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Three antique leather volumes on a shelf. They are three volumes of Codex Theodos Cum, labeled TOME 1, TOME 2, TOME 3-4. Taken at the Royal College of Physicians Library, Regent's Park, London, UK.

This week on my podcast, I read Against Lore, a recent piece from my Pluralistic blog/newsletter, about writing and the benefits of nebulously defined backstories.

Warning: the last few minutes of this essay contain spoilers for Furiosa. In the recording, I give lots of warning so you can switch off when they come up.

One of my favorite nuggets of writing advice comes from James D Macdonald. Jim, a Navy vet with an encylopedic knowledge of gun lore, explained to a group of non-gun people how to write guns without getting derided by other gun people: “just add the word ‘modified.'”

As in, “Her modified AR-15 kicked against her shoulder as she squeezed the trigger, but she held it steady on the car door, watching it disintegrate in a spatter of bullet-holes.”

Jim’s big idea was that gun people couldn’t help but chew away at the verisimilitude of your fictional guns, their brains would automatically latch onto them and try to find the errors. But the word “modified” hijacked that impulse and turned it to the writer’s advantage: a gun person’s imagination gnaws at that word “modified,” spinning up the cleverest possible explanation for how the gun in question could behave as depicted.

In other words, the gun person’s impulse to one-up the writer by demonstrating their superior knowledge becomes an impulse to impart that superior knowledge to the writer. “Modified” puts the expert and the bullshitter on the same team, and conscripts the expert into fleshing out the bullshitter’s lies.