Since I’m involved in martial arts, I write a series with a character who 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.
Two challenges I have in writing this series are 1). to create scenes where my main character, Mallory Petersen, can use her skills and 2). for her to use a variety of those skills.
What fun would it be for the reader if all she ever did were a couple of punches and a front kick?
So, I’ve taken some of my training and put that into the scenes. Yes, punches and front kicks are used, but also: round kicks, sweeps, side kicks, and a variety of weapons such as the long staff and bahng mahng ee, or single stick.
I’ve looked back over my training and taken some of my favorite exercises and technique and have allowed Mallory to use them in a practical situation.
In an upcoming story she has to execute techniques in order to avoid being killed by an assailant wielding a knife. She doesn’t have a weapon, is in danger of freezing, is suffering withdrawal symptoms, and can’t mess around too long or else somebody else dies. The scene should be quite interesting.
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 the mind for thinking about writing. By concentrating on a problem within a story, I am not focusing on how my muscles are hurting or wanting 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 will have a sense of time, whether the scene runs too quickly or drags. Also, whether I need to add more material to spice it up a bit.
One of the areas 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 cannot be like the movies where nobody gets hurt, the heroine fights through any injury with no consequence. Mallory has to experience pain and injury. Sure, she can grit her teeth and still fight on, but I can’t make her Superwoman.
I know I’ve done my job when I hear comments that when people read the action scenes, 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. The imagination can run free to do whatever is necessary to make the scene worth reading. There are a few authors who write series and even though I enjoy them, I could probably tell you the highlights of each book because he/she uses the same formula over and over. Not that this is necessarily bad, but after awhile, I sometimes long for something new.
Now, I’m not saying mess with success. If it works for an author, and people continue reading, fine. For me, I want to keep putting Mallory in different types of adventures. I’ve outlined a future story where I highlight more of the Des Moines metro than I have in previous Mallory stories. I want her to visit more places, be able to use her martial arts in other locales.
One last area of interest I have in writing these stories is that Mallory’s usual array of cases are somewhat humorous. These are usually covered within a chapter or two. The challenge is to create a variety of cases at which she can roll her eyes or end up in a situation that contains humor. This gives the reader a small break between the intense scenes of the main plot. Humor is a delicate aspect and I run the danger of taking it too far so that Mallory-and the reader-are removed from the reality of the moment.
Keep it real but keep it varied. These are two keys to a successful novel