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Apologies if this question or its like has been asked before. What is the most practical martial art for a short, modern-day Average Jane?

For your purposes, any of them. Really. So long as you make sure you pick ones that are geared towards self-defense and or real world combat. But that’s not necessarily the martial art itself, that’s the instructor who teaches it and the variation of the style that they are practicing.

Dux Ryu Ninjutsu and our Michael Janich tag (particularly his variations on Aikido and his variation on Silat (Dammithurtsilat)) are good examples of stylistic variations meant for the modern world. There are, however, plenty of martial arts that are easier to find and instructors who do similar things. The important questions to ask, whether it’s for a character or your personal life is to ask: what’s best for me or my character? Not what’s best for the average woman. There are exceptional female practitioners (middling, mediocre, and just plain bad ones) in every style.

For example, even though shotokan karate is one of the more rigid and traditional variations of karate, our instructor was a cop. He provided a wealth of information during the semester about which techniques would and would not work in a real world context. So, while shotokan itself is not necessarily what I would refer to as a “practical martial art”, I have no doubt that his students were perfectly capable of handling themselves.

Check out this article below, where we talked about some of the different classes of martial styles, aka what the training type gears the trainee towards.

Fight Write: Art, Sport, Subdual, and Lethality

Also, Starke and I got confused over who was answering this question, so there is a second response incoming shortly.


And, now it’s up as a separate post.


Writing Violence Part 2: Cause and Effect

This is the second article in our series about Writing Violence. In this post,I thought I’d talk a little bit about Cause and Effect. For me, Cause and Effect are on the level of Show Don’t Tell in their importance both to descriptive writing and to generating a plot. Your plot is based entirely on a cause or an action and the effect of that cause or action on the characters and the world around them, your plot is put together through sequences of scenes that are based around your characters’ actions, their reactions, and the world’s or society’s reactions to those actions. Causes and their effects can be big and small, when working with violence, be that violence intellectual, emotional, or physical, and be those causes and effects big or small, they are all important to developing a realistic feeling in your story as a whole and in your characters individual actions.

Starke and I refer to this sense of realism as weight, as in your story feels grounded in reality. Ultimately, when we discuss realism in writing, it doesn’t matter whether your story is a high flying fantasy adventure, far flung future sci-fi, a historical piece, or a horror novel. So long as it crafts it’s own reality in keeping with the rules of cause and effect, you’ll be able to give your story, and the violence within it, weight.

Below, we’ll discuss how to do that.

Every Action Causes An Equal or Opposite Reaction

To steal one of Newton’s Laws, let’s talk about one of the biggest failures in fight scenes. Often, in many of the stories I read, authors are so focused on getting the fighting or the techniques used in the scene “right” that they neglect consideration of the surrounding details.

Take, for example, the line: “Virginia punched Charles in the gut.”

Now, in other kinds of descriptive writing, I might ask what kind of punch it was, but that’s not the most important question that you should be considering when looking to improve the sentence and the scene. The real question is: what happened to Charles?

Without changing much, we can improve the scene by adding a second line.

Virginia punched Charles in the gut. Body curling forward, Charles stumbled back as his hands rose to grasp his stomach.

Neither of these is, admittedly, very good, but see how much the scene improves? Charles’ body curling in to protect the important bits is a natural reaction to the pain inflicted on it by Virginia.

Now, let’s expand on the concept by adding a bench and another character named Amelia to the scene.

Virgina walked toward Charles. Instead of extending her hand in friendship as he’d expected, her fingers clenched into a fist. She rolled them over, slamming her knuckles up into his gut. Body curling forwards, Charles’ eyes widened as he exhaled sharply. As he should, she thought with a smile, all the air he’d stored up had just been forcibly expelled from his diaphragm.

“Charles!” Amelia, his girlfriend, shouted.

