I did a post several years ago for my old Live Journal blog about magazines vs. clips and since I still see the misuse of these terms in books, I thought I’d revise the post in an effort to educate my fellow authors.¹ Honestly, this would probably be an easier post to do in video or podcast, but since I hate my voice, my hair is a mess and I’m in my pjs—what can I say? I’m a writer, it’s my work uniform—I’ll try it this way.
I know you have all read a scene where a hunky cop fires his weapon to save himself and the other hero (or heroine), runs out of ammo, and loads another clip into his gun. I have too and I’m here to tell you that the word clip was used incorrectly. The word the author should've used is magazine. Sadly, I’ve seen this used by authors who should know better. I get it, it’s used so often it’s almost become acceptable and people know what they are talking about, but wrong is still wrong. Which reminds me of a saying my Sifu² is fond of: “Fast and wrong is still wrong.” We can't get anything past that man.😉
There is, however, such a thing as a clip. It’s a strip of metal that holds bullets and loads them into an internal magazine of a rifle. Don’t quote me on this, but as far as I know there are no clips that go into pistols.⁴ If there is, I’ve never seen one. After this post I will go pull out my oldest son’s Weapons: A Visual History of Arms and Armor book (nice research book btw) and see if there is a pistol with an internal magazine that uses clips. That said, I don’t want to confuse you. The rifles I talk about that use clips are a specific type of rifle, not all rifles use clips. The majority of the rifles you see nowadays; the popular AK47 and AR15, for example, use magazines, very similar to those used in pistols.
But I digress. We were talking about semi automatic hand guns. The magazine is essentially a rectangular box with a spring in it that feeds the bullet into the gun. Once a round is chambered the firing of that gun and the motion of the slide moving back, then forward again, is what allows the magazine to load another round into the chamber. Therefore, if you do not put a round in the chamber the gun will not fire. That is why you always see actors in the movies pulling the slid back and chambering a round before shooting. Not to say you have to write your hero (or heroine) doing this. If they are law enforcement or military or heck familiar with weapons, they’ve probably already done this step at home. Now, if your character has emptied a magazine, their slide will typically stay in the open position (there are a few guns that the slide does not stay open). Therefore, when they eject the empty magazine, slap another one into the gun and push the slide release (or pull back on the slide depending on the gun) the slide going forward is what loads another bullet. So our character would not then pull the slide back again. If he did, it would eject an unspent bullet.³ Whew... that was a long explanation. Hopefully, I didn’t lose you.
That is the difference in a clip and a magazine. I found this picture on the internet, that shows the difference in the two, and it would seem I’m not the only one with a post like this LOL. So if you use the terms incorrectly now, at least you’re doing it on purpose. But keep in mind, I don’t know too many people who know their weapons who use it incorrectly. If you have a hard core Navy SEAL calling his magazine a clip, you are going to pull me right out of that story. If you have a character who knows nothing about guns using the word clip, it is a good way to distinguish their lack of knowledge.
¹ I want to try to do a variety of posts on this blog. Post for new authors and readers alike, so hopefully even if you are not a writer you will find the “writing research” posts interesting.
² kung fu master/teacher
³ Please note that this post assumes you know nothing or very little about guns. I promise I’m not being condescending. I truly hope this was helpful.
⁴ I stand corrected. There are pistols that use clips. The Steyr-Hahn is an example of one. Man, I love research. Unfortunately, I tend to get lost in it and it takes up valuable writing time😛