Q&A: Firefight

Hello there! I’m trying to write a fairly grounded gunfight (trading shots from cover, moving up with covering fire, not spraying rounds everywhere, etc.) and I’m wondering how I can keep it tense and engaging for the reader. Any tips?


Remember that all it takes is a single bullet to end a firefight. Each gunshot can seriously wound or outright kill one of your characters, removing them from the fight. So, the tension comes when you remember that at any given moment anyone could die. If your characters are outnumbered, their chance of getting out alive takes a nose dive.

Concealment is not cover. A character who hides behind a residential wall, a couch, or something similar will not be protected from incoming fire. In the real world, someone hiding behind an overturned conference table is only, “hiding,” they’re not safe.

A bullet that misses your character will still damage their surroundings. It will tear holes in walls, punch holes in metal, and blow chips of concrete out. This means, you can be injured by flying shrapnel.

For reference, I did read both of your questions. If you’re having issues with your fights getting boring, you’re taking too long. Violence is fast. It’s here, it’s happened; and then people have enough time to get bored without dying.

What’s tripping you up is that you want a longer scene, but a contained firefight won’t deliver that. In the gunfire, you might have lulls, while people are moving, and re-positioning. The entire point of suppressing fire is to keep someone from sticking their head out, so not a lot of reason to waste ammo on their general vicinity so long as they’re keeping their head down. Sending someone out to get a better angle while your shooter keeps them pinned will take time. Of course, if there’s someone out there your characters don’t know about, any flanking tactic could quickly go horribly wrong.

Also, there’s no clean way to know for certain a gunfight has ended. Even in a simple situation, where one side opened fire on someone who took cover and killed them, it’s going to take awhile, before anyone can safely get over there to check, and make sure they’re dead. Simply stepping out of cover and walking over is a good way to get shot. Even if they see blood spray from a hit, there’s no grantee that the victim is dead, and not simply bleeding to death.


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