Choosing the Right Weapon for Your Character

I’m a retired federal agent who for 30 years carried at least one weapon on my body while fighting crime. As a writer, I believe that a particular make and caliber of gun can be used to deepen a character’s persona.

For example: You didn’t assign Inspector “Dirty Harry” Callahan cases, you just turned him loose. He didn’t just solve murder cases, he smashed them! He didn’t run the streets of San Francisco chasing ruthless criminals with a pithy .22 cal. handgun.  A wimpy gun would not be in character for a wild and crazy lawman that NEVER lost a fight. So what’s a hot-shot lawman going to carry?  He needs a weapon that not only gets the job done, but fits his fast and furious CHARACTER.

Hollywood chose a .44 Magnum for Harry because was it was concealable, deadly and was the largest caliber handgun at the time.

Let’s look at another character. Lisa is an undernourished and insecure woman who suffers deeply from her own narcissism. To get the fancy car, huge house and fancy clothes she wants, she needs money. She knows that her husband carries a huge sum of money in his life insurance policy. To get his money, he needs to be dead. Suddenly, Lisa needs a gun.

What kind of gun would Lisa select? According to her personality, she’s too timid to actually go into a gun store and buy one. More importantly, Lisa wants to distance herself from what will become a murder weapon. She can either use a gun that her father gave her or she can ask someone else to buy her one. Let’s say that Lisa asks a male friend to buy her a small weapon “for her personal protection.” The friend, who knows that Lisa is timid and not aggressive, buys her a Remington .32 cal. semi-automatic pistol, owned by millions of people.

Early one morning her son’s alarm clock went off and just after that, the sound of a shot echoed through the house. Inexplicably, poor Lisa’s husband lay dead with a single wound to his head. Later, she told police that she kept the gun under her pillow “for protection.” When the alarm clock went off she grabbed the Remington because she thought her home was being broken into. With the gun in her hand, it “went off.” The bullet hit her husband. She told the police that it was all a horrible accident. Apparently she had mistaken the clock alarm with the house alarm.

The point is that this commonly sold Remington small-caliber weapon in this story matches Lisa’s personality as an inconspicuous woman who appears to be harmless. However, like the gun she used, she can be deadly and has a heart cold as steel.

Finally, the easy-to-conceal Smith and Wesson .38 cal. revolver has “Lady Smith” seductively inscribed on its frame. It comes with a case that resembles a cosmetic case—a perfect accessory for a Louis Vuitton bag. Is this the weapon a murderess might use to realize her deepest fantasies? What does her gun say about the murderess?

To find the perfect weapon for your character, try perusing any book on gun values such as “Gun Digest 2013” by Jerry Lee. While these books focus on the monetary worth of hundreds of guns, they also describe each weapon and provide the manufacture’s name—like the Israel Military Industries “Desert Eagle.” People have purchased this gun just because they relate to the name. Imagine the endless possibilities of using just the unusual name of a gun to help describe your gun-toting character.


Lucinda D. Schroeder is a Write to Sell Your Book client and author, a retired federal agent with 30 years of experience, and holds a degree in Criminology. Her first book is A Hunt for Justice: The True Story of a Woman Undercover Wildlife Agent (Lyons Press). For more on “Gun and Characters” write Lucinda at with “Crime Connection / WTSYB” in the subject line.the-crime-connection


13 comments on “Choosing the Right Weapon for Your Character

  • I’m a big Dirty Harry fan — this blog post made my day. It’s all in the details. And, to go on a tangent and speak of another “Harry,” this attention to the weapons characters use can also apply to any type of important object or tool, such as the wands in Harry Potter. There is a great deal of symbolism at work, which adds a lot of meaning. The weapon becomes an extension of the human.

    • I really love this observation, Roman. The weapon is much more than a tool. It’s a storytelling element that must be crafted with strict attention.

  • Lucinda, I am wondering if you have any other insights regarding other types of weapons? For instance I immediately thought of the unusual and chilling weapon used in McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. It certainly helped readers understand (or even, NOT understand!) this villain. Or even, perhaps once character may use a certain martial arts technique as a “go-to” move. There are so many possibilities you have opened my mind to!

  • This is a refreshing tangent amidst today’s overarching debates about weapons and violence. Your emphasis on choosing detail-oriented weapons that reveal something truly intriguing about a novel’s character is great food for thought. Thank you.

  • There could be a whole class dedicated to this multifaceted topic: how a weapon symbolizes what is inside a character, how she carries it, how it may reflect how she wants others to view her, how it may apply to what is happening in the story world’s society at the time. There’s something to be said for how we almost think of a weapon a famous character uses along with the character — like Katniss and her bow from The Hunger Games.

  • What a fun read! I am now brainstorming details like these for my own novel’s characters. Thank you for the stimulating inspiration, to both Diane and Lucinda.

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