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Need tips for gunfire and gunfight scene (1 Viewer)

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Sir-KP

Senior Member
Hi, I need y'all wisemen's insights on how to handle gunfire and/or gunfight scene.

So in the current state, I have used a few methods to wrap this particular action:

- First method, by pacing the paragraphs with a 'direct' sound effect (BOOM! BANG! etc) to create the sensation of sudden or surprise. Usually applied when the action is unexpected to happen.

- In the second method, I'm using description on how the gunfire was shot and sounds like. For example: "...like a rolling thunder..."

- Third, a mix of both


I came across someone somewhere claiming the usage of gunfiring sound effect makes it seem childish (and only should be used in teen-lit or something). I can agree to a certain degree on that. I think it does sound lame sometimes.

So, how should I deal with this? How do you guys do your gunfight scene?

It doesn't have to be a war. It could be an execution, a murder, a duel, etc.

Thanks.
 
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EternalGreen

Senior Member
Hmm. I've written two gunfight scenes recently.

With one, I started the scene with the distant "sizzle" of a 19th century gun (like your "option two") and had one character fill in the details of what had happened to another character later, through dialogue. I had just done a perspective change so I focussed on drawing a "map" for the reader.

The other was more intense. This was set in the late 18th century, so I focussed a lot on the smoke (what I thought would make the fight more unique and ground the reader in the setting). I played an escalation of tension before the actual fight. When the first gun went off, I described the surprising recoil that made the gun almost fly out of a character's hand, not the sound. (It was an "accidental" (read: demonic) discharge.) Guns ARE really loud, of course, but thinking about how they look and smell can help a lot, too.

I tried to make both gunfights more interesting by mixing them with paranormal elements.

I'm biased against onomatopoeia, so I may not be the best person to answer your question.

If you want to surprise people, you could try having a bullet fly through the window before the sound reaches the characters in that room. Or you could have a character out on a night walk and see the distant hills glitter with machine-gun fire (before they hear it).
 

TheManx

Senior Member
Doesn't everyone pretty much know what gunfire sounds like? So why not just describe what's happening and maybe how people react to the sound? Then maybe spice it up with a little metaphor, if you can come up with something that isn't cliche...
 

ehbowen

Senior Member
In my manuscript, I took the "forensic" approach, telling who fired what and the results. "The first two gunshots belonged to Carlos. The first impacted Rick’s body just an inch and a half below the right clavicle. As he was in plain clothes and on a routine investigative visit Rick was not wearing body armour; neither were Santos nor Jake. The Parabellum slug penetrated a lung, creating a sucking chest wound. Very dangerous. The second was even more problematic. It impacted Rick’s skull at his left temple, ricocheting off the inside of the parietal bone through his cerebral cortex."

I know that won't work for everyone, but it fit with the tone I was trying to achieve in the rest of my story.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
In my manuscript, I took the "forensic" approach, telling who fired what and the results. "The first two gunshots belonged to Carlos. The first impacted Rick’s body just an inch and a half below the right clavicle. As he was in plain clothes and on a routine investigative visit Rick was not wearing body armour; neither were Santos nor Jake. The Parabellum slug penetrated a lung, creating a sucking chest wound. Very dangerous. The second was even more problematic. It impacted Rick’s skull at his left temple, ricocheting off the inside of the parietal bone through his cerebral cortex."

I know that won't work for everyone, but it fit with the tone I was trying to achieve in the rest of my story.

If it's done right, that style can be really cool. I've tried it once or twice.

Anyone interested in fight scenes might read "All Quiet on the Western Front." That book had some parts that punched so hard I wanted to do a backflip.
 

Demiel

Senior Member
I have written a seen as such; while it was not a gunfight, it was a dual in similar manor to one.
What I like to do in scenes such as these is establish a sense of motion. Is your character running? Have the words you use match the movement. As for the specifics of the gunfire itself, I would rather describe the gunfire than attempt to use onomatopoeia, usually by metaphor. I.e "The brass bells of the firing pins striking burning cartridges rang throughout the gray air of the courtyard." (Inspired by Court of the Crimson King.)
Don't over do this or it will be corny. You can also describe it abstractly, like describing the pain it may cause ones ears.
Lastly, in a fight scene it can be more impactful to describe an object in the room during the fight, to keep a sense of setting, i.e "The chandelier above the dining table became a pendulum after the shockwave of the missile."
I hope this will help you.
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
Hi, I need y'all wisemen's insight on how to handle gunfire and/or gunfight scene.

So in the current state, I use a few methods to wrap this particular action for various purposes:

- First method, by pacing the paragraph and using a 'direct' sound effect (BOOM! BANG! etc) to create the sudden sensation. Usually using this when it is unexpected to happen.

- Second, using description how the gunfire was shot and sounds like. Example: "...like a rolling thunder..."

- Third, a mix of both.

