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  1. Flashfire07
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    Flashfire07 Active Member

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    Describing firearms and gunfights

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Flashfire07, May 15, 2011.

    While writing my story recently I encountered a hitch when describing firearms, because the character has an extensive knowledge of firearms but when I write I find myself just putting down the name of the gun, instead of describing it as I don't know how to describe firearms! My other issue is that I don't know how to describe a gunfight from this characters perspective as I have never fired a firearm before and he is supposed to be highly trained. I've included an example if my issue below.

    "I fell down on one knee, drawing my Llama M-82, I rolled aside as his leg swept out in an effort to catch me, I fired two shots upwards into his groin and abdomen, his Protecta clattering the down as my third shot took him in the head. I leaped to my feet and immediately dove for the car as his companion filled the air with pellets behind me"
     
  2. barnz
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    barnz Member

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    The motherland has your answers. http://world.guns.ru/main-e.htm tons of detailed info on guns, that should be a bookmark for anyone writing with guns playing a major part. Watch videos on youtube, see if there's a gun range near you where you can try it out for size.

    This isn't quite the right section for workshop, but for the piece you included, i don't think technical knowledge is very necessary here, as it's a fast paced gunfight. The character's aren't going to be admiring their pieces and giggling at the technical specifics while blowing each other away. Or would they?

    "I fell down on one knee, drawing my Llama M-82. The knurled grip felt at home in my palm, the trigger biting into the calloused pad of my first finger. It felt all too comfortable in my palm for me, but nevertheless I couldn't wait to feel that ear-shattering roar as it the .45 ACP bullet snickered through the air and into his flesh. I rolled aside as his leg swept out in an effort to catch me, I fired two shots upwards into his groin and abdomen, his Protecta (I mean, come on, a Protecta? This guy, did his mother pick out his guns for him? Those little .22 LR it shoots couldn't punch through a leather jacket.) clattering the down as my third shot took him in the head. I leaped to my feet and immediately dove for the car as his companion filled the air with behind me."

    Yeah, I feel the technical aspects just get in the way here. Even naming the guns in this instance feels a bit much. "I drew my piece" or "his handgun clattered to the ground" works better IMHO.
     
  3. Mxxpower
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    Mxxpower Member

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    I generally describe equipment that is used over and over throughout the story as if they were another character sort of.

    Meaning, when I introduce the weapon into the story I give it two or three sentences of description and from there just use the name of the gun or equipment going forward.

    This is what I do for most things a reader may have no familiarity with but are crucial to understand through the story.

    As for never having shot a firearm, well I guess youtube is your friend. I would bet there is shooting footage of any real life weapon you searched for on there, including military vehicles and weapons.
     
  4. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I don't know much about firearms either. New Zealand doesn't allow them for the most part and we may be one of the last countries on Earth where our police are unarmed.

    However when it comes to fantasy weapons I check out the Fantasy Forum and there's loads of stuff about them including making them, using them, what they can do etc. I would imagine there would be a similar forum for writers of modern warfare etc, as well as loads on particular handguns. Google away.

    Cheers.
     
  5. Velox
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    Velox Senior Member

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    Yeah, I agree. But I would definitely not describe it when he's actually in the process of using it -- as barnz said, it just slows the action down. Rather, you could have him assembling his weapon [which would be harder to right, as you really would have no know a lot about guns -- I don't], or when he's gearing up you could describe it then [not quite as much detail needed as assembling].

    There are definitely a lot of videos on YouTube about firing firearms and whatnot. But really, you have to just go to a shooting range and talk to an instructor [at least, I think that's what they're called =P]. Which is something I really need to do, too. That way, you'll know how it feels to shoot it. Sure, by watching videos you might learn how it looks to shoot, but you won't actually know how it shoots. I know because all I've done is watched videos, and while they do help, in the long run, I still don't know it enough. Plus once you're there talking to the instructor or whatever, you can ask him about all the details and the assembly and cleaning and everything. At least, I assume so, and I plan to. =P
     
  6. muscle979
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    muscle979 Member

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    If you stick with pretty common weapons I wouldn't think you'd need to describe them much at all. Most books I can recall reading with firefights spend little to no time talking about the weapons.

    As a former military guy I can tell you that most people don't realize how hard it is to fire accurately while moving. Even at close range. It is surprisingly difficult. Keep that in mind if you're going for realism. Of course at point blank it is not unrealistic to think he'd make the groin shots.
     
  7. Forest Girl
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    Forest Girl Member

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    My kid is a peace officer, soldier, and gun owner.
    He knows quite a bit about guns.

