Warning: I have ADHD and this might be a little ramble-y, sorry.

I'm completely stumped. I'm trying to get into writing fiction but I feel that I've hit a roadblock. My story is told from the first person in a "diary" format. Well, not a "dear diary" diary, but it's more for the purposes of narrative/chronology with the dates and stuff. It isn't me writing about my day, it's me telling my story to historians.

...The point is, It takes place in the early future, 2020, after nearly two hundred striking workers are massacred at "Arlin Factory." The six that survive form a socialist insurgency group with the plan of gradually gaining more and more support, a-la Che Guevara. I've read Che's "Guerilla Warfare" and so I have good knowledge of their tactics and have a very clear grasp of their ideology. My problem is that I can't write a violent/emotional scene without sounding super... purple. Things like over-complicating words and generally being dry. It sounds like I'm a historian and not a storyteller. I couldn't even describe the massacre well.

Several armored cars pull up, with "MPDC" emblazoned on the side. Six policemen in full gear close in. "Riot police, masks on." I whisper. A voice is broadcast from the helicopter. "THIS EVENT HAS BEEN DECLARED AN UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY. LEAVE THE AREA OR YOU WILL BE ARRESTED" Defiant, we step forwards, approaching the barrier. The police tighten their formation. Suddenly, a burst of machine gun fire tears through the first picket line. Harris drops, along with thirty other men. "FALL BACK," I yell. They do. Well, the people with me do. I feel a bullet strike my chest, and as I look back I realize the reason I'm not dead is because it had already been through two others. We flee.

I feel that I'm using too many periods, and the actual event seems emotionless. I'm thinking of going all-in and simply explaining the massacre from a "recalling" point of view, because I don't fully believe I can make the massacre seem horrible without having already wrote about the characters before. Would it be more correct to explain it as a "background event" like the following?

(This is probably the second/third page, the first few pages being when the group is fleeing after "something bad" happens and they go pick up an old friend, who is former military)

"So... what happened to Harris?" he asks, breaking the silence.

Confused, I answer best I can. "We lost him at Arlin, sir. One of the first to go."


"Yeah, feds shot up the place. Only six guys survived, far as we know. Lost our friends, lost our job. Lost our lives."

He looks at me, puzzled. "...What?"

I repeat myself, "The factory workers were on str-"

He rolls his eyes, "I'm not that old, dude. I meant what happened to him."

"I... His body, you mean?"

"Yes. Also... don't call me sir, makes me uncomfortable"

As another example, I tried writing the intro of Saving Private Ryan as a warmup, but it felt horrible.

A river of machine gun fire rips through the craft. Explosions, everywhere. A dozen men killed instantly. I frantically try to undo my vest but blood starts to cloud my vision. The sounds of battle drown out most voices, except the screams of the wounded and dying. We fire upwards, best we can, just enough to make it to the seawall.

It feels very... empty, but at least in this example I had something to go off of that isn't my imagination. Does jumping straight into the action not translate into literature?

  • 1
    Not intending to get political here, just asking for the purposes of writing you a better answer: when you mention reading up on Guevara and his ideology, are you implying that your character will be following a similar mentality? Guevara was glorified by the Castro regime but he was a ruthless murderer of countless innocents. Will your character be similar in personality, etc., or is he more of the archetypal freedom fighter?
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 17:27
  • There's a lot of propaganda about Che by both sides, but let me say that there's far more evidence to him being a ruthless but capable leader. For example, he shot his own side for desertion and shot citizens for supporting Batista/resisting collectivization. But if Che didn't do what was necessary, the revolution would fail. They only had 60 people when they arrived. They shot their own side in the American revolution too, and weren't exactly kind to loyalists. I imagine my character will be similar in the sense that he has a lot of character flaws, but he is ultimately the protagonist. Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 17:38
  • The book isn't really political in the sense that it's arguing for a specific side, but it is about the morality and necessity of revolution, and when it is okay to resist. Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 17:39
  • 1
    @CarlosMonterrosoBarahona - have you ever listened to soldiers or police recount actions they were involved in? It's factual, methodical and dry because that's how they're trained. If you're struggling with that, I'd suggest adopting a similar format to what Patrick Rothfuss uses with The Name of the Wind
    – user18397
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 2:21
  • 1
    @Dan anything that starts with "not intending to get political here" is pretty much guaranteed to get political. Your comment add nothing to the question or clarifies anything - a bit like this one if I'm being honest
    – user18397
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 2:23

7 Answers 7


Welcome to the SE.