Charles stumbled back, calves knocking into the park bench not a foot behind him. The bench rocked and Charles tipped too far forwards onto the balls of his feet. Head swaying and green faced, he fell. His knees hit the dusty ground. His eyes rolled back. He leaned forward, inches from the toes of Virginia’s calf skin boots and, then, he hurked.

The scent of half-digested turkey and sausage stuffing lingered in Virginia’s nose.

“Charles!” Amelia cried again as she sank down beside him, gripping his shoulders. She glanced up at Virginia, her eyes harsh, flat, and furious. “What have you done?”

Virginia’s action of punching Charles causes the physical reaction of him throwing up on her shoes and Amelia’s emotional response condemning it. Violence is both physical and emotional in the reactions it evokes and should be represented in the destruction it causes on the surrounding environment. Remember, the glasses, chairs, tables, and tankards your characters destroy in a bar brawl are valuable property to the owner of that establishment. Your characters may have to pay the cost or risk never being able to go back there. The characters they beat up in the bar are going to be someone’s husband, sister, or friend. They may be more beloved in the community that they’re part of than your wandering drifters. Also, breaking a bottle will involve your character getting glass a fist full of glass embedded in their hand. A prolonged fight will cause your character to perspire and they run the risk of getting sweat (or blood) in their eyes.

Important details run from big to small, but they all work together to create that ‘weight’, that feeling of realism in your work. X happened so Y was the response. When Beth kicked James through the door, she broke it and had to pay $200 to repair it. When Jenna threw her dishware at a home invader, she had to buy paper plates to eat off of for that evening and she invited her friend John to stay over because she no longer felt safe. Then, Jenna cut her finger cleaning up the ceramic remains and had to repaint the walls where the plates hit.

This is the important push and pull, action and reaction, the consequences of even the most flawless plans yielding unintended catastrophe and unexpected results. This is important to remember when writing scenes involving violence because it is inherently divisive. Characters who engage in violence, even when that violence is justified, face harsher penalties and greater risks both to their physical selves and in their personal life.

Once you begin to think in these terms, the tension and drama inherent in your story will naturally unfold and writing violence will come a little easier.


Would you buy a kick heavy character using armored boots given that: A: The setting is a semi-realistic Superhero world. Superpowers break physics, technology ect. is typically limited normally. B: Char can have aerial control due to an ability and can range from extremely trained human strength and speed to slightly superhuman. C: He has a tendency to kick and punch things that are dangerous. D: Purely aerial I think kicks lack power, so then maybe finesse footblade strikes using the control?

The part I’m going to have to stop you on is Letter D. Aerial kicks don’t lack power, they substantially enhance it.They are more difficult to land and tiring to execute, however the tradeoff is that they are much, much more deadly.

This how kicks work, essentially:

Basic Kicks (front kick, sidekick, roundhouse, back kick): these kicks are your bread and butter kicks, they are the easiest to learn to do and the easiest to land in combat.

These four come with a jumping version. The jumping version of these kicks is more dangerous than the standing because there is more movement involved, the running jump (run and then jump) versions of these kicks is even more deadly than just jumping, because again force = mass x acceleration, the more acceleration you have the more powerful the kick. A general front kick might just knock someone’s teeth out and snap their head back, a running jump front kick with a solid connection could potentially collapse the breast bone.

Spin Kicks: these are kicks like the wheel kick and the spinning crescent kick that aim for the head, essentially any kick that involves spinning to create more momentum to whip around and connect. These kicks are more advanced (more moving pieces), but are more dangerous. They also come with a jump version.

Most of the Taekwondo kicks come with a jump component, actually.

Then, finally, we have the very super flying death kicks like the Tornado Kick, which is a kick that involves two pieces, a beginning roundhouse to gain speed before the fighter launches themselves into the air with a second spinning roundhouse. Go look up the many videos on the internet involving tornado kicks and knockouts (also wheel kicks and knockouts). Also, watch anything Van Damme did ever.

