Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
March 18, 2013

When Writing Is A Full Body Workout...

Photo: Richard's Academy of Dance & Arts / http://rada.webs.com/

Photo: Richard's Academy of Dance & Arts ~ http://rada.webs.com/

by Orly Konig-Lopez

The other day my husband stayed home and was working on the couch so I decided to work at the kitchen table to be close. (Cue the "Awwww"… okay, are we done?)

So here I am, typing away, lost in the world I was creating in my head with “real” people who live only in my imagination. And I was in the groove. Until…

You know that feeling of being watched? Yeah, sometimes it’s really happening.

I looked up and my husband was staring at me with something between interest, confusion and pure panic.

“What?” I demanded.

“What are you doing?” He asked, looking rather worried.

“Writing.” Duh!

“What’s with the …” and he proceeded to twitch and jiggle and flail...and toss his head.

“I’m writing.” Seriously, what did he think I was doing?

We don’t just communicate through words, right? Facial expressions, body language, and gestures are actually a huge part of how we get our message across. (I may stumble over words sometimes, but my gestures are always spot on.)

As a writer, your job is to create vivid descriptions and draw the reader into the moment. The reader needs to ‘feel’ your characters and ‘see’ how they react. Oh yeah, and write it in a fresh way. How?

Monkey Think, Monkey Do

What do you do when someone asks you a question and you’re stalling for an answer? Do you rub the back of your neck and roll your head left and right in a “stretch”? Do you pick at imaginary stains on your clothes?

What about when you’re on the phone? Do your hands move as fast as your mouth? Do you hold the phone between your ear and shoulder and pick at split ends?

And if you’re sitting at a restaurant and conversation drags with your date? Do you move the silverware back and forth on the table? Tug at the tablecloth to see if you can flatten the crease or rearrange the breadcrumbs into the shape of Florida?

How do you make those descriptions realistic without getting bogged down in the mechanics of the movement? How do you write a movement that you’re probably not even aware you do and rarely notice when people around you do it?

I (to the dismay of my husband) act it out.

So while one character is rubbing a sweaty palm on his jeans, guess what my right hand is doing? Yup, heel of my hand...on thigh, and off we go. Another character squares her shoulders in preparation for a confrontation. And, you guessed it, I’m wiggling those shoulders and putting out there what Mother Nature gave me.

Then there are times when my character needs to react to something and the first thing that comes to mind is the overused shrug or nod. That’s when I find myself moving and grooving until that one “reaction” feels genuine.

Some scenes provide plenty of aerobic activity for brain and body.

What about you – do you act out scenes as you’re writing them? How do you find that “fresh” take on an old gesture?

About Orly

OrlyAfter years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she's found her creative outlet.

Orly's manuscripts have finalled in seven contests including the Wisconsin Romance Writers "Fab Five" and the Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America’s "Emerald City Opener." She's currently querying her most recent manuscript, THE DAY THE MERRY-GO-ROUND STOPPED.

When she's not talking to her imaginary friends, she's reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly has also joined forces with some amazing women's fiction authors to launch the Women's Fiction Writers Association.

You can find Orly on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website, www.orlykoniglopez.com.

0 comments on “When Writing Is A Full Body Workout...”

  1. You should have seen me subtly trying to act out a fight scene (which happened in the confined space of a car cockpit) while I was at Tim Horton. I didn't dare to look, but I probably gt a couple of weird glance my way!

  2. You mean everyone doesn't do this? Luckily, my office is upstairs, so only my cat watches. And that's okay, because she likes my writing - she's listened while I read chapters out loud, trying to edit.

    I wouldn't advise doing this around people who don't love you, though -- you could end up somewhere you don't want to be -- with a locked door and wire mesh on the windows..

