The beauty of the written word is that real life can be just a jumping off point. Plus, there’s no reason to get bogged down in the same details over and over. In this week’s blog, author Stephen L. Brayton shares how he incorporates variety into his stories and why it’s so important. After all, Brayton’s heroine Mallory Petersen, a taekwondo instructor and private investigator, packs a sidekick worth getting right.
Variety is the Spice of Writing – But So Is Plausibility
By Stephen L. Brayton
Since I’m involved in martial arts, I write a series about a character that is a taekwondo school owner as well as a private investigator. Yes, she carries a gun, but she relies on her martial arts skills more often.
I have two challenges in writing this series. First, is to create scenes where my main character, Mallory Petersen, can use her skills, and secondly, is for her to use a variety of those skills.
After all, what fun would it be for the reader if all she ever threw were a couple of punches and a front kick?
So, I’ve adapted my own training into scenes. Yes, punches and front kicks are used, but also round kicks, sweeps, sidekicks, and a variety of weapons such as the long staff and bahng mahng ee, or single stick.
I’ve been able to take some of my favorite exercises and techniques, allowing Mallory to use them in practical situations.
In an upcoming story, she has to execute with skill certain techniques to avoid being killed by an assailant wielding a knife. The situation is dire. She doesn’t have a weapon. She is also in danger of freezing, suffering from withdrawal symptoms, and can’t waste time or else somebody else dies. It’s one of those scenes designed to keep the reader on edge.
But when I create one of these scenes, I have to choreograph the movements. Many times, I’ve mentally written the order of technique-reaction-counter techniques while doing laps around the local high school track. Running, for me, is a great way to free up my mind to think about writing. When I concentrate on a problem within a story, I focus less on how my muscles hurt or that I want to quit after only a few laps.
Back home, I’ll write down the steps in order, then physically work through them, either alone or with a partner. Of course, I’m not actually going to incapacitate my partner, but I am able to get a feel for how the techniques will work. I also get a sense of time, whether the scene runs too quickly or drags and I need to add more material to spice it up a bit.
One area I need to keep in mind is that Mallory is human and feels pain. My writers group has commented on this several times after I’ve read portions of Mallory’s action scenes. This is not like the movies where no one gets hurt, and the heroine fights through any injury with no consequence. Mallory experiences both pain and injury. Sure, she can grit her teeth and still fight on, but she is not Superwoman.
I know I’ve done my job well when I hear comments from readers who say they can follow the movements and know that what I’ve written, and what Mallory has accomplished, actually works.
Creating new scenarios and using the variety of martial arts techniques I know is part of the fun of writing. With that foundation, my imagination can run free to do whatever is necessary to make the scene worth reading.
If you would like to read more about Stephen L. Brayton’s books please visit our website.
Stephen L. Brayton owns and operates Brayton’s Black Belt Academy in Oskaloosa, Iowa. He is a Fifth Degree Black Belt and certified instructor in The American Taekwondo Association. He began writing as a child; his first short story concerned a true incident about his reactions to discipline. In college, he began a personal journal for a writing class; said journal is ongoing. He was also a reporter for the college newspaper. During his early twenties, while working for a Kewanee, Illinois, radio station, he wrote a fantasy-based story and a trilogy for a comic book. He has written numerous short stories both horror and mystery. His first novel, Night Shadows (Feb. 2011), concerns a Des Moines homicide investigator teaming up with a federal agent to battle creatures from another dimension. His second book, Beta (Oct. 2011) was the debut of Mallory Petersen and her search for a kidnapped girl. In August 2012, the second Mallory Petersen book, Alpha, was published. This time she investigates the murder of her boyfriend. Visit Brayton’s website at http://stephenbrayton.wordpress.com
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