It’s Different in the Real World

Or, more reasons why in-person research is still important.  Some things just aren’t the way they look or sound on television and in the movies.

For example — explosions.  Black powder explosions (which is what you’ll be  getting with just about anything pre-dynamite, which is to say 1867) don’t go up in a blaze of flame like they do on television.  And they don’t go bang! either, they go whump! — a really loud, earthshaking whump!  When the gunpowder factory in our town blew up, the force of the explosion was enough to shake the car I was riding in, several blocks away. (The first thing I thought was, “Oh, no, the transmission’s fallen out again!”, which says more about the bad luck we’d had with our previous vehicle than anything else.)

Artillery, now . . . artillery makes a noise more like pom!, and distant artillery really does sound like thunder.  And musket fire rattles like a string of firecrackers going off.  It also fills the air with white smoke — the classic “fog of war”.  (I spent an enlightening afternoon, once, at a Revolutionary War re-enactment.  Being a writer, I took lots of mental notes.  If you’re doing anything historical, re-enactors can be a useful resource for hands-on look-and-feel stuff.)

And if your characters aren’t wearing ear protection, it’s going to be a while before they can have a conversation that isn’t mostly shouting and hand gestures.  That long talk full of angst and conscience-searching will have to be deferred until later.

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