?

Even though we write fiction, where does our obligation to research end? Is it just about what we can get away with, or is there a loftier responsibility to our readers?

Am I really just thinking too much?