In my two stories, the main characters are getting caught in gunfights. How do I write a good gunfight? I already have gunfights in the story, but they feel like garbage when I write them.
First, consider what type of gun the characters are going to be using, and do your research. If you want a good gun fight, it’s the best way to start understanding how many bullets, approximate weight and size (which impacts how the characters are going to move during the fight). You don’t have to reference that the MC is using a Colt45, but if you are at least familiar with the standard guns, then you can respect the fact that a shotgun takes a lot longer between shots than a pistol. Also, recognize things like kickback. For bigger guns, the chart acted will feel knocked back by the weapon (and can even dislocate their shoulder). Adding little details like that can increase both the accuracy and intensity of the fight. The more knowledge you have of the guns you are writing, the more you can employ additional senses.
Secondly, movement in any fight scene is really important. Whether it’s the enemy or the MC, someone has to be moving to get the readers’ hearts pumping.
Lastly, if a gun is fired right near someone’s ear their ear drum is going to bust. If a bullet hits right beside a person, the wall (especially a wooden one) is going to fragment and you’ll probably be able to smell the burnt wood just a bit. If someone is shooting a shotgun, that buckshot will have a pretty good spray on it (so using a wood slab as protection might not be enough; the MC could still get hit in the forearm or leg).
Just do your research and employ as many senses as possible. If you have never seen/touched a gun in your life, maybe you could even try going to a gun range (if that’s possible and you aren’t against it). Personally, I’m not a big fan of guns, but I live in the country, so I know how to shoot to defend myself from the occasional rabid animal.
Hope this helps
By reading a really good gunfight scene from a professional writer who knows how to write them. I see a lot of questions like this and TBH if writing were as easy as following someone’s bulleted guide on how to do it my cat will be Hugo Award winner by now.
I do want to learn this though. Can someone recommend a pro writer and his or her books featuring a gun fight or share with us an excerpt? I read mostly fantasy and all I have are samples of sword fights.
I think Altered Carbon has some good ones I might have marked. I’m going to look through it as soon I find my missing kindle!!
This bit of advice involves a film that got it right - “Heat”. There’s nothing more absurd than people with rifles shooting at each other in a living room, diving behind couches, exchanging witty remarks while reloading.
The refreshing thing about the gun battle in “Heat” was, the action between those combatants took place over distances that those rifles were designed to engage at.
Handguns are typically effective around 50 yards. (EDIT TO CLARIFY - accurate / effective at a maximum of 50 yards)
If you can stomach it, go to a site like www(dot)liveleak(dot)com and you can see all the CCTV footage you want from Brazil, Mexico, etc., of robberies, gunfights, assassinations, etc. One amazing detail that comes up: you’ll see dust come from nearly every corner of a room and cloud the CCTV camera due to the percussion of those gunshots.
The person who recommended going to a gun range? That will be invaluable. Most automatic handguns, when the magazine is emptied, remain locked open with the slide to the rear. But in movies and TV, and in books, it’s often portrayed that a weapon “clicks” over and over when someone pulls the trigger on an empty automatic.
Target shooting is fun - I don’t hunt, I haven’t owned a gun in decades but learning to control your body and breathing to shoot accurately at a paper target (or a can or bottle) is like a mental and physical form of chess - if you can discipline yourself to repeatedly achieve a checklist of several points to position your body and to align the weapon, you can shoot accurately. People I knew in the military who had never, ever fired a gun? They had no bad habits to unlearn. They learned the pure science on the rifle range and they were incredible. A lot of hunters, or idiots who grew up with guns (the type who pose with them like they’re toys on their Insta) bragged about how well they’d do - and they were awful, they couldn’t shake the hubris of believing they were good and they tuned out all the training.
Much more than you wanted and very little of that was related to writing but @MorganaMevil 's advice to go to a gun range will expose you to the details and sensations you want to convey. And you might really f’ing enjoy it!
