Near the end of August 2011, I attended the Killer Nashville writers’ conference. This was my third year and this time, besides meeting some wonderful people, authors, readers, and fans, I was honored to be invited to sit on a discussion panel. The seminar dealt with the subject of writing combat scenes.
For a moment I felt touch of an inferiority complex because the other three gentlemen on the panel had accumulated between them about 90 years of experience in the military and/or on a police force. However, we all contributed some worthy material, and I’ll be immodest and say feedback was positive. Some attendees mentioned ours was one of the best panels at the conference.
I was invited to sit on the panel, because of my experience with the martial arts. I’m a Fifth Degree Black Belt and instructor in the American Taekwondo Association. The private investigator, Mallory Petersen, in my book, Beta, is a Fourth Degree Black Belt. In the story, she is hired to find a kidnapped eight year girl. During her investigation, she uncovers individuals associated with a child pornography ring. She also uses her taekwondo skills in several scenes to escape her foes.
When I wrote the different fight scenes for Beta, I wanted to show off Mallory’s wide range of skills. Yes, she does carry a gun, but the weapon is not the first choice in every situation. She only shows her gun in a humorous scene where she’s threatened by two punks but does use it near the end when rescuing the girl. Otherwise, she relies on her martial arts. However, I didn’t want her to always punch or throw a side kick. Taekwondo encompasses so many moves and I wrote in different scenarios for each fight.
One of the areas of discussion on the panel was the thoughts a character has during a fight. I contributed a couple answers based on two scenes in the book. The first has Mallory fighting a larger man in an empty office that is being remodeled. After she gets tossed through the large opening slated for a window, she collides with a table. Going down with a spinal injury, she must fight through the pain because she knows the man isn’t through with her. She also has to think her way through the fight by utilizing the space and items around her. She ends up using a wooden dowel to temporarily disable her attacker and drive him off.
The second scene is near the end. Mallory finds herself in a standoff with the bad guys. She’s forced to relinquish her weapon because one man is threatening to kill the girl, another has his gun aimed, and a third is ready to use his size and brute force against her. Mallory recalls the ‘what if’ questions during her self defense seminars. “What if three guys attack you at once?” or “What if the other person has a gun?” She is faced with her own ‘what if’ situation because she knows she can’t be quicker than a bullet and is too far away to save the girl.
In my twenty years of taekwondo training, I’ve learned a lot of techniques. I’ve executed thousands of side kicks and round kicks. I’ve practiced to make my blocks and strikes quicker and more powerful. I’ve also trained with weapons including the long staff, the nun-chucks, the kama, and the bahng mang ee or single stick. I also have memorized fourteen forms from the simple white belt form containing eighteen moves to my current one with ninety-five moves. So, it’s understandable that I’ve come to enjoy some favorite techniques. Of course, I my favorites are also Mallory’s so she uses many of them in her fight scenes.
I tried to keep the action quick but detailed enough so the reader can understand the techniques. I wanted the reader to have a mental picture of the position Mallory is in when she executes a leg sweep and subsequent round kick to an opponent. Her final battle has a man on top of her wielding a knife. To save herself, she uses a technique I teach in my women’s self defense course. It’s a different explanation when showing the move to women in the classroom as opposed to ‘showing’ the action in a book. In the sequel Alpha, Mallory uses a tree branch as a long staff to defeat two gang members.
I also do not portray my heroine as a superwoman. She does suffer injuries, and not just physical ones. The case becomes very emotional for her and she experiences heartaches for the innocent. This is another area of realism the panel discussed. The good guys do get hurt sometimes and the writer should not be afraid to show it.
I hope I’ve given some worthwhile insight on combat scenes. If any writer needs advice on certain martial arts techniques to include in a story, please contact me. I’ll be more than willing to be of assistance. Oh, and please read Beta and let me know what you think.