Don’t Try This at Home

Bound & gagged

Bound & gaggedThat’s right – don’t try this at home. I’m a professional…professional lunatic, perhaps. Although my good friend and martial artist Dennis Lawson once told me that because I’m a published novelist, that makes me eccentric. Otherwise I’d be certifiable.

It started in New York City while I was working on my first novel, Lust for Danger, with a screenplay writer (Mykel). She’d read the draft my agent gave her and loved it. We were in her office, and she got to a scene in which Special Agent Night was nearly discovered snooping for evidence during an illegal search. There was only one place for my agent to go – under the suspect’s desk. Mykel said she wanted more depth – more suspense – in that scene. I was stumped.

“Have you ever tried hiding under a desk?” Mykel asked me.

In fact, I hadn’t (that I could remember). What could it hurt? I figured out how much time it would take for the suspect to do what he had to do in the office, set a timer, and crawled under the desk. Wow. It’s amazing how perspective changes…how suddenly the space closes in around you. Mykel was quite pleased with my re-written scene.

You realize, of course, she created a monster.

Next thing I knew, I was filling my kitchen sink with water, setting the timer on my microwave oven and submerging my head for as long as possible to see what it would be like for a character who’d been tied up and thrown into a river. I never knew there were so many muscles in the human face. After about a minute-thirty, they all hurt like hell.

Then, there was the time my best friend tied my hands behind my back, roped that up around my throat so if I tried to get free it would strangle me, and then fastened a plastic bag over my head. My theory had been that my agent could rip the bag open with her teeth. Wrong. That was probably the most terrifying stupid thing I’d ever voluntarily done to myself. I had no idea I’d run out of oxygen so quickly. I’m truly grateful I was with someone I could trust.

I’ve dabbled in the martial arts – I mean, I had to – I write about a deadly Special Agent. But dabbling isn’t going to give me the seasoned knowledge and instincts I need in order to know how my character’s going to react in a certain situation. I’m quite fortunate to know a number of top-notch martial artists who don’t insist I take lessons to find my answers. During my decades of writing, I’ve been flipped, kicked, pinched, punched, subdued and a number of other things that don’t have their own verbs. They all hurt, trust me. (Of course, they don’t hurt anywhere nearly as much if my advisors really wanted to do me some damage. These folks are the epitome of control.)

And the list goes on.

Does all this make me a better writer? I dunno. I think I’ve gained knowledge that’s given me the confidence to write more vivid, suspenseful scenes. A reader once told me that the drowning scene in Lust for Danger scared the cr*p out of her. I call that a success.

Does this mean you should go out and do stupid things to yourself? That’s up to you. I don’t think everyone has to be as “enthusiastic” as I am. But if you are, and if you do, no need to mention my name to the cops. And make sure you get it on video.

A special thanks goes out to Dennis Lawson and Professor Skip Hancock for generously sharing their time and knowledge with me.

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K.S. Brooks is an award-winning novelist and photographer, author of nine books, and Co-Administrator of Indies Unlimited. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and her web site: http://www.ksbrooks.com/

Author: K.S. Brooks

K.S. Brooks is an award-winning novelist and photographer, author of over 30 titles, and administrator (AKA Fearless Leader) of Indies Unlimited. Brooks is a staff photo-journalist for three newspapers and a freelance for two others. She currently teaches writing and self-publishing for the Community Colleges of Spokane, and has served on the Indie Author Day advisory board. For more about K.S. Brooks, visit her website and her Amazon author page

26 thoughts on “Don’t Try This at Home”

  1. Yup – looney toons. 🙂

    It does emphasise the importance of research ans accuracy. There will always be those 'expert' readers who will catch you up if it isn't plausible.

  2. LOL Funny post, KS! Thanks for sharing. Totally get the whole try before you write it mentality. I can't tell you how many times I've been restrained (duct tape, zip ties, handcuffs, you name it), flipped, held at knife/gun point, dragged through all sorts of terrain, etc. all in the name of writing. And why not? Although, I have to admit my hubby appears to get a little too much joy from helping me with said research…

    1. Thanks DV! Yeah, I want to know what my main character will see. More times than not, I've debunked what I THOUGHT the outcome would be. It's been very enlightening!

  3. For a short story called "The Head," a couple with a strained relationship drop a head of lettuce on the floor and both refuse to pick it up for days, blaming the other. The research for that one did not go over super well with my roommates at the time, but I am now an expert in the daily rotting of an untended head of lettuce. 😉

      1. Oh, Mamasita never comments on my posts anymore, but you try to kill yourself and get the Sweet Pea. I just broke a window with my face.

  4. I can't say I totally agree with every experience you suffered for the sake of your art, but I can see where the minor details could add to the suspense, as well as make the fear more tangible.

    Your method (or madness if you prefer)reminded me of a Thoreau quote: "How vain it is to sit down to write (about crawling under a desk) when you have not stood up to live (experienced crawling under a desk)."

  5. Awesome post! I write historical fiction–the first two works focus on the medieval era, where some awful things happen to some of my characters–and as I sit writing in my comfy house and plunge some poor soul into the depths of a dungeon, I often ask myself if I'm accurately describing what's happening, however…there's only so much "research" I'm willing to do…I can only imagine the headlines in the city paper… 🙂

    1. Thank you! And that's so true, Christine. Although that could make for an interesting promotion angle… And I can't talk about all my research stunts…yet. The statute of limitations hasn't expired… 😉

  6. Well, I have never done any of that. I tried to kill myself accidentally in many, many ways before I wrote a novel, but it was for fun not research.

  7. Great post! Yes, I've done some crazy things to get a feel for what my characters go through. Hubby had me firing his .50 cal sniper rifle just to know what my sniper character would be feeling. I don't have the nerve to fire his .375 H&H magnum- although a smaller caliber weapon, it actually kicks more than the big one. And yes, I own a Tommy gun.

    I think experiencing things adds great depth and flavor to your writing. I hate oysters, but had to eat some to be able to "properly" describe them. I don't call them "sea snot" in the book, but it sure made me think it!

  8. Kat,

    The picture scared me so I saved this for a calmer moment.

    The bag over the head did me in.

    Oh, and I got the norovirus from oysters. Absolutely brutal. No more raw for me.

    You are my research idol. Great post!

    1. Sorry to hear about the norovirus. That sounds scary. No raw fish for me either. I once saw a chef kill someone with poison from a Puffer Fish on an episode of Columbo. If Peter Falk was involved, it must be true. And that's good enough for me. 🙂

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