When you see most jump kicks done in movies on even just on television, you’ll notice that the kicks are performed with the other actor or stunt double a good foot or so away. This is because of how dangerous the kick is and how difficult it is to control (on the power side). When these kicks are brought into play, they run the risk of someone (both the stunt double/actor performing the kick and the person they are performing it at) getting hurt. You can’t really control a jump kick in the same way that you can a normal kick because of the amount of force involved. It’s why a jump kick usually comes at the end of a combination because it’s the finishing move. The other attacks make sure that the opponent cannot run, so that the attacker then has the time they need to knock their opponent’s block off.

So, with that in mind, assume for a moment, that the armor your character wears on his feet do not impede his kicking at all (by virtue of some super powered enhancement), this means that his feet will be even more dangerous and prone to bone-breaking than they were already when on the ground. Jump kicks are among the most damaging and advanced weapons in a martial artists arsenal, they are also the most risky because if they miss, there’s not much chance of recovery. So, we have a character who doesn’t mind plowing through an enemy’s chest or dislodging an enemy’s skull, essentially risking (with armor definitely) killing them and doesn’t mind taking chances as they leap and bound through the air.

This isn’t a bad character, in fact, it could be a very interesting one. But, I’m not sure that’s what you were looking for.


Van Damme. You want to write a character who kicks, it’s time to sit down and watch everything Van Damme has been in ever. No, I’m not kidding. His acting may be laughable but his technique is flawless. Really.

Start going through Korean action movies, you can find quite a few of them online (or clips from their fight scenes). The most common martial art featured in South Korea’s action movies is Taekwondo and there are quite a few amazing martial artists (of both genders) featured in them as primary and some great stunts. See where the internet takes you, but it’s a good visual study.

Also, if you can find it watch the Taekwondo episode of Human Weapon to see one of the guys break his knee on a tornado kick and Bill Duff get knocked out by a wheel kick.


My character is cornered and only has an umbrella to protect herself. How would she go about doing this and is it possible? What other last minute makeshift weapons are there? Such as a cane or a chair, etc.

You can indeed use an umbrella as a weapon for self-defense. They even sell metal ones for precisely that purpose.Real Self-Defense: Unbreakable Umbrella Under the video section on the website, you can find some instructional videos that may give you a few ideas. However, it’s important to remember that a normal umbrella will work differently from one that has been specifically designed around combat.

You can use it several different ways (that I am not an expert on) including using the end to poke someone and opening it in an attacker’s face. Most the techniques you can use with an umbrella are similar to the ones you can use with a walking stick, a short stick, or another long implement such as a tire iron or a poker found by a fireplace. The best thing to do, usually as an untrained fighter, is to reinforce yourself, hold it with two hands and stab at someone toward the midsection/chest area to knock them backwards.

Remember, the goal of a character who is protecting themselves isn’t to win the fight, it’s to do enough damage to the other person so that they can escape. This is something that’s commonly forgotten by writers because the sequence where a character stands up for themselves is usually tied to them coming into their own. It is very powerful, but is sometimes used so often (and in ways that make no sense) that it can get a little eye roll worthy. Again, self-defense isn’t about standing over the aggressor so that they know they’ve been defeated, it’s about escaping from a bad situation.

Almost any item can be used as a weapon, from a plate, to a coffee cup, to a can of beans, to a bottle of Jack Daniels (Punisher #Dirty Laundry WARNING GRAPHIC VIOLENCE), and others. Here’s a video from Michael Janich where he goes over some techniques using Improvised Weapons.

Remember, though, a weapon is only useful to your character if she practices with it. As writers, we sometimes have the common failing of assuming that the weapon is the important thing. It’s not, the wielder and what the wielder knows is what’s important. A weapon is just a tool and even the most unlikely items can be great weapons in the hands of a character who knows how to improvise.

Also, the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters showcase a character who uses an umbrella for self-defense. You should definitely check those out.


