More flying bullets

For descriptions, high-velocity rifle bullets are usually more pointy as well as considerably faster than most handgun bullets, and they wreak more damage to flesh and blood. Revolver and pistol bullets—even the fabled .454 Casuls and .50 Action Express—pretty much drill holes.

What handgun bullets won’t do is probably more helpful for writers.

  • Bullets won’t knock even small people off their feet, let alone throw them any distance. In fact, rifle or shotgun blast won’t either. If victims fall at all, they mostly crumple straight down like cutting the strings on a puppet.
  • Even the most powerful handgun bullets won’t blow off hands, arms, legs, or hands.
  • .22 rimfire bullets fired execution style won’t “rattle around inside” the victim’s brain. The myth stems from the .22’s lack of power to exit the skull. The rest is bogus press. A nail or even a needle in the brain can kill without ricochet.
  • Except for special purpose bullets—for instance those designed by Kopsch, Turcose, and Ward in the 1960s and ’70s and available only to law enforcement and the military—handgun slugs won’t go through body armor or so-called bullet proof glass. On the other hand, almost any high-velocity rifle bullet used for hunting will breeze through both.
  • As seen in the movies and on TV, bullets won’t spark off car bodies. To cause sparks while bouncing off windshields is laughable.

Commatose 4 and 5

These last comma reminders wrap up 99.44% of all the commas writers need. Who can’t learn a set of rules reduced to the number of fingers on one hand?

Comma Rule Number 4

Interjections and forms of address are set off with commas.

Yes, I will accompany you to the ball.                            No, I won’t!

You, sir, are out of line.       You may be assured, ma’am, of our concern.

Are you certain of that prognosis, Doctor?

Thank you, Mother, for all you do.

There’s a world of difference between “Let’s eat, Grandpa” and “Let’s eat Grandpa.”


Comma Rule Number 5

Words, phrases, or clauses (appositives and infinitives included) which interrupt the main clause must be set off with commas fore and aft. The rule includes the state following the name of a city and the year following the day of the month.

Mrs. Ellen Bennet, my mother, is in the drawing room.

The Brooklyn Bridge, as opposed to this matchstick construction, is sturdy and reliable.

He was born on June 23, 1941, near Big Timber, Montana, along the Yellowstone River.

Those earrings, in my opinion, would look better hanging over formal dining tables.

5A. The final necessary use of the comma is the most difficult for many writers. It’s actually the same as rule 5, but it’s often presented in isolation because of its difficulty. As with appositives and infinitive phrases, it separates nonrestrictive clauses in a sentence. The nonrestrictive clause is not essential to the sentence. It merely adds information:

Abraham Lincoln, who was the tallest of U.S. presidents, was an imposing figure of a man.

The grizzly, a bear misunderstood by tourists, is named Ursus horribilis for good reason. 

By contrast, a restrictive clause is essential to the sentence:

The lady who cried is my mother.

The man who shot Liberty Valance became a state senator.

Commatose 2 and 3

Comma Rule Number 2

A comma is necessary to separate a long introductory element before a main clause. Rule 2 holds true for both simple and complex constructions:

Even though ignorant of our culture, we must always be kind to strangers. (Simple)

Since Constance is new to our company, all of us should strive to help her. (Complex)

It’s always correct to set off any introductory element with a comma, but a more modern lean toward fewer commas in novels has made the practice optional for shorter elements. Either is acceptable:

Later, you can join us for dessert.    Later you can join us for dessert.


Comma Rule Number 3

Commas separate items in a series:

James found blondes attractive, redheads adorable, and brunettes irresistible.

The final comma before the conjunction is always correct. However, the journalistic practice to omit the serial (or Oxford) comma is every author’s option:

James found blondes attractive, redheads adorable and brunettes irresistible.

Also correct is an occasional asyndeton (a-SIN-dih-tawn), the intentional omission of the normally occurring conjunction (and, or, but, for, nor, so, yet) in a series of words, phrases, or clauses:

James found blondes attractive, redheads adorable, brunettes irresistible.

Commatose 1

If I come across as someone who lectures, it’s an occupational hazard. I was an army instructor, taught high school English for six years, and worked my way through four years of grad school as a teaching assistant (for a TA’s place in academia, think whale droppings under The Titanic).

For the next thirteen years, I taught English and writing in a small state college, plus weekly night classes for ten years at reservation junior colleges working off student loans.