In general, dry writing is 'journalistic' writing, in that it records events. Gripping writing records interior reactions to events.

Interior writing is tougher to write, in particular because it involves knowing the background and emotional make-up of not only the main character, but the friends and close secondary characters.

Take your first excerpt:

Several armored cars pull up, with "MPDC" emblazoned on the side. Six policemen in full gear close in. "Riot police, masks on." I whisper. A voice is broadcast from the helicopter. "THIS EVENT HAS BEEN DECLARED AN UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY. LEAVE THE AREA OR YOU WILL BE ARRESTED" Defiant, we step forwards, approaching the barrier. The police tighten their formation. Suddenly, a burst of machine gun fire tears through the first picket line. Harris drops, along with thirty other men. "FALL BACK," I yell. They do. Well, the people with me do. I feel a bullet strike my chest, and as I look back I realize the reason I'm not dead is because it had already been through two others. We flee.

It's almost entirely a log of events. It's even quantified. Six cars, the details of what is written on the sides of the cars. Very journalistic, very methodical, and very much not in-the-moment. Details are good, but they need to enhance the emotion not read like a report.

In your second excerpt, you still shy away from the reality of living through such a situation. You throw in some levity (arguably a bad choice) and colloquialisms, (kills tension).

One possibility is to convert your excerpt (either of them) with the addition of more screams and blood, things ripping, fetal positions, memory flashes apropos of nothing that mean something to the character, stressed-out dialog, and so on. No quantification.

For the purpose of engaging the reader in this moment, it doesn't matter that he's a soldier and is quantifying everything--you can establish that elsewhere and leave it to the reader to remember that this guy is in charge of the numbers and details.

And cut back on any extra qualifying words, too.

Armored cars pulled up, heavy, dented cars that could probably take out a tank if they wanted. Six policemen, full gear, piled out.


"Riot police," I hiss in a panic, but the pulse of pressure waves from the chopper above drowns my words.


We rush the barrier, and a burst of machine gun fire tears through the picket line. Harris drops, blood spurting once, twice. A snatch of song, my mother during the air raids in London, flashes through my mind.

"Fall back," I scream to the others, panic undoing me. Something pounds into my chest, and I slam my hand against it and fall, but there's no blood. The bullet had gone through my buddy before it hit me.

  • Wow thanks! I never noticed how important things like the quantity of police cars were to the overall feel. Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 13:30
  • 1
    Also, a very small detail, but the helicopter dialogue is an exact quote from the helicopter at Charlottesville. I got the idea for the book after seeing fully armed (non-riot, wearing urban camo) police (national guard?) march out of an armored vehicle. Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 14:16
  • 1
    +1, definitely the right direction. Still bit too observant after shooting starts but a good example of the point. Commented Mar 9, 2019 at 22:47