    1. My cats get annoyed with the more "active" scenes - interrupts their snuggling time.

      And yes, I try to keep it quiet when I'm working on the front porch. 🙂

  3. Mostly when I'm writing, however I'm writing, I'm pursing my lips together like I'm holding words back. My husband thinks it is hilarious and always comments how I subconciously do this. I think that acting out these reactions is an excellent idea and will give my wonderful husband something else to talk about.

  4. That must be why my husband stares at me so often! And here I imagined it was because he thought I was beautiful. (We share a large space. I've learned to ignore most things around me when I'm in the zone with the real folk I create.)

  5. Just last week I needed someone to get up from their desk and reach into a drawer and shrug into their jacket.So I kept going through the motions at my desk over and over again. i swear my cat gave me the cat equivalent of a head shake while muttering about crazy writers.

    1. You're in good company, Carol. I get the cat equivalent of head shakes regularly. After one particularly stubborn scene that had me twitching and moving around, my cat got up (he sleeps on the table next to my laptop) and head butted me. He's 20 pounds, it hurt!

  6. LOL, I'm in good company! So happy to hear that my secret is out of the closet. I wonder if I need to take a directing class. Is learning to give stage direction helpful in capturing the actions of characters succinctly on paper?


    LInda Joyce

  7. I wrote a fight scene. And I wanted to get up and to the moves. But I was afraid my hubby would see and laugh at me. Maybe I still will. I think I can do the facial functions while typing. Loved this article. Thanks for writing it.

  8. I work in radiology where it is normal and common, to see people move and gesture to determine the angulation /projection of their anatomy for their exams. Why? Because many times with trauma, the patient isn't lying in the normal position. The image may be take upside down or in reverse. We need to be creative.

  9. Interesting. The more detailed the movie in my mind becomes, the more still I become. When I'm choreographing something complex between two people, Best Beloved will occasionally check my pulse because I've stopped breathing so I don't interrupt myself.

  10. That was so funny, I laughed out loud. I was on a plan coming back from Germany. I had a good six hours of quiet as almost everyone else was sleeping, so I decided to write. I had the flight attendant (who knew I was a writer) tell me she had to read my book because it looked so interesting. The woman next to me said the same thing. It wasn't until later that I realiszed I was making all the facial movements my characters made.

  11. LOL...I am SO luck to have my own spare bedroom/office to act out my actions. I've slid down walls, fought filing cabinets, stolen files,and tied sarongs all in the last two weeks. Not even going to comment on how often I read aloud. I write & edit while sitting on a yoga ball often. It helps to get the jitters and motions out.

    1. That's why I usually work in my office too, Kerry Ann. 🙂
      I love the yoga ball idea. Might have to try that. I revise on hard copy and a lot of times will sit on the floor and stretch while I'm editing.

  12. I'm usually closed up in my office--guest are not welcome-- but sometimes I realize I"m gritting my teeth or twitching, kind of like my body is trying to act out what I'm writing but I'm not letting it. 🙂

  13. I usually write in a room alone so I wasn't aware I had any of these physical writer's quirks till I was trying to fit in some writing at a local breakfast joint. The man at the booth across from me told me I made for very entertaining viewing. Apparently I make strange faces, chew my lip and do odd things with my eyes while I write. Who knew?! Luckily I don't care what others think and it hasn't stopped me from writing in public; though now I notice the sidelong glances I was oblivious to before.

  14. I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one who does this! For me, I think it's about the need to try out the action to make sure that I'm describing it correctly, and also to try to find new ways of saying something familiar. I can't do that all in my head. I have to put it into motion and experiment.

  15. Oh so interesting. I live alone and generally sit on the couch with the laptop. What's funny is my 11 year old great niece will come over and sit on the arm of the couch asking me about what I'm writing. She asked me a question the other day about a scene so I explained it to her. She will tell you she's had the birds and bees talk and knows all about it. But it seems funny to tell her why the heroine was struggling the buttons on the heroes jeans.
    I have to reblog this. I'm not sure if I do anything but the above mentioned great niece caught me driving with my tongue