Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fighting and writing workshop, Day 4: Guns in Fighting.

This is the online workshop in writing fight scenes that I did for the Catholic Writer's Conference.  Karina Fabian had managed to draft me ... or I volunteered, I'm not entirely certain.  Either way, it was an interesting little experience.

Since most of you folks have been with me for a while, I'm going to give it to you.

Don't worry, I wasn't paid for this, so giving this away for free will hurt no one. And, few to no people wanted to show up and play with my workshop, even though there were over 25 viewers for each post.  But, I've been told few people showed up anyway for the forums, something to do with schedule confusion.

So, here is day four.


Day 4: Guns in Fighting.

There are more weapons in Heaven and Earth than there are in Thomistic philosophy. However, guns seem to be the magic weapon that everyone uses, and uses badly. With any weapon you decide to use, make certain that you have a basic knowledge of these weapons, even if it's merely researching them online. This day will also assume that you've never even seen a gun up close and personal – perhaps an erroneous presumption, but I'm not going to assume everyone knows guns. If you have do know things about guns, please bring it up.

Weapons are tools. Knives do more than stab people. Lead pipes do more than club people over the head. And guns do more than shoot people. Don't get me wrong, guns are great. But if you're writing for someplace like New York, guns are not readily available to the general populace.

Remember Day One, writing the rules for the culture on fighting? Now you know why we bothered.

Everything in a fight has to feel fast-paced, as we said before. But when you introduce a weapon into any scenario, the characters and the writing have to move fast. Or at least intelligently. What do I mean by this? I mean that no one is going to outrun a bullet – the best they can do is be faster than the trigger finger of the person targeting them – but finding cover, providing distractions, and shooting elements of the setting or other uses of the gun.

In actuality, gunfights are not like an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie – if someone is moving in a straight line, a smart gunman will lead the target. However, smart gunmen do not use fully-automatic fire in extended bursts. Firing a full magazine of ammunition on full automatic will not lead to a stream of bullets that come out in a straight line, but will cause the muzzle of the gun to jerk around like a spastic mime having an epileptic fit. In a gun battle, at a distance, even slight deviations of the gun's barrel will cause bullets to go wildly off course.

Then again, stupid things happen with guns. The average shootout with the police takes place at a distance of nine feet, but three out of every four bullets will miss, mainly because everyone is popping in and out of cover, snapping off shots and hoping they'll hit something.

Again, now is not the time for technical terms. If you're writing for a medieval setting, or a fantasy setting, if specific parts of specific weapons are going to come into play, you may want to introduce them before the fight even begins. And, if you're using a technical detail of a gun that only people who field-strip their own weapons would know, don't discuss it in the middle of a fight. A previous example has been the Lee Child model, where his character Jack Reacher describes how a fight will turn out and why, before the first punch was even thrown. You can have such discussion then, but when the bullets start flying, try not to dwell too much on the pieces and parts.

You can, however, have a technical analysis as the hero/ine is taking cover, and thinking about what to do next. If the pieces of the gun are important to the solution, and you can provide a “lull” in combat (if that's how one can describe taking cover while being shot at), then by all means, make it relevant. However, you do not want to give the vital statistics on a gun in mid-battle. In fact, you might not want to go into it at all.

The most anyone needs to know about most guns might include:

Ammunition capacity: Do not use Hollywood forever shooters. You will want to reload – if only because it's more thrilling to have a count of how many bullets your hero/ine doesn't have. (Would the end of Die Hard work at all if John McClane had had a full magazine left, instead of just two bullets?)

Type of ammunition: This only matters for level of impact, and penetration. If it's a .22-caliber from a handbag pistol, you can stop if with a pocket Bible. If it's a .45-caliber, you will stop someone if only from the shock value (no one takes an impact from a .45, rolls into a doorway, and returns fire. It's gonna suck to be that person). If it's a .50-caliber handgun, you can disable engine blocks and amputate limbs. If you're writing science fiction, ammunition type is doubly important.

Type of gun: Revolvers, pistols, assault weapons, submachine guns, hunting rifles, and machine guns all have different strengths, ranges, weaknesses, and abilities inherent in the type of gun. You will not put a bayonet on a pistol, and no one should try to rob someone with a sniper rifle.

Length of weapon (optional): many handguns make for great blunt-force weapons.

Appearance: I'm a very visual reader. There are some guns that are very visually distinct: a FAMAS assault rifle looks nothing like an M-16, which looks nothing like an Uzi, which looks nothing like an H&K G-11, which looks nothing like an AK-47. However, there are a lot of knockoffs that resemble M-16s, AK-47s, and Uzis. You don't need make, model, and serial number; just say “it looked like X, Y, or Z” gun, unless you want to go into more detail.

In essence, you can boil down someone's handgun to “short-barreled .22-caliber revolver,” or “a semi-automatic that looked more like a hand cannon” (for an example of this, look up the image of a “Desert Eagle” .50 caliber.)

Note: Please remember that Kevlar is not a magic shield. At best, it will take that small metal object going at hundreds of feet per second, and redistribute its force so that your character will essentially feel like s/he's being slapped with sheet metal at ten miles an hour.

Assignment #4: Choose Your Weapon.

Take your setting, hero/ine and the enemy from assignment #3. Pick a weapon and put it into a fight between the two. It does not have to be a gun (for thoughts on weapons, and improvised weapons, check the “How To” article link in the initial documents packet). It doesn't matter if your hero has the weapon, or your villain does. It doesn't matter if the weapon was found at the fight location, or if it was brought.

If your hero does not have a weapon to start with, they will need to disarm the bad guy and/or find their own weapon.

Youcan check the how-to article again to at least get the principles for gun and knife disarms, though the principle is mostly based in common sense – don't get in the way of the weapon.

Remember, you do not need to have anyone killed, even if you're using a gun in the scene. Guns can shoot the environment, make people flinch, duck, or buy the characters time.

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