    I know nothing.

    I've read a couple of books by a bestselling writer about a vampire killer. And she ALWAYS goes on and on about how the female MC puts on her guns and other gear and she names the types of guns over and OVER and OVER.

    I don't need that. Rather than adding to the story it is a big distraction, I skip over it.

    Unless all the readers are expected to know all about guns I agree that too much information and detail isn't going to help much.
     
  8. dizzyspell
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    dizzyspell Active Member

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    I know you're mostly into fantasy, but if it ever comes up that you need to check out modern guns, NZ isn't really too limited if you go looking for specifics. I did some research, being that I have my own gunslinging scene appproaching, and I found a pistol club that allows visitors to try out the weapons on open mornings every weekend. I'm going in a couple of weeks. You won't find military weapons here, but if you just want the basics, like how it feels to shoot a handgun, you'll be able to sort something out. The OP should be able to find something similar if he goes looking for it. It shouldn't be too expensive, either.

    Also, in terms of getting a shooting scene right, I personally enjoy paintball for that. It's loads of fun, and if you go with a group of supportive friends, you can really iron out a scene. Obviously, you have stricter rules than in your story. It's definitely not like a real gunfight, but it does help, imo. Plus, it's heaps of fun!
     
  9. VegasGeorge
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    VegasGeorge Member

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    As a person who actually knows a thing or two about guns, I just wanted to say that every now and then it becomes painfully obvious to me that the writer I happen to be reading at the time doesn't. I find my reaction to that sort of interesting. I don't normally expect others to know about firearms. But when I'm reading a novel that makes a point of describing or talking about guns, I get really contemptuous and dismissive of an author who apparently doesn't know his guns. It almost seems like a betrayal, as if someone shouldn't write about such an important subject without the necessary background and understanding. For me it's a touchy subject. I wouldn't feel the same about an author botching up the description of cooking a soufflé. Thanks for posting this question. It has given me increased personal insight!
     
  10. Lord Malum
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    Lord Malum Senior Member

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    Having been apart of several shootouts, it's rare when anyone was as close to the enemy as you described here. I recommend not focusing on the actions alone. There are sounds, smells, and feelings that are crucial to conveying a gunfight. Guns are loud. I've lost over 50% of my hearing in my right ear and around 40% in my left and have constant ringing. Sweat burns the eyes, but you have to ignore it if you plan on surviving. There were times where we had to clear out a building that we had shot up and the smell of death is one you'll not soon forget. Fear and adrenaline are a constant, so it's important for your character to feel it even though a trained professional pushes it all aside.
     
  11. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    I was at one base that decided they wanted every person to be able to give a indepth report on the weapon they were assigned too.

    This is an M16A1, it is a gas operated air cooled, magazine fed weapon...
    Trust me, if I wanted too, I could still repeat the specifics of the weapon.
    It is long, drawn out and does nothing to help in the daily scheme of things.

    I would suggest learn the basics of the weapons your story uses. Learn the weaknesses of the weapon. The AK is a great weapon for the untrained to use, it can take severe abuse and still function. Its weakness is found in its strength. It is generally not as accurate as other weapons, because the moving parts are not as precise.
    Before someone jumps on this, the AK is accurate, but if a marksman uses an AK and a tighter weapon, the tighter weapon will deliver tighter groupings.
    But dirt in the tighter weapon will render it useless.

    ----disclaimer: All firearms should be properly maintained to prevent misfire or deadly mishaps.(dirt in the barrel can cause extreme pressure in the barrel causing the barrel to expand or rupture.) -------
     
  12. StrangerWithNoName
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    StrangerWithNoName Longobard duke

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    Well, the AK-47 was developed after the hard lessons of WWII, when it was proven that most of the contacts took place under 300 mt...the SKS was more precise, but that surplus was not exploited in combat.
     
  13. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    How to describe a firefight between professionally trained combatants, in terms that are plausible in the real world? Okay, here are a few tips from the real world that you may wish to incorporate into your story telling.

    Forget all the fancy, sexy moves you see action heroes doing in the movies, that is all choreographed for sensational appeal and excitement for the viewing audience. Nobody in the real world dives crashing through plate glass windows, spinning while flying through the air and rattling off a full magazine of 9mm ammo, killing a half dozen bad guys before landing on the ground in a tumbling roll, that ends with our hero rolling up on his feet, without a single hair out of place and sunglasses still perfectly straight.

    It just doesn't happen that way.