Still, I try not to edit like stereotypical English teachers grade. My font is editor blue, not teacher red. I make suggestions you can take or leave, and I don’t grade you; instead, you grade me on every edit I return. To the surprise of several for whom I edit, I’m told I leave lots of valuable positive comments among my prompts for changes, and I invite discussions of alternatives.

Waiting for the however? Here ’tis: Most folks I edit for have problems with commas and actually ask for helps. One who never needs comma help is another writer/editor with whom I swap manuscripts quid pro quo. She’s naturally better at Noah Webster’s five necessary comma rules than anyone—evah!

One secret of her success is never thinking of commas in terms of pauses. Worse is trying to plunk them in where you take breaths. Most confusing is inserting a comma where it doesn’t belong to force a pause.

Instead, commas signal the internal structures of sentences. Purely coincidentally, at some places where commas are needed there are natural pauses, which probably gives rise to simplistic grade school comma “rules,” but at other necessary commas, there are no pauses.

For U.S. publications, five rules explain necessary commas. A few other commas are optional, but the majority are superfluous—excessive, pointless, unnecessary.

Comma Rule Number 1: A comma is necessary to separate a compound structure, two or more main clauses joined by one of the seven coordinating conjunctions: and, or, nor, but, for, yet, so.

The woman drank black coffee, and she ate a croissant.

You can conduct yourself in a pleasant manner, or you can be horrible.

Evan loves Suzanne, but he cannot forget Elena.

If a writer chooses to make those constructions into simple sentences, then the comma is not used:

The woman drank black coffee and ate a croissant.

You can conduct yourself in a pleasant manner or be horrible.

Evan loves Suzanne but cannot forget Elena.

(More “Commatose” continues in the posts above.)


Bullets fly through the pages of westerns, mysteries, thrillers, and war stories. They can pose editing problems when writing isn’t from actual experience. Often the worst sources are movies and television, although books are also fraught with misinformation.

For one thing, bullets are projectiles. Originally they were separate lead balls loaded down the muzzles of flintlock and cap ’n’ ball rifles and pistols. As self-contained ammunition evolved, the lead bullet changed shape and was incorporated into a brass casing with gunpowder and primer to form a cartridge. It’s okay for the average character to refer to cartridges as “bullets,” but a seasoned detective dictating details to her uniformed assistant probably would use more exact terms, as would the thoughts of an assassin choosing exactly the right cartridge for the job.

A few cartridges:


  • A .30-’06 shoots a copper jacketed bullet 30/100ths of an inch in diameter from a long, narrow-necked brass case designed in 1906.
  • Adopted by the military in 1954, a 7.62mm NATO is a shorter version of the .30-’06.
  • A .45-70 Government is a forty-five lead slug powered with seventy grains of black powder.
  • A .257 Roberts has a bullet measuring almost 26/100ths of an inch across. The cartridge was designed for medium game hunting by Ned Roberts.


  • A .22 Long Rifle is a forty-grain lead bullet used for hunting and target shooting in smallbore rifles and handguns.
  • A .38 Special was a popular military, police, and civilian cartridge for many decades.
  • A .357 Magnum is a hopped-up .38 Special. You can shoot .38s in a .357 revolver, but not vice versa.
  • Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum is no longer “the most powerful handgun in the world.” Even when it was, it could never literally “blow your head clean off.”


  • The 9mm Luger cartridge (9X19mm Parabellum) has been a mainstay of military semi-automatic pistols since 1908.
  • The .40S&W (Smith and Wesson) came out in 1990 and quickly became favored law enforcement tool.
  • The .45ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) is a cartridge adopted by the U.S. Army in 1911. It saw action in both world wars, Korea, and Vietnam until replaced by the 9mm. It’s now back in service.


  • The .410 is the only shotgun shell measured in calibers. The open bore of the “four-ten” is 41/100ths of an inch.
  • Popular gauges are 20, 20, and 12. The smaller the number, the bigger the bore. A 12 gauge bore is as large as twelve equal balls cast from one pound of lead.

Enough to numb our brains, right? At age 10, I began .22 competition in Moose Club postal matches and joined junior NRA. I served as an army instructor for ten years, Montana hunter educator 36 years, and NRA certified instructor from 1962 to the present. I still struggle to keep abreast of historical discoveries and new developments in firearms and ammo, so if you have a question, let me help. If I don’t know the answer, I know who does.