Get In Your Character's Head

To understand how to write a modern combat scene, you have to understand modern combat. It is not impossible for someone who has never been in combat to describe it well, but it will certainly be more challenging. First of all, you must get into the head of your character and STAY THERE. If you describe action from outside the protagonist's subjective consciousness, the action will rapidly become just a boring list of stuff that happens, and will drag down your story. Think about movies and modern TV shows: when there is action, they shake the camera, they show only little parts of what is going on, they narrow the field of view on purpose, they leave things unclear instead of describing the whole scene from a "God's eye perspective" if you will. This resonates with us human beings because of the way we physiologically react to those kinds of situations. When you are in combat, your body takes a MASSIVE shot of adrenaline. It is equivalent of being high on crack cocaine. This chemical is produced by your body naturally and floods your brain and your major muscle groups, causing physiological changes. Your vision LITERALLY narrows, as if you are looking through a keyhole in a door. Your eyes can focus in on ONE thing at a time. Read: TARGET. Your brain goes into "Kill it, run from it, or F** it" mode. Literally, it is that simple. Your major muscle groups are radically stronger than normal and you feel like you can literally fly. Your minor muscle groups are starved of blood and you LOSE manual dexterity. If you have to interact with a computer keyboard in this condition, you will be frustrated, but if you have to interact with a club which needs to hit the head of a cave bear, you will be VERY pleased with the result. This is where those stories come from about people who reach out without thinking and lift the back end of their car off their husband as it starts to roll down the driveway.

So you are physiologically the equivalent of a guy so hopped up on crack that he can't feel pain. You won't feel any pain either until the action actually ends. You are on a high. Strangely enough, while this is happening, you become incredibly logical, like a Vulcan. This is because things are happening so fast that you have no time to emotionally process any of it. You just observe, see what happened, and put it away in a box for later. This is how you end up with things like some of the symptoms of PTSD where things that had never been emotionally worked through years previous are suddenly resurfacing and you have to open up that baggage that you had just compartmentalized at the time because there was no time to deal with it. While you are in "combat mode" you have NO TIME to emotionally process what is going on, you feel like a fly: moving at super speed, the whole world slowed down, things that need to be reacted to neatly put away and inaccessible, thinking in terms of pure logic: "How can I kill this guy before he kills me? What kinds of objects can I use in what way? How can I use my environment to my advantage". It's like all your brain's processing power goes into physical things, objects, physics, the art of the possible with WHATEVER happens to be lying around.

So you don't see a big picture, you see a pinpoint, and there is nothing but process potential threats and deal with them one at a time, no time for emotions. Don't say things like "their training took over". That's a cliche and there is literally no time to think about how much of what is going on in combat is from training and how much is imagination (Hmm, I bet I could use that pipe over there!). Another thing: your ears kind of shut down and you lose aural sensitivity. In modern combat, there are a LOT of VERY LOUD MACHINES like fully automatic weapons. stand next to someone cranking the throttle on a Harley Davidson and you will get the idea. Combined with your brain sort of "turning off" your ears, you tend to just not bother with them, your brain spends all it's neurons on the eyeballs. Humans are visual hunters, after all. People in combat tend to SCREAM AT ONE ANOTHER, even when they probably don't need to. They all act like they are coming out of a rock concert with ringing ears, yelling to be heard. Of course, in the moment, there is no need for talking (or screaming): there is only move, act, observe, calculate, kill.

You can probably get some sense of what it feels like for your character to be in combat if you have played in a sport team in school. Maybe you have been tackled in Football, maybe you had to sprint the moment the gun went off in track. There is a similar feeling in sports, though it is much more pronounced and a much higher scale in a real life or death situation. You become very much in the moment. Try to write the scene from the perspective of your protagonist and try to get into their head. Write subjectively, only what that character sees. Don't bother trying to explain everything. Sometimes there are flashes of non-sequiturs in combat: you see something that just absolutely makes no sense given your limited understanding of what all is going on. You see something very random happening in some room as you pass by for example, and never get a good explanation of what that was.

Time is also distorted. The moment combat begins, your internal clock is going a million miles an hour and time seems to slow down. You feel like you can count the beats of a fly's wings. There is a strange sense of peace, calmness, just before the explosion of activity as your body and brain accept that, yes, this is going to be a 100% bona-fide fight or flight deal in the next few seconds.

As far as writing style: stay curt, short, precise. Move fast, don't explain. Tell us what the character is thinking, but reflect that the character's brain is working kind of like a crazy addict at the moment. Not tripping, but hyper focused, very logical, and totally emotionless. Just state things that happen. Does a human body get blown into a million droplets of liquid by some kind of high tech weapon? Ok, the protagonist just goes with it. They will process the "heavy" stuff; what that means, later. They just note the stomach-punch of the "whump" sound made by the sonic weapon and the way their eyeballs feel like they jiggled in their sockets when it went off. Describe how a wall has been blasted to dust and the character has concrete grit between their teeth. I seem to recall concrete grit between my teeth just about every time we were in combat... You notice weird little details like that.