There’s nothing better than a hands-on experience. Truly. Although choosing which aspect of it to write about is another story and different writers have their own take. I think this is where RL experience and reading comes together to create a new, believable scene. You know how it feels, seen it done in movies, then you need to know how to express it.
I am going to give you mu input and show you how I would write it dear❤️
The cold metal made grayer the skin of his hand as if his blood ran from the gun. Martinez’s dad said that the chill was because the weapon took hostage a part of your soul; he said you only got it back if you used the gun for love, for protection and defense. Apparently it was part of the natural order of things and the gun, something made of the matter of this universe, had to obey it as much as one did.
Martinez cocked his pistol and walked into the abandoned warehouse. Well, almost abandoned. The one remaining life in there? He was the reason for the pistol.
Dust in the air. The smell of sweat. People had been here not long ago. That, or Martinez’s man stunk bad. He’d given a heck of a chase, so either was possible. They’d spent hours like that, tearing through the desert heat in cars, then on foot, and the warehouse’s roof provided a reprieve from the sun, if not the heat.
“Denny,” he shouted, his voice echoing across the tarped boxes and dusty desert air. “I know you’re in here.”
A single deafening roar from his man’s assault rifle punctuated his call like an exclamation point. A familiar, smug face came up from behind a box in the western corner. Though the sound had startled him, Martinez smiled as he pulled his sunglasses down and locked eyes with the target.
“Step out from behind the box,” he said. “Let me kill you quick.”
He tried his own exclamation point, but Denny ducked back behind his cover by the time Martinez had lifted his arm to fire. The 9mm pistol sounded weak following a rifle like that.
Another rifle shot. Martinez thought for a second he felt pain. He was sure it was just a stab in the gut from his nerves. Not, as he first imagined, a bullet.
“Cheap shots,” Martinez said, conveniently forgetting his own a few seconds prior. “I can play that.”
He waited for Denny’s head to surface as a flashbulb started to burst in his head. The box was wooden. He could shoot through the thing. He smiled again—this time at his own stupidity.
pop pop pop
The three rounds sent splinters flying and polluted the warehouse air with even more dust. The gunsmoke and sawdust irritated his lungs so badly he had to cough. The lack of a similar one from behind the box indicated at least one of the rounds had found Denny.
One step forward, then another. Nothing but silence from his man. He’d done it, he hoped. He was ready to cash the contract. Retire to the Caribbean and—
A final pop. Martinez was conscious up until the second he hit the floor. The rifle’s muzzle, poking almost invisibly from one of the hole’s he’d shot through the box, looked more like a smiling mouth to him than anything, even with the smoke coming out of it.
Hope you liked how I wrote it and it may give you some inspiration!
Like any other action scene, make it as fast paced as the bullets whizzing past their heads. Make everything at least a little realistic, take into account recoil, weight, magazines. Make it gruelling and above all in the scene, make sure your characters are fearful of their lives because this may be their last waking moments.
I hope this helps
I don’t know much but you have to go with the flow by adding minute details that capture the readers.
My eyes moved over the cemented walls. The were void of anything except occasional blood stains. I was light on my feet, making sure to be quite. The last thing I needed at the moment was being located.
I heard them talking rapidly before I saw them. I threw a glance all over the hallways, looking for a place to hide. With no alternative, I strengthened myself for a fight.
With guns on both my hands, I shot before they realized what hit them. The third one shouted my way, sending a bullet towards me. Moving quickly, I rolled to the other side.Keeping my gun aimed at the person, I fired my shots.
not much of a gun fight but you get the idea…it is seriously horrible when I think about it…but hey, it was made just now!
What about them feels like garbage? What makes them not work, like how do you know they’re bad?
Louis L’Amour, Zain Grey, etc. Read.
For research material I recommend authors who have plenty of real life experience. For example, my two favorite action authors are Chris Ryan and Andy McNab. Both, from memory, are former British SAS. Their gunfight scenes are quite intense, and believable.
Listening to podcasts about historical battles, or interviews from military veterans are a good alternative for research material. Some examples below…