Some Thoughts: Emotional Blackmail

This isn’t really a post about how to write emotional blackmail or even what it is. This is more my attempt to point some lines that have become common in the writing of relationships that are so insidious in the ways that they present unhealthy relationships as okay and even desirable/romantic.  I’ll be honest and say that emotional violence is among the most difficult forms of violence to recognize because it hits and hurts so deeply but leaves no physical signs of abuse. A character that is experiencing a dysfunctional relationship may be blown off by their friends, family, and others who aren’t receiving the same treatment by the person who is abusing them.

Emotional blackmail is all about guilt and controlling the subject’s behavior by making them feel badly about themselves. They attempt to keep them with them by threatening them, not just with exposure, but through harm to themselves. “It’s your fault I did this. I love you so much.” is common. Emotional blackmailers are commonly jealous and controlling, they want the object of their affections to be with them only and are often insecure when they are with anyone else or behaving in a manner that they do not want them to.

It’s the undercurrent of blame in the discussion and the shifting of responsibility to the object of the blackmail that makes it blackmail. It sounds like they’re talking about you, but the reality is that what they’re saying is “me, me, me, me, me”. (Also, “your fault, your fault, your fault”.) It’s often an obsessive love and it’s worth noting that it can happen between family members and friends, beyond just romantic relationships.

Some common phrases:

“I don’t need anyone but you.”

This might sound really romantic on the surface, but the truth is that it’s actually very insidious because the expectation is the co-dependant response of  “I also don’t need anyone but you” with the expectation that the object of their affections will throw their entire life away to put the person they love first. They aren’t taking the other person’s feelings into account, all that matters is theirs.

“I told you, you have the ability to hurt me more than anyone else in the world.”

This phrase is insidious because it means that if the object of their affections steps out of line and hurts them, then they can blame them and play the victim. The person on the receiving end of that statement will feel that they are the cause of the person’s hurt and will be less likely to leave them.

“Look I am taking a huge chance trusting you and if you screw me over, I’ll probably never try anything like this ever again.”

This places the blame for the relationship failing directly on the shoulders of the object. If they leave or want to call it quits then the suggestion is that they’ll have screwed up the blackmailer’s whole life. They love them so much that they’ll never be all right again and must sacrifice their feelings (and whatever future feelings they may have) so that the blackmailer can feel safe and secure. A statement like this doesn’t take the other person into account at all. It’s about one person and ensures that the object knows that they will be the villain if they leave.

It comes in many different flavors and these are just a few of the possible ways it can assert itself. It’s always worth looking into what makes a relationship dysfunctional when trying to write them.


(Edit: Also the true killer: “I did X for you, why haven’t you given me Y?”)

Starke Edit: “If you really loved me…”

My MC kicks someone in the back of the head. Would the person be stunned, knocked out, or something else? Also, how long would it take to make someone pass out from blocking the flow of blood to their brain (via choke hold with elbow around the throat)?

Any kick to the head runs the risk of a concussion, knockout, or death. There’s always a chance, depending on the kick used, that the force of the blow will knock the skull off the spinal column (this is usually more of a risk with spin kicks like the wheel kick and jump kicks). How much damage your MC does to that person is going to depend on a few things:

1) How used to kicking they are, especially in the head?

There’s a difference in effectiveness between a character who practices three times a week and a character who almost never kicks and is doing it out of desperation. (The chances of them even being able to reach the head from a standing position if they don’t train their flexibility and muscle control is unlikely, but it can happen.) It’s worth remembering that most untrained individuals rarely think with their feet or legs in combat. If they practice a style that doesn’t have at least some focus on kicking, then it’s unlikely that they’ll think with their feet as an opening attack. A lot of whether it’s stun, knockout, even death will rely on how well the character does follow-through and (if they know what they’re doing) if they were holding back.

2) Are they (the attacker) standing or sitting when they perform the kick?

If they are sitting when the kick is performed, then it’s likely it’ll just stun as they generate about half the force. A character who is limber enough can kick fairly effectively off the ground and while they are seated in a chair (so long as they can rock the chair back onto it’s back two legs).