If you want a good model, read Hemingway. He was extremely concise to the point of almost seeming impressionistic, but he gives little flashes, little still pictures through the course of the action, which mimics the way your brain processes information in that state.

Finally I will leave you with one thing I learned about action scenes and action stories: Action in itself, is ONLY interesting inasmuch as it effects a character that the readers are invested or interested in. Readers don't care what happened, they care how Private Danny felt about what happened. ALWAYS DESCRIBE HOW THINGS EFFECT THE CHARACTERS right through the action scene, even if it comes in the form of: "He knew he would have to process the impact of XYZ's death later, there was just no time now to feel what he knew he felt". The empathy of the reader is the single, most important thing, not a systematic description of how a battle went down.

One last tip: reduce the cognitive load on the reader as much as possible in action scenes. Use small, simple words instead of big ones. Anything to keep the reader moving along rapidly. It gives the reader the feeling of things going fast, which helps with the illusion of "experiencing" combat.

  • Thanks for the tips. I know what violence feels like, but I've never been in actual combat. I know that "heavy" things aren't really processed (though I've only felt it once, with blood and car shrapnel from Charlottesville) but actual combat is something else. I grew up in a bad area obviously, though never got involved in anything bad, and your description of it actually seems like my experience with hyperfocus (ADHD). Thanks for the assessment, as I have no military history aside from my Grandpa being CIA-trained genocidal scum killed by his own side. Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 15:17
  • 3
    This is excellent advice. Jbiggs gets it.
    – user49466
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 6:25

First, welcome to Writing!

To my mind, since this is being written from a first person perspective, a large part of how to best answer this question involves the voice or nature of your character.

For example, a dry, analytical person might be inclined to give a dry, analytical account of their experiences. Here, a reader might be emotionally affected by the very coldness of the account itself, or in the seemingly unfeeling way the speaker describes what most would consider heinous events. This doesn't necessarily mean the character themselves is unfeeling; perhaps they just want to distance themselves from the emotional side of things and focus on the facts, either because it's easier for them that way, or because they want their account to seem a credible, objective retelling of history.

In contrast to this, consider an emotional character who feels badly for the people they're hurting, even if they feel it's necessary for some greater good. You're correct in being wary of overly "purple" writing, as you put it. It's difficult to "show rather than tell" within the context of a character recounting events, since something like a diary is inherently telling rather than showing. One suggestion I would make is to keep in mind how the character feels about the events they're seeing/remembering. Sometimes -- sometimes -- throwing in a simple remark like, "It was hard to watch" or "It sickened me" can lend some feeling to a scene and reveal your character's sentiments. Just don't do it too often.

I'm thinking of going all-in and simply explaining the massacre from a "recalling" point of view. [...] Does jumping straight into the action not translate into literature?

This isn't a bad idea. I would say this is more of a stylistic preference/issue than something that doesn't "translate into literature." (Just like many other things in writing, if it works well, and you like how it reads, then try it!) You can minimize your perspective shifts feeling jarring or confusing by clearly highlighting when the perspective changes. Headings work well in these cases. For example, you could begin the "live action" sections with a location & timestamp and your "memoir" sections with a heading clearly indicating you're back in memoir mode. Another tactic is to alter formatting in some way.

Additionally, your perspective shifts could also be exploited for additional character insight. If you show events from overlapping perspectives, then the way your character reacts to things versus how they write about them later can lend characterization. E.g., if your speaker describes something in his memoir that notably differs in some way from his in-the-moment response earlier on in the story, that might reveal something key about his nature or how he copes with events.