    In actual combat, everybody automatically tenses up, gets wired tight and the adrenaline starts pumping, because if you screw it up you know your life can end abruptly. Where the unprofessional amateurs tend to freak out and spray bullets at every sound or flickering shadow out of fear, trained professionals exert a measure of mental control, they focus, drop low to the ground to present a smaller target, merge with the shadows to remain unseen if possible...until they can acquire a clear shot at their target.

    If a trained combatant can't see his target (behind a corner, inside a house, hiding in the woods, etc.) he doesn't hose down the area with lead hoping to hit "something". Professionals are trained to overcome the adrenaline and tension to actually THINK tactically. They look for likely hiding places for the bad guys, they consider they surroundings, looking for ways to move to other vantage points, while still being concealed, to give them a better shot at the bad guys. They don't foolishly give away their position and possibly allow unseen enemies to shoot them.

    They don't grand stand like Bruce Willis leaping through fireballs, with a gun in both hands, firing while soaring through the air in slow motion, not using the sights and amazingly still killing a room full of bad guys.

    When pros shoot a bad guy, they shoot him twice...you'd be surprised how many "dead" guys turn out to be faking it, only to sit up and shoot you in the back.

    Real world combat isn't like Hollywood. Your weapon's magazine doesn't hold a million rounds of ammo allowing you to blaze away all day. The magazines empty quickly when the shooting starts and need to be changed regularly (empty magazines need to be reloaded with fresh ammo during any lulls in the fighting). All valid points if you want to make your story realistic.

    The sound of a gunshot is a lot louder than most people who've never fired a weapon realize. A 9mm pistol makes a deafening BANG that will leave your ears ringing for a short while. A .45ACP pistol makes a deeper BOOM than a 9mm and leaves you equally deafened. By deafened, I mean that after firing a weapon without hearing protection, you WILL NOT be able to hear the sound of footsteps making the leaves crinkle as a bad guy sneaks up behind you. The ringing in your ears will go away after a short while. If you are writing a story about "old timers", veteran pros who have fired a lot of weapons in combat, it wouldn't be unrealistic to describe them as suffering from a life long bout of tinnitus (Lord knows after years of service as a combat vet, I've certainly had my share of tinnitus related issues).

    When writing about characters getting shot in combat, it is important to understand the dynamics of how a gunshot wound actually effects the body if you want it to be realistic.

    A brass jacketed lead slug, traveling at supersonic velocity, spinning like a flying drill bit, strikes a human being, punching a hole through flesh, ripping a ragged wound channel through muscles and internal organs, shattering bones in its path and finally exploding out of the back, creating a large, messy, raggedy exit wound. There is blood splatter, bits of meat and sometimes bone fragments exploding out of the exit wound. Its messy, its traumatic and at first it doesn't hurt. About 30 to 45 seconds later, as the shock wears off, the pain kicks in, it hurts like a mutha %&@#$ and then the screaming starts...don't ask me how I know.

    Depending on the severity of the wounds, grown men will either bite their lip and growl like a pit bull or scream like a banshee. The lucky ones will either pass out or a medic will be on hand to shoot them up with Nubain or Morphine. The unlucky ones will die a horrible death.

    The stuff we see on TV, where a guy gets shot and grabs his shoulder, snarls a few curses and continues to use his arm like nothing happened are less than strictly realistic. Only in cases of minor wounds, such as a graze or a hit on an extended body part (getting shot in the hand or foot isn't going to put you down for the count. Yes, it'll hurt like a SOB but you can still crawl, return fire with the other hand, in many cases you can even apply first aid to yourself). Taking a hit on modern day body armor has a stunning effect, as the full impact energy of the bullet will knock you flat on your rump, but you can recover enough to keep fighting after a few minutes. Depending on where the round struck your body armor, you may have a broken rib to go along with the nice bruise it will leave.

    As for describing firearms in your story, that all depends on your target audience. If the gun fight is just a scene in an otherwise less-action oriented story, such as a police crime investigation, you probably shouldn't expend too much energy on it. Mystery, crime thriller readers aren't as interested in guns as the readers of action adventure stories, who tend to be younger, male gun nuts (at least in my experience).

    The action adventure crowd just love reading about the details of guns, especially military or exotic "James Bond" type hardware. I'd suggest giving the detailed descriptions when you first introduce the character armed with it, such as:

    Holding the M-16A1 assault rifle in his hand, Staff Sergeant Lothgar inserts a 30 round magazine into the magazine well. He firmly slaps the bottom of the magazine to ensure it is fully seated, before pulling back the charging handle and allowing the rifle's bolt to SNAP back forward with a hearty "CHA-CLACK" sound, stripping a live round of 5.56mm NATO ammunition from the magazine and seating it into the chamber.

