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On Writing Knives - An Italian Stiletto Switchblade for Modern Characters

Posted on April 23, 2015 at 6:05 AM Comments comments (0)

The classic switchblade of fiction most people picture in their minds is an Italian stiletto. That’s not a model per se, it’s more of a style, and it looks like this:

As I’ve written before, that’s an old school style that’s fallen by the wayside. New switchblades use modern technology and are so different that they’re called “automatic knives.” They look something like these Protech models:


But that doesn’t mean Italian stilettos are off-limits for modern day settings in fiction. Even though they’ve dropped out of popularity, the style has evolved over the decades. A character with a brand new Italian stiletto might carry something that looks like this:


That’s a Bear OPS AC-300-ALBK-S Stiletto. Writerfolk, if your character needs old school flair in a modern package, this is a great pick. I dare say you could break from convention and write it as a “switchblade,” even though “automatic knife” or “automatic” would work just as well. Just be sure it’s legal for the character to carry if that’s important to the story. Law enforcement, military and criminal characters could use this knife without another thought. Your Joe or Jane Citizen characters would require some more legal research.



  • 3-1/4" blade
  • 7-5/8" open length
  • 4-1/2" closed length
  • Weight: 4.3 oz.


Despite the differences in design and materials, one thing all switchblades and automatic knives is the button on the handle. The blade pops open when it's pressed. That button (sometimes also a switch or lever) is a defining characteristic that makes a knife a switchblade/automatic both legally and technically.

If you found this post interesting, be sure to sign up for my free e-newsletter. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of The Writer’s Guide to Weapons (Writer’s Digest Books) and my new crime novel, Glass Eye.

First switchblade pic via Shutterstock, Protech knives pic via BLADE magazine, Bear OPS pic via Bear & Son Cutlery


On Writing Guns - What's a Good Cop Gun?

Posted on April 17, 2015 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (0)

image via Smith & Wesson

TLDR: There isn’t one “cop gun,” but a .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol is a solid default choice for modern settings.


One of the most common questions about assigning firearms to characters I’ve received through e-mail is, “What’s a good cop gun?” Although law enforcement officers use many types of firearms, this question usually refers to semi-automatic pistols. This post will cover those.


There isn’t a single “cop gun” out there. Manufacturers might design a firearm for law enforcement use, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a separate category of guns just for police officers. They’re simply “guns used by police."


And what those are usually depends on the financial situation of the police department. Some departments purchase the firearms and issue them to officers. Others provide a stipend along with a few requirements, then let the officers go out and buy a model that suits them. Some small, rural or underfunded departments might place the burden entirely on the officers to make the purchase.


That can make choosing a law enforcement character’s sidearm a little complicated, but fear not. There’s a shortcut.


For present-day settings, a .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol is a great default choice. The .40 is a versatile caliber that sits at the crossroads of practicality and power, and it’s popular with law enforcement in the real world. I confirmed this with the sheriff of Hennepin County (the county that includes Minneapolis, Minn.), Rich Stanek, during a tour of the jail last year you can read about here.


For another layer of accuracy to your writing, you might include the use of jacketed hollow-point ammunition. A hollow-point bullet breaks apart upon impact, reducing the odds of passing through a target (like another character). In close-quarter situations, such as the ones where a handgun would be used, this is helpful to lowering the risk of collateral damage.


The “jacketed” in “jacketed hollow-point ammunition” means that the bullet wears an extra coat of metal. This helps penetrate a target deeper than non-jacketed bullets. Because hollow-point bullets break apart and don’t penetrate deeply on their own, and because taking a life might be on the docket, that jacket satisfies both the lethality and pass-through risk reduction requirements. Of course, police officers might use other types of ammo depending on the situation, but what I just described is a good rule of thumb.


If you’re interested in taking your depiction even further, you might mention the model name of the .40 caliber pistol. This list does a great job of running down some of the more popular models.


Here are my top picks for .40 caliber “cop guns.” I included links to the manufacturers' websites for technical specs if you’re interested:



If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for my free e-newsletter. You'll also want to pick up a copy of The Writer's Guide to Weapons (Writer's Digest Books, summer 2015). Read my latest fiction in the new novel, Glass Eye: Confessions of a Fake Psychic Detective.

Sneak Peek: TOC The Writer's Guide to Weapons

Posted on April 10, 2015 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (0)'s a sneak peek at the table of contents for The Writer's Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction, coming in July from Writer's Digest Books. Remember: You can get the best pre-order price when you buy the book directly from the publisher here.

Appear in the Pages of BLADE Magazine

Posted on April 7, 2015 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Since I know from my e-mail inbox there are as many gun/knife readers of this blog as there are writerfolk, here's a cool offer to appear in the pages of BLADE magazine.

"WIN A KNIFE! Tell us what knife you carry. Add a little history or an anecdote. Try to include a photograph (if digital, at least 600 KB but no larger than 2 MB) of you with your knife. We will publish your comments in an upcoming 'The Knife I Carry.' Your name will then be entered in a drawing to win a free, high-quality, name-brand pocketknife. The drawing will be Nov. 15. Mail to: BLADE®, P.O. Box 789, Ooltewah, TN 37363-0789, or e-mail If you send your entry by e-mail, please include your physical mailing address in case you win the pocketknife."

I'd submit to this, but I work at BLADE. My stories aren't all that interesting anyway, except for that one time I woke up in a basement with my wrist chained to that machete-wielding hobo cranked on meth and all I had to defend myself was a pocketknife rusted shut and a pair of pliers. But other than that, no, you probably wouldn't be interested.


Title Change: From "Weapons for Writers" to "A Writer's Guide to Weapons"

Posted on April 7, 2015 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Anything look a little unusual in this screen grab from my Writer's Digest book's page on Amazon?

There are two titles listed. As it turns out, Writer's Digest will be changing the title from Weapons for Writers to A Writer's Guide to Weapons. A lot of thought went into that decision, and I'm positive it's a step in the right direction. The subtitle, A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction, will remain the same.

If you pre-ordered the book, this shouldn't affect your purchase. I'll do some housekeeping online with the title once I get an image of the new cover.




Here's the new cover.

That's not to be confused with Armed and Dangerous: A Writer's Guide to Weapons, which was also published by Writer's Digest, although that was some time ago.