A kick to the back of the head (I’m assuming it’s a front kick as opposed to a sidekick) from a standing position will connect with the ball of the foot, a kick done from a sitting position could use the ball of the foot, the flat of the foot (the whole bottom portion), or the heel.

3) What kind of shoes are they wearing?

This is important, because for a head kick to work on the street, it requires more than just very good muscular control, balance, and flexibility. The clothing and shoes must also be amenable. A character in really tight clothes, especially pants will have a hard time kicking to the head because the clothing doesn’t allow for that level of flexibility. Really tight skinny jeans without any elasticity, for example, make high kicks tough.

Heavy shoes like combat boots or shoes that provide little to no support like flip flops and other kinds of sandals won’t be very effective. The power in the high kick or any kick that goes to the head comes almost entirely from speed. Now, there are certainly people out there who are very effective wearing any kind of shoe they like (forget about high heels), but it’s always worth considering all the factors including the ones that your MC will have no control over.

The choke you’re looking for is called (at least my school called it) The Triangle Choke. It has a few different variations on the holds (hands clasped versus hand behind head), but the basics of it is this: you’re not using the elbow, you’re using the bicep to cut off the blood flow from (I think) the carotid artery when you squeeze. And the answer is not long. If the choke is done correctly, only takes 15 seconds to kill. If the character is distracted, they really could kill someone without meaning to. When we practiced this hold, the minute we felt it working was cause for an immediate tap out.

Things to remember about this choke:

The character who is performing the choke must be higher up than their victim, so it’s a good idea to knock them to their knees or make them stumble first. This can be done easily by simply stepping on the back of the calf to drive the other person to the ground. A taller character has to worry about this less, but it’s going to be a concern for a shorter character and something that they’ll have to work around. The choke itself is fairly difficult to execute if the character has never practiced with it (it has something to do with the alignment of the elbow and the victim’s jaw), they’ll need at least a few sessions of practice in a controlled environment before they get comfortable with it.

Anyway, I hope that helps.


I have a character with long hair (because of cultural reasons), so what hairstyle would you recommend to keep it out of the way in a fight?

We did an article on this! FightWrite: On Hair Pulling

You want a hairstyle that keeps the long hair tightly bound (skin tight) so that no opponent can get a good grip. A loose ponytail isn’t good enough. Modern “conventional” wisdom likes to assume that only girls are wussy enough to pull each others’ hair or that it’s “cheap”. It’s actually not true. Regardless of what is right or fair, both men and women will yank someone else around by their hair in a fight. The reason is that the hair is full of nerve endings, when yanked on their cause pain, and a good solid grip on someone’s head means that you can control where they go in a fight.

A character with long hair is going to need to keep their hair bound up and out of the way, or their opponent will snatch it and yank. The longer and looser the hair, the easier this is.

A ponytail, a loose braid, and even a loose bun will allow another character to simply walk up behind the character and take a hold of them, or grab it during a fight when they get in close enough. There’s no practical reason to ignore the hair, so most don’t.


Reminder: Real Pirates Were Awful

Reminder: Real Pirates Were Awful

Writing Violence Part 1: Developing Characters and Comfort Levels (And You)

We’re going to do a small series about writing violence, mostly because we haven’t covered some the basics yet and these are important. There are a lot of important steps that go into writing about violence, these include language choice, the intensity of the violence, the characters in question.

Today, we’re going to talk about developing your characters and more importantly than that, how to asses your own comfort zone.

There are many pieces that go into building a successful fight scene and many of those pieces begin to build together before your character ever pulls the trigger or throws their first punch. The way a character looks at the world around them is infinitely important to showing the reader the kind of fighter they are (or the kind of fighter they will be) before combat happens. Characters with different skill levels and different outlooks will all approach combat differently; the same is reflected in a character’s strategic preferences (if they have even thought that far ahead), their honor code, their choice of weapons, and the techniques they choose to use.