I've written several scenes and chunks of story with gun battles, and I'm keen on using your third method, mixing descriptive words with comparison sounds to help the reader understand what is going on. Worked well in my Korean War short story, and I also had bombs and explosives going off as well.

-JJB
 

Sir-KP

Senior Member
Thanks for the replies everyone.


In my manuscript, I took the "forensic" approach, telling who fired what and the results. "The first two gunshots belonged to Carlos. The first impacted Rick’s body just an inch and a half below the right clavicle. As he was in plain clothes and on a routine investigative visit Rick was not wearing body armour; neither were Santos nor Jake. The Parabellum slug penetrated a lung, creating a sucking chest wound. Very dangerous. The second was even more problematic. It impacted Rick’s skull at his left temple, ricocheting off the inside of the parietal bone through his cerebral cortex."

I know that won't work for everyone, but it fit with the tone I was trying to achieve in the rest of my story.

Sick stuff right there. I would love to put a couple of this kind of spicy detail. :p
 

JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
A lot of this hinges on just how far you want to go down the rabbit hole. How much detail you feel will be sufficient to get your point across. In turn, a lot of that's going to depend on a whole string of factors. For instance:

- How familiar your characters are with shooting in general.
- The nature of the gunfire.
- Their prior experience with gunfire.

For instance, Grandpa taking the grandkids to plink cans in the back forty requires a different kind of description than a character living on the rough side of town and hearing a single gunshot next door, which probably won't be described the same as an infantryman hunched up behind a knocked-out armored vehicle with a couple of his squadmates. All three will be experienced by three different people who process the results three very different ways.

Other factors entail the ordnance being used. Smaller-caliber bullet tend to make a high, flat cracking in flight. Larger bore rifles are similar, albeit with a deeper, heavier tone. Shotguns are more of a bark. On the high side of man-portable shoulder arms (.50 BMG and thereabout) you may find the sound less affecting than the pressure from the muzzle blast. Very seldom does a suppressed firearm eliminate all noise, and almost never to the degree Hollywood suggests. Machine guns are more akin to chatter.

I'm personally not a fan of high technical detail for two reasons. Even if painstakingly correct it may bog your reader and break their interest. The sort of homemade fiction that used to populate gun forums was rife with this. Also, it's very easy for someone without a whole lot of shooting experience to get things wrong, which breaks immersion for those readers who can spot the errors.

I would also avoid overly poetic descriptions - again, for two reasons. One is that gunfire and the ensuing report happen fast. It's not even a moment...more like the flash of a camera. You're often more aware of having heard the report than actually hearing it. The second speaks more to a character's mindset; an infantryman who deals with gunfire on a semi-regular basis is unlikely to think about it as more than background noise, a cop who takes unexpected fire nearing the end of his watch will be more concerned with finding the source, a competition shooter will be solely focused on their target, their stance, and their breathing, and Average Joe on the street will be less concerned with how the shot sounded than what it means for his immediate safety.

With any luck there's something in all that which can be of use.
 

CyberWar

Senior Member
Personally, I avoid the cartoonish "sound effects" like the plague, with the exception of them being used in character speech. I frankly find them childish and in poor style.

So I guess I stick strictly to the "descriptive" style, often using simple, easily-understandable metaphors to convey what the sounds of gunfire are like. There are plenty of neat, simple words in the English language that can effectively describe various kinds and intensities of gunfire ("blast", "thump", "thud", "chatter", "racket", "roar", etc.), as well as more metaphorical terms ("thunderous", "tonitrous", "bone-rattling", "ear-splitting", etc.) Such words easily convey the likeness of the sound without sounding overly dry and technical either.
 

Sir-KP

Senior Member
Also, it's very easy for someone without a whole lot of shooting experience to get things wrong, which breaks immersion for those readers who can spot the errors.

That's right. This is why I'm trying to keep them 'casual' (without going too cartoony) since I have 0 firearm experience. Documentaries, movies, and video games don't count.
 

JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
Nothing wrong with that. It's an acquired thing, same as any other subject.

From a practical standpoint the best advice I can offer is to write it by gut the first time, then run it by somebody passing familiar with the subject matter.
 

Mutimir

Senior Member
I don't think you need to tell the reader what a gunshot sounds like. You have to figure out what you want the reader to get from the scene. Do you want gore like John Wick? Do you want suspense like Dirty Hairy, where the hero and villain exchange gunfire and barely miss?
 

Sir-KP

Senior Member
You have to figure out what you want the reader to get from the scene. Do you want gore like John Wick? Do you want suspense like Dirty Hairy, where the hero and villain exchange gunfire and barely miss?

Yes, the current projects are leaning more towards suspense. One project is using Scorsese's gunfiring style as reference. Direct, impactful, no fancy stuff.

The other project has more open gunfights with reference from Scarface and Heat.
 
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