    Shouldering his weapon and pulling it in tight against his shoulder, the mercenary sights down along the length of the weapon, towards the paper bulls eye target down range. The sleek feel of the ABS plastic and aircraft aluminum weapon feels good in his hands. Gently sliding his thumb up from the grip to nudge the selector switch from SAFE, past SEMI, over to FULL, Lothgar is now ready to "rock & roll". With a gentle squeeze of the trigger with the fleshy part of his finger tip, the M-16A1 roars its hammering burst of full auto fire. The smell of burnt gunpowder fills the air, as the vibrating recoil is absorbed by Lothgar's shoulder and a steady stream of spent brass casings spew from the side ejection port to clatter on the ground.

    Downrange, a stream of full metal jacketed slugs punch holes in the paper and cardboard backing of the target, hitting everywhere, except on the bulls eye. Peering over the top of his weapon at the still pristine and untouched target, Sergeant Lothgar snarls "DANG IT!"


    After the reader's first exposure to what I've heard referred to as "Gun Porn", it really isn't necessary to repeat all the tech specs of every weapon mentioned in your story every time it comes up. In the example given above, I'd continue it something like this:

    After altering the weapon's sights, Sergeant Lothgar returns the sight adjustment tool to his shirt pocket and shoulders the M-16A1 once more. Again, the sound of gun fire fills the air, as 6 neatly placed holes rip through the center of the bulls eye target. A warm, satisfied smile spreads across the mercenary's face.

    No need to ramble on again about the caliber, materials the weapon is constructed from or the sounds of the bolt cycling. That sort of thing, once done the first time, will get redundant quickly.

    I've also read some stories in my day where the writer got all flowery and "artsy fartsy" with the descriptions.

    The Uzi sang its song of death as it emptied its 32 word vocabulary from its magazine. The flying 9mm slugs punctuating the obituaries of the would be kidnappers, as they fell from the balcony and were no more.

    In my opinion, that sort of crap is just a bit silly...but to each his own.
     
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  14. dizzyspell
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    dizzyspell Active Member

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    ^That was incredibly helpful, Lothgar, for the OP I'm sure, as well as myself.
     
  15. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    I'm here to help if I can. :)
     
  16. AvihooI
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    AvihooI Member

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    In a short story (well, don't think it's going to end up 'short' by standard convention - already 5k+ words and it's just the beginning of the story) that I write, which is about the military: I try to actually depict the sound that firearms make.

    I know it may not be correct traditionally to use text that isn't words. However, do check this out as an example:

    Dwight and his men were then running for the burning Humvee. Trrr, tata, tata. Returning fire as they go. As they reached the vehicle, it was already too late.

    I have fired and heard many firearms in my life and it's impossible to miss out on these sounds. They are a language of their own.
     
  17. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    I'm lost for words. :p Simply trying to create in my mind a scene that could be written like that has shown me the limits of my imagination. Otherwise, very great post! Pity I can't give you more reputation yet. :(

    That's true. I'm haven't ever tried to really describe the sound of shots. Perhaps I should practice a little, since the sounds of some weapons really are very distinctive, and you can sometimes tell from the sound not only the type of weapon but the exact model.
     
  18. Jessica_312
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    Jessica_312 Contributing Member

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    I've been to the shooting range several times, and I can vouch for this - shooting without ear protection would at minimum cause an irritating ringing in the ear. I also knew a man (my teacher's husband back in grade school) who suffered hearing loss after coming home from battle - it wasn't total hearing loss, but he was partially deaf in one ear and in the other ear, if he heard any sounds of a certain tone, it would cause him actual pain (my teacher said this happened to him at a concert). All stuff to keep in mind.

    And excellent post, Lothgar :)
     
  19. martial_wolf
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    martial_wolf Member

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    Wow Lothgar! Just plain wow!

    And OP, really the best advice anyone could ever give in this exact circumstance to help out with your lack of gun knowledge is the shooting range and the internet are your friend. Shooting ranges (at least here in the U.S.) will let you rent a gun for the day.

    Everyone who said it is right, you run out of bullets quickly. Even if you are target shooting you run out faster than you realize.

    Guns can be so loud. I fired my first gun when I was thirteen, it was a 12 gauge shotgun. Pretty standard. I decided I was too manly to have ear protection on. Six years later I still hear better from my left.
     
  20. Sang Hee
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    Sang Hee Contributing Member

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    Lothgar, I've read everything that you had written and it's awesome. I wish I could figure the same depth of knowledge about medieval fighting. The world I'm writing about has no guns :/
     

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