Stylistically-speaking, I would just say be aware of your pacing. You generally want things to move along steadily or swiftly in an action scene, so watch out for unnecessarily wordy sections or focusing too long on one moment. That said, those are just generalizations; there's no laws about these things. If you have a reason to dwell on a particular moment, or you feel that a long, flowing passage perfectly captures the intended feel for a scene rather than something more terse, then by all means, go for it.

Some general resources:

Blow-By-Blow: Writing Action and Fight Scenes — 5 Tips

A Guide To Writing Fight Scenes

Focus on the Fight: Writing Action Scenes That Land the Punch

I particularly like the remark in this article that "danger needs breathing room to be effective." In other words, you can enhance dramatic effect by introducing something perilous and letting it percolate for a bit before its effects hit. Also, consider when it might be more effective for the characters to see something dangerous beforehand versus letting only the reader see it.

  • hey dan, glad to see you around! This is writing.se not worldbuilding.se =P Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 13:38
  • First, thanks for being so welcoming, seems like a nice community. These are all very good tips. Your comment about the overall personality affecting the writing makes me understand it a lot better. The main character is loosely based around me and my experiences with violence, and I guess I keep trying to inject myself (generally a pretty cold and calculated person) into his scenes instead of injecting myself into his personality. So instead of my character being cold when I would be, he's cold all the time, because that's my mindset when writing. I'll keep that in mind, thanks! Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 13:38
  • @Mindwin LOL. Thanks for the heads up. :) Edited!
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 13:45
  • @CarlosCienfuegos I'm very glad I could offer you a helpful perspective. The premise is interesting to me, even more so knowing you have personal experiences to draw from. I hope to learn how this all pans out in the future.
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 14:10
  • Thanks, I'm glad the premise isn't too boring, haha. I got the idea after Charlottesville and seeing the National Guard roll out in full gear. I also saw Heather Heyer die, unfortunately. (I think, not sure if it was instant) I'm hoping I can translate this into a meaningful book :) Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 14:28

When I am writing an action scene - my Secondary Protag getting shot, for example, I use shorter sentences. It echoes the thought pattern of the characters, implies that everything is happening very quickly and help with tension.

I also have my characters feel - a flash of fear they must set aside, anger at what is happening and perhaps disbelief that it is happening, yet all overcome by their training. Anger and frustration that one of theirs is hit, fear for her survival - all masked since one must be strong and clear headed for the wounded, must not let them know what they dread might be true.

I had a friend years ago who was part of the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. He had two stories that haunted him more than others; the death of a dear friend with whom he had been fleeing (both were revolutionaries) and his friend was shot. He lay gravely wounded, my friend well aware what would happen once the police arrived. He stayed with his friend to comfort him until he was ordered away - live and fight, don’t make my death in vain. He left his friend alone and escaped - haunted.

Another incident involved a family friend who was a chief of police. He was a good man and my friend knew that a mob was heading to the police station to kill anyone they could. He ran to the station, hoping to get this man away. The last he saw of this man who had dined with them often was him stepping forward into the maddened crowd and disappearing. He found blood later.

My point is this violence changed him and he, a peaceful fellow by nature, had done things that troubled him and seen things one should never see. Your MC, one of only a handful of survivors, might feel guilt, but he will be changed by what he witnessed. Let that show in his entries.

  • 1
    Oh, yeah.100%. I've never had a friend die, but I saw someone from my school shot dead in front of me at a bus stop, and saw Heather Heyer get struck (and ultimately die) at Charlottesville. I have BPD and so I can drown out non-relationship emotions voluntarily, and I've heard that desensitized soldiers are the same way. I have no qualms with killing Nazi scum. My book, however, is going to deal with more morally ambiguous things. It's going to focus on killing police officers and soldiers who only joined because of poverty. (1/2) Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 14:50
  • 1
    It's going to focus on killing landlords who, as far as they know, have done nothing wrong. It's going to focus on their designation as a terrorist group, and the families of killed "innocents" (civilians, but not innocent as far as the group is concerned) speaking out. I always falter when a non-political person says "but... my dad is a landlord..." Even if it doesn't change anything, it makes some positions VERY difficult to justify. I know that I hate Nazi scum for wanting to kill my fellow man, and I completely understand why someone would hate socialists for hating their father. (2/2) Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 14:53
  • I have a character who is occasionally called a terrorist and refutes that. He tells his accuser that the determing factor is not so much what you are willing to do, but whether there is a line not to be crossed and if so - where? More what they won’t do, than what they will. He then uses the purpose of terrorism is terror definition and leaves his accuser pondering the nature of evil and when it might be required. By the way - I was a landlord for thirty years and knew a few who couldn’t turn their backs on their tenants.
    – Rasdashan
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 17:38

