Friday, October 28, 2011

In the Body

In an earlier blog I mentioned my writing teacher, Jerry Stern. He was one of the truly great teachers. (If you’re interested at all in writing fiction, you should get his book Making Shapely Fiction.) One of the most valuable lessons I learned from Jerry is that if you really want your reader to get what you’re trying to say, you need to get into the body.

In other words, what is it that you or the character you’ve created is feeling physically? It’s one thing to say you are grief stricken. On an intellectual level, we all understand what that means. But when one of my students wrote that he felt like a broomstick had been broken off in his chest after his grandfather died, I understood his pain on a gut level. “I feel your pain” may be a cliché, but that’s exactly what we want our readers to do: feel our pain, our joy, our love, our lust, whatever it is.

So one of the things I do in writing workshops is ask participants to convey an emotion through the physical sensations of body.

Here is how Sharon Glynn responded to that exercise:

The anger flowed through my entire body. It rushed up to my neck, my face, my ears. My ears became red hot. That anger it flowed down my veins into my hands -- yes, my hands and they too felt hot and moist. And that anger it sucker punched me in my stomach and again in my groin and I can tell you now I never saw that coming. Anger cruised crazily up and down veins and arteries. It sped so fast it actually bumped into itself and exploded and imploded all through all the corners and bends. That anger, it just went on and on unchecked until it plum wore me down and wore me out.

Now that’s anger that will make an impression on a reader.

You don’t need to limit this idea to just emotions. Getting into the body helps the reader feel conditions, too. And sometimes it may be something as simple as remembering to describe the warmth of the sun on a bare arm, hanging out the window of a Chevrolet.

WIY: Choose an emotion and describe the physical associations that accompany that emotion. It may help to think what it felt like. Use similes and metaphors to get your point across. Or try personification. Then do it with another emotion. Spend at least five minutes writing about each emotion. (Ten is even better!)

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