Writing About Gunfights For Writers Who Don’t Shoot

A US Marine fires a Benelli combat shotgun

Hello, as you might already know I am a bit obsessive about combat accuracy when writing. For various reasons our Western World experience of guns is more limited than ever. This is not just the case with firearms it also extends to weapons in general. I am not an expert, but I have been in various situations and have had to deal with aggression and weapons. I am not an expert but I have done a lot of shooting. A man that is an expert is a YouTube guy called Paul Harrell.

Mr Harrell has a very extensive catalogue of videos on shooting. He is a trainer and an ex marine. He has been in competitions and combat. More relevant, for some of your stories, is he has been in a couple of civilian self defence shooting incidents.

The reason I say his civilian experience is more relevant is it fits so many scenarios we might write about. A character who is a PI or a character caught up in a vortex of a thriller and finds themselves involved with armed bad guys.

I hope that you will not write about military combat unless you have been in that situation. We have many veterans from two decades of Middle Eastern conflict. They have done their bit and those that can write well should be left to it. My opinion, but there is a practical point too.  If you are not ex military and you want to write about a soldier in combat you will almost certainly mess up the details.

Mr Harrell covers all the bases, soldier, instructor and private citizen. I think it gives his videos heavyweight, wide experience that we can draw on.

His delivery is really useful for those of us who shoot little or have never fired a gun. He is precise, sometimes to the point of wondering how he can slow his training to be so specific. He not only knows how a certain weapon might feel and act in your hands, he also knows what ammunition does what. If you don’t know ammunition is so varied and its effects are so varied, you can mess up the credibility of your marvellous story when talking about that alone.

A US Marine fires a Benelli combat shotgun


He talks about the cover a car can give your character, the way you position yourself, where to carry a gun, how to hold them and the pluses and minuses of all manner of weapons.

The only drawback this gentleman has for writers who don’t shoot is some of his videos will confuse a total novice. That is not his fault it will be the viewers for not carefully selecting the videos they watch. Here is a great starter video.

Imagine you are describing a shootout in a building. It has some issues specific to being indoors. Your character might shoot through walls into the street, have to deal with the dark while grabbing their weapon or have to move through doorways. The list goes on but by watching this video you will have a good idea of some of those issues.

Here is another one. It is an analysis of a famous and tragic FBI shoot out. Want to describe a shoot out as realistically as possible? Watch this, adapt the circumstances, add your creative magic and you will add flavour like never before to your storytelling.

As always on this series for writers who don’t shoot or cannot shoot, if I can help I will so please contact me. What I don’t know I will ask the people who I trust who do know.

Try these two articles that I have put together for writers if you get time and tell me what you think.

Methods of Murder: Shotguns

Rifles for Writers Who Don’t Shoot