As someone with ADHD, I've always found that the best way to right action, especially in battles and combat, is fast. Use short sentances... this isn't the time you want to be descriptive because all hell is breaking loose. Say what you need to say and move on.

With your third paragraph, I'd focus on soft number values unless the exact figure is important or will be important later on. If it's not important, guess it. A dozen is a hard number (12, 13 if your a baker). Your character does not have time to head count the people who are about to be blown away. About a dozen, A dozen or so, a number of men are better terms. Be colorful with your verbs only and use verbs... this is action... verbs are action! ("Explosions, everywhere" is more appropriate with dialog, but you're not speaking in the narrative. At least try "Explosions are everywhere" but you can do better. "Explosions burst/sound/detonate everywhere (try something that puts it closer... like all around... behind me, in front of me... next to me). Split the sentence about the vest off from the blood. Maybe add why you're undoing your vest (is it encumbering you, are you latched to boat by it, why are you wearing it if you're throwing it off) and I need more detail about the blood... is it yours? Is it someone else's? If so who's? Just your eye? Assault all your senses, blood feels gross, blood tastes gross (and this is D-Day, nearly 40 years before AIDs was a thing, don't spare the visual of tasting another man's blood. You're writing Private Ryan, a film that made Hell want to distance itself from it's association with War), blood smells very distinct (also very gross). Your next sentance, I like, except I'd delete everything out after the word "Screams". Again this is the Normandy Scene in Private Ryan you're righting... you don't need to tell me who's screaming or why... we all know it's not for ice cream. The sentence or two, I'd leave to the mindset of the POV... comment on how he points his gun up... he hopes he'll kill a few Krauts (again, It's Private Ryan... you're not going to be PC about killing Nazis)... and you aim for the seawall (this is probably the most poetic you should be, but to my mind, it helps establish that he really wants to kill the enemy... but if he makes it to the sea wall without dying, his chances of living get much much better. Show me a man who was a stoic while storming the beaches of Normandy, and I'll show you someone who was no where near the battle.).

As for your story, passages, there are some issues. The biggest one is that we go from a stand off to shooting with machine guns in the space of seconds. As someone who lived in the Baltimore Area during the riots, that doesn't happen in the U.S. (Forgive the assumption, and please let me know if it's another country, but the names suggest some Western Society with Anglo-American Roots). If you look at the footage of the first night that 10 pm Curfew was declared, there was a confrontation between the National Guard/Police, and the crowd. At around 10 pm, the assembly was declared illegal and there were several rioters tossing things at the police. By 10:30, the crowd was dispersed, with one man arrested. The point is that you'll need to establish that this is a pot on slow boil. It's been tense like this for days, maybe closing on weeks. Everyone is on edge to the point that one wrong move is going to set off the entire powder keg. There are a few ways to handle it. First one is that your character never directly saw the initial spark that caused the shooting... he just hears a strange noise and suddenly rioters are attacking cops and cops are shooting back (Shot heard round the world scenario. To this day we still do not know which side shot first in the Revolutionary War: The Colonials, the British Army, some Yahoo watching from his porch, but it set the whole keg off and here we are).

