Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Author Stephen L. Brayton On Writing Fight Scenes

Please join me in welcoming author Stephen L. Brayton as the specialTKW Uniform guest blogger here today as he makes a stop on his virtual blog tour with his release, BETA.

Here’s a brief synopsis of BETA: Mallory Petersen is a Fourth Degree Black Belt and private investigator. When not instructing her martial arts students she finds herself taking on cases and clients coming from the nuttier side of life. However, when she is hired to find kidnapped eight-year-old Cindy McGee, Mallory uncovers participants in the dark underworld of child pornography. She follows a trail leading her around the capital city of Des Moines, to south central Iowa, and onto the Quad Cities. With a handsome detective as her temporary partner, they continue the search. Mallory puts her emotions, her morals, and her life on the line her quest to save an innocent. The serious nature of the subject matter is tempered by humorous scenes showing off Mallory’s various talents and skills. 

Stephen explains about writing fight scenes for a character including the physical and mental elements.

Near the end of August, 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 recently released 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 and uses 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 Beta covercharacter 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 20 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 14 forms from the simple white belt form containing 18 moves to my current one with 95 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.

Stephen, thanks for guest blogging today. Writing fight scenes has to be difficult and including marital art techniques would make it even tougher. Wishing you much success with your writing.

Now a bit of background on Stephen. He owns and operates Brayton’s Black Belt Academy in Oskaloosa, Iowa. He began writing as a child and his first short story concerned a true incident about his reactions to discipline. During high school, Stephen wrote for the school newspaper and was a photographer for the yearbook. For a Mass Media class, he wrote and edited a video project. In college, he began a personal journal for a writing class and says the journal is ongoing. He was also a reporter for the college newspaper.

During his early twenties, while working for a Kewanee, Illinois radio station, Stephen wrote a fantasy based story and a trilogy for a comic book. He has written numerous short stories, both horror and mystery. In addition, he has written a paranormal mystery entitled NIGHT SHADOWS and has sequels to NIGHT SHADOWS and BETA in rewrite/revision stages. For more on Stephen and his writing, check out his website at www.stephenbrayton.com or visit his blogs at http://stephenlbrayton.blogspot.com and http://braytonsbookbuzz.blogspot.com

If you’re a writer, do you include fight scenes in your plots? As a reader, do you enjoy books that have detailed fight scenes?


  1. Stephen, thanks again for guest blogging today. Good luck with your revisions.

  2. Fight scenes are tough to write. Nice tips here from Stephen.

  3. Mason - Thanks for hosting Stephen.

    Stephen - What an interesting background you have. And a lot of people don't think about fight scenes when they're first planning a story, but if they're not done well, they can pull the reader right out of the story. Thanks for these ideas.

  4. I haven't used fighting scenes but I have used action/chase scenes and so I'm thankful for this post. I enjoy fight scenes in books. One of my favourite series was the Brotherhood of the Rose series.

    I think next year, I'm going to go to the Killer Nashville writers’ conference.

    "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 like this point!

  5. You make me want to include a fight scene in my next book just to see if my protag can kick butt.

    I've never heard of such a panel at a mystery con before, so kudos to Killer Nashville for introducing something fresh. I hope you pitch similar panels to conference planners in the future.

  6. Stephen, once again a marvelous interview. Each time I read a blog from you I learn a little bit more about your tenacity for writing as well as telling a story.Good job...Augie

  7. I did have fight scenes in both my mysteries, Grave Passage, and Mediterranean Grave, but my protagonist is 84 years old, so the moves are a little muted.

    William Doonan

  8. Oskaloosa, Iowa, Stephen? When I went to Central College in Pella, Iowa I used to pick up the train in Ottumwa, close by, to go home to Illinois. I haven't been in Iowa for years, but I remember rambling all over the state when I was in college.

    Beta sounds like a must read.


  9. Stephen, I would think writing fight scenes would be tough. I admire that.

    Mason, thanks for hosting.

  10. I had one fight scene in my first book, but all else were space battles.
    Stephen sounds like he was qualified for that panel to me!

  11. Hi Stephen! Mason, what a great interview. :>

    Stephen, since I write romantic suspense, I include a lot of fight scenes in my books. Grins. And while I'm a rising black belt in Tae Kwon Do, I try to mix it all up with various styles and so on. Congrats on your Fourth Degree, BTW, and on doing the panel. WTG.

    This sounds like a great book, I'll be checking it out.

  12. Very interesting. I don't mind fight scenes in a story if it's short. It does bother me when the woman character overpowers a man. So unrealistic.

  13. Good interview! I only have one thing to say: Stephen, I have got to read your book!


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.