Not every character enjoys visceral combat. Some characters like squelching their opponent’s eyeballs with their thumbs, others will wince at the thought, others will be indifferent, and some upon witnessing the act will come to their enemy’s defense because that’s just too cruel. Every character is different and that’s part of what makes writing these sorts of scenes so hard, because a fight scene involves much more than just knowing how to throw a punch right. In fact, as funny as it sounds, for writing that is one of the most inconsequential parts. You can write your combat perfectly, but if it doesn’t reflect your characters and the themes of you’ve been setting up in the plot then it will still fail. A scene with flat out wrong combat can be the best part of a book if the sequence remains in harmony with the rest of the story and furthers the development of both the characters and the plot.

 Establish Your Violence Comfort Zone

You can write a level of violence in your story that you’re not comfortable with, but you will have a great deal of difficulty writing a character who is exhibiting a level of violence that they are supposed to be comfortable with but is uncomfortable for you. Given the attitudes towards sex and violence in American culture, it may sound funny or cliché when I tell you that writing about violence is a lot like writing about sex. How graphic you get is going to depend on your audience and your own comfort level before it reaches your character. A sex scene where you were wincing every few seconds as you were writing it is going to feel uncomfortable to the reader; the same is going to be true with violence.

Some of you may be wondering, but aren’t violent sequences supposed to be uncomfortable? Some of them are, but if you are writing a character who relishes violence or an epic sword duel and you are wincing on each sentence then you have a problem. Or alternately, if you honestly, truly believe that torture is completely unacceptable, that it is always bad, always evil then don’t try to write a character like 24’s Jack Bauer. Whatever you write, you need to be able to completely submerge yourself in your character. You’re going to write characters who don’t believe the same things you do, you are going to write characters who are not you, who will do and say things that you would never in a thousand years imagine doing. But violence is difficult, it hits on a core of human experience, of misery and suffering that is hard to capture. If you can’t convince yourself in the moment to believe in what your character is doing then it’s time to step back. You must ride the ride after all and if you’re getting sick on the loopty-loops, then maybe this rollercoaster isn’t right for you.

It’s fine if it isn’t, just because this didn’t work doesn’t mean the entire amusement park is off limits. You just have to figure out what you like and learn when something goes far enough outside your comfort zone that it affects the integrity of your work. Stepping out of it can be a good thing, sometimes it’s going to be a necessary thing depending on the genre you are working with and the line in the sand will shift as you adjust to new concepts.

The only way you’ll figure it out is by experimenting, so don’t worry about it so much. The only way you can really fail is by not trying at all.

Some Helpful Tips:

-Find authors whose fight scenes you admire and who you want to write like and study their techniques

-Watch movies that represent the kind of combat you’re writing about

-Play videogames, simulation often helps up experience new things and gets us thinking

For example: the combat between Assassin’s Creed, Warhammer 40k: Space Marine, and SpecOps: The Line can all evoke different feelings and emotions through the kinds of combat they present. When you want to get in the right mindset for what you’re writing, this can help.

-Listen to music that reflects the characters and scene you’re working on

Establish a violence threshold for each of your characters

Just like you, every person has a threshold of violence that they are comfortable with and it’s similar to how some people like action movies and some people prefer slasher flicks. Just keep in mind that the media entertainment someone consumes doesn’t necessarily relate to the level of violence they’re willing to inflict on someone else. A character who loves Disney movies can still cheerfully pick up the lead pipe and bash your skull in on the cold hard concrete.  So, try not to think in stereotyping details.

When working to establish a threshold, to figure out what your character is willing to do and what they’re not present them with different situations that are outside the context of your story. It’s best to do this when you’re not sure of who they are and, ultimately, is exactly the same as filling out any of the numerous character questionnaires floating around the internet.

Don’t try to forcibly decide for them. Don’t focus on the right way, the techniques that are supposed to be used, what they are supposed to know. Don’t worry about any of that, you can correct it later. Instead, present them with situations and let those situations play out in your head or as you write them down.