The other option is that it's Harris that is the first victim of the War. Maybe he was doing something... maybe one of the cops was nervous... who knows, either way, he's shot and dropped and the mob slowly starts to try and seek revenge, and the other cops are defending themselves, at which point retreat orders are issued. From there it's all chaos and short burst description writing until you find a place to process everything. You're not gonna name the dead as you flee (and you certainly wouldn't simply say "We flee"... this is a massacre induced panic stampede... again, there's more color to add here with your verbs. Flee sounds like you're having a musical number while guards chase you for stealing bread from the Baazar... at best). If you need help, try doing another writing segment about a panicked street fight... I highly recommend describing the point of view of a person who is fleeing the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings on 9/11 (the people who are outside the towers, obviously. The building evacuation was described as an orderly descent by the survivors from the inside.).

Anyway, you're second block is where you start realizing the true magnitude of the situation. Adrenaline is a hell of a drug and really kind of limits your immediate thoughts to "Fight or Flight" mentality... it numbs you until you're coming off the boost and the realization of the dangers and the full nature of the situation hits slowly. You kinda get that in your second exert but you don't take the time to show the emotion of this... And the POV character is way to calm for someone reporting all of this for the first time.

  • This is a bit late but this was probably the most helpful answer. Thank you so much Commented Mar 27, 2019 at 16:08

Research what modern fighting is actually like. Don't pay too much attention to the details, those can be googled easily enough whenever you need to double-check something. What you should be paying attention to is the emotion and sensations involved. The ear-splitting crack of a rifle, so loud you can feel it in your chest and in your sinuses, the acrid smell of gunpowder, the roar of armored vehicles, the metallic THUNK of bullets striking armored plate.

In fact, if this is possible where you live, spend a day at a public shooting range. TV and Youtube just can't properly do justice to what it feels like to shoot a gun.


+1 DPT, +1JBiggs. Remember battles are local and personal. What I mean is that in a fight, there is no big picture, there is your picture, a tight focus, the people around you, the immediate enemy you are fighting, moment to moment.

Lines are short because thoughts are short, description and metaphors and analogy are definitely used, but quick and simple and direct, because the mind is working in hyper speed trying to survive, it has no time for reflection or convoluted thoughts, it has little time for emotion other than flight or fight. Some soldiers freeze in terror, others can become analytical machines. Although one might become the other, there is little room for in-between those states, and the freezers usually die.

This is precisely what military battle-field training does for you, just like martial arts training. By repetition in practice it makes your moves automatic second-nature, instinctive, so you can literally perform and do your job when you feel like you can't think at all. What the trainers want is that you don't need to think, you just react and fight.

An example:

I get hit in the chest with a hammer, I slam my hand against the wound and fall. That's it, I think. Dead. I'm falling in sync with Barry ahead of me. Barry is dead. I'm not. The bullet went through him, sternum and spine, slowed it down before it hit me.

I have to move but I'm frozen. Machine guns chatter in fast bursts. I can't stand up. Afraid to stand up. My mind flashes on Barry. Had a nine millimeter in his pocket. Wasn't supposed to bring it. I grab him by the collar and pull him up on me as a shield, I blank but suddenly his gun is in my hand, short thirteen round clip, I'm firing at the closest machine gunner, fast.

I hit him in the hand with the sixth round. I empty the gun on the right gunner. Too far. All misses. He stops ducking to get back on his gun. Barry takes three bullets for me. Two others hit the pavement, spraying asphalt.

Someone else fires on the gunner; pop pop pop. Right gunner's hit in the throat. Spine hit. Drops like a sack of dirt. Troop fire changes direction to the other shooter. Shot like that gotta be Marco.

I drop Barry's empty niner and run for it. Stupid. Should of kept it. By some miracle I reach the warehouse without getting shot.

Now the battle is over for the MC; pull the focus back out to include others.

The other shooter was not Marco, it was Rebecca, she made it on my tail, with a bad calf wound. We tear out of there doing a hundred miles an hour, the half that's left of us.

I'm binding Rebecca's calf in the backseat of a Honda with two other wounded, using my shirt. Thank god they didn't bring copters.

But that is just an example of style, from my imagination, I'm not trying to write your story for you. The advice is stay in the mind of the POV character, do not try to describe the whole battle and all engagements and what every person did, describe what the POV can see and do and process.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.