Getting Physical

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Ask the Author: What inspired you to become an author? Also, are you on Team Cap or Team Iron Man and why? – Sidney Snyder

Aaron: No, I did not add the second question, no matter how much I wish I had. In terms of the first question, I can say that I’ve always loved writing stories and reading. But I think it was my father’s success as a writer and his encouragement that really inspired me. Truth be told, I had stories that needed to be written, and no one else would do it, so I had to do it myself. It is the only way to see your stories born.

Al: I’ve heard writing referred to as a “calling.” It often seems that way. For some people, writing is a must. Not writing leaves them depressed and unfulfilled. This is true for other professions. As a kid I loved reading and the whole world of fiction. I was naturally drawn to it. I recall creating stories long before I was teenager. Then I got interested in other things and gave up on my storytelling dreams until I became an adult. That was a good thing. I needed a little life experience before I could create a believable story. Oddly, from junior high school on, I rebelled against things that would make me a writer: I hated typing (“Why do I need to learn to type? I’ll never use it.), and I wasn’t keen on English. Those two things are my daily bread now. In short, some of us vacation inside our heads, and when reality is too tame, we let our imagination takes us to other places and other worlds.

MJ: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. There was just something magical about building a world in my own head that I could share with others. I don’t know that there was one defining moment. I just always knew I’d be a writer. And I could swear Aaron made up the second question. I’m Team Iron Man all the way because who doesn’t love a rich, arrogant guy who wants to save the world?

CHARACTERS: Getting Physical

  • Our characters have physical bodies in physical world.
  • Our characters should be as unique in their physiology as they are in their psychology, as they are in their personality.
  • Every writer is challenged with giving the right amount of description without stealing the reader’s contribution.
  • Descriptions should be more than a laundry list. They should reveal character. I don’t want to know that someone is rotund, I want to know if it is an issue for them or not.
  • Description in first person is a little different than in third person, but they shave the same goal: to make the character real.
  • Our bodies are living textbooks of our history:
    • Every scar has a story
    • Diseases often have long-term physical repercussions
    • Every accident, injury, etc. can linger.
    • I think here it’s also important to note that you as the author don’t have to include every detail in the manuscript. One of my characters in NOLA  has a deformed scar on the back of her neck. I’m not going to give you the play-by-play of how it happened. Later in my story, I’ll explain just enough to satisfy the reader, but you don’t need every single detail.
  • Consider:
    • What does it feel like when they walk?
    • What does it feel like when they run?
    • What does it feel like when they fight?
    • What does it feel like when they’re in an accident?
    • I would challenge authors to go somewhere public and observe the people around them. Take one or two persons and write down what you notice about them. Then mentally change the setting. Would they still move/behave this way if they were in a park? A coffee house? Their own home? Observe and take notes. People-watching is a great way to develop character writing.
  • Think of your character in terms of biology:
    • Their lungs and heart, their eyes and ears.
    • Their joints and muscles
    • Their bones
    • Are these in perfect condition?
    • Are they in some way disabled? What way?
    • How does that affect your character as they move through life?
  • Put your character in motion
    • Make your characters run
    • Make them fight
    • Make them dance
    • Make them exercise
    • Make them exert themselves
  • When the setting is extreme, we should feel it as if we’re in your character’s skin
    • What effect does the heat have on your character? The cold?
    • Is their skin sunburned? Wind-chapped? Dried out?
    • Does humidity sap their strength? Do they get overheated? Fall asleep in the cold?
  • Alexander Lowen: “Since all experiences are registered in the body, it is possible to read the life history of a person from his [or her] body. This is not basically different from what a woodsman does when he reads the life history of a tree from a study of its rings. Those of us who are trained in bioenergetic analysis can see from the form and movement of the body how that individual coped as a child with the stresses of his [or her] life situation. The way in which one coped becomes the character of that person, which then sets the pattern for coping with stress in the future…Character is the way in which we deal with life [physically].”
  • Alexander Lowen: “Another simple truth that should be self-evident is that an individual’s personality is expressed through his body as much as through his mind…How one holds himself, the look in his eyes, the tone of his voice, the set of his jaw, the position of his shoulders, the ease of his movements, and the spontaneity of his gestures tell us not only who he is, but also whether he is enjoying life or is miserable and ill at ease.”
  • Brenda Ueland: “When you say in fiction: ‘He bowed his head in shame,’ it is likely to be a lie. Or ‘he gripped the chair until his knuckles were white.’ When you write such a thing about a character, ask yourself: ‘Did he really do that? Have I ever seen ANYONE do that?’ If you really have, and it is true and you see this character do it in your inner vision of his story, put it down. Then it will be all right.”
  • Paul Auster: Writing is physical for me. I always have the sense that the words are coming out of my body, not just my mind…Not only do you write books physically, but you read books physically as well. There’s something about the rhythms of language that corresponds to the rhythms of our own bodies. An attentive reader is finding meanings in the book that can’t be articulated, finding them in his or her body. I think this is what so many people don’t understand about fiction.
  • Example 1:
    Erica whispered, and then felt herself thrown straight up in the air. Branches snapped around her. She opened her eyes, and started falling. She reached out for the Harspus branches that tangled together, bounced off some, and finally landed on a thick branch. It hit her in the stomach and folded her in half. She hung suspended in the air, nearly twelve feet from the ground. She was dizzy, and every part of her felt bruised.

    She found her breath, took in a deep gulp of air, and cleared the spots from her eyes. Ullwen was below, rolling away from the Sasquatch and darting behind trees. It had to be nine feet tall. It ducked under the branches of the harspus trees. Its arms were like telephone poles.

    Anger welled up in her. As quickly as she could, she repositioned herself on the branch so she was sitting. Her arms stung from fingertips to elbows, from elbows to shoulders. Her back cracked and pain knifed behind her eyes. She tried to take a breath. It was slow, and, inch by inch as her chest filled with air, her ribs protested with agonizing creaks and moans. She felt a rumble in her throat and let out a fury of sharp barks, then a long, guttural howl. Each came with a tortuous price paid with her woeful misery.

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