Do you have to do this for each of the major players in your story and not just your protagonist? Yes. Yes, you do. When writing a story about violence, the level of violence a character is willing to inflict and what they are comfortable with can clash with another’s, by figuring out each character’s threshold whether it’s part of the supporting cast, your antagonist, or the henchmen, you’ll have a better sense of how they’ll relate to each other and what kind of interpersonal conflicts can arise.

Below are some helpful questions with corresponding examples to get you thinking. The more situations you come up with on your own, however, will be more helpful to you in the long run.


Example 1: Character X is walking down the street and sees a man being beating, what do they do?

On the far side of the street, Amelia could see two shapes. They were vague and hazy in the drifting fog, just outside the splash of yellow light from the lamp that stood on the corner. A big man with broad shoulders stood over a much smaller individual; she couldn’t see it well from this distance. It could have been a smaller man, or a woman, or even a child. The big man’s frame blocked her as he drove a giant booted foot into his victim’s side. All she knew was what she heard, pathetic whimpering and shrieks pitched higher with each hit. Whoever they were, they’ be dead soon.

Well, she shrugged, it wasn’t her business. Things were hard in Darkside, people died daily, why risk bringing more heat down on herself by intervening? Better to let it play out and disappear before the big man noticed her.

Example 2: Character X is breaking into a building and has made it inside, at the end of the hallway there are two guards, all that stands between them and what they’ve come for. The hall is long and narrow. The guards haven’t seen them yet. What do they do?

Amana flickered, her shape re-entering the Living Space. The bare skin of her breasts pressed against Guard 1’s back, right arm sliding up under his jaw, tilt head back, stand ear to cheek. Forearm into windpipe. Bone in and increase pressure. Cut off oxygen. Left hand down, take holstered sidearm. Glock 17. Flick safety off.

 It leveled at Number 2’s skull.

“Holy shi—”


Example 3: Character B has been hit by Character X, someone they trusted, how do they respond?

Leah stumbled. Hand rising, she pressed cool flesh against the warm, stinging buzz that was now blooming across her cheek. A sharp, shuddering pain was striking out from behind her eye and the world swam in dots of black and white. Her vision dropped to the floor, the crevices between the floorboards were suddenly so sharp and clear. She could see the tips of black boots lingering inches from her own.

John’s boots.

“Leah,” that was John’s voice.

John. He had hit her.

Why? She was surprised to hear her own voice echoing her thoughts cramming into the space between them. “Why?”

These are, like I said, just some examples. You can come up with whatever scenarios you want. But when establishing a violence threshold, they should involve violence of some kind. By developing the different violence thresholds for different characters, you better understand the actions that will bring them into natural alliances or conflict with one another. One of the key ways to keep readers invested in your stories is the interpersonal relations between the major players. Once you know the boundaries the characters ascribe to, what they are willing to do, what they aren’t willing to do, the lengths that they will go to and know when they will stop, you can push them outside of that comfort zone and craft development that is naturally in line with where their story is going.

From the first example, I know that Amelia is the kind of character who puts herself first. She doesn’t believe she can make a difference and doesn’t want to deal with the trouble that intervening to aid someone else could bring down on her head. She could engage, but doesn’t want to. We know that those reasons have nothing to do with being incapable of those actions, she just won’t try because she’s not going to get anything out of it. If I were to write this character, I’d give her a plot development that forced her to engage, someone she doesn’t know, someone desperate, probably a break in at her apartment while they are running from people who are hounding them. Someone she can’t say no to, even though she wants to. She is forced to take action and then eventually she will continue to do so of her own volition.

Voila, a character arc.

So, find your character’s comfort zone and then pop them out of it. The same is true for violence, there is a level of violence that your characters will be comfortable participating in and then there is a point where they are pushed past that into uncomfortable territory. You can only get X by starting with Y. Cause and effect. Conflict that is both external and internal.

Conflict is good. Conflict is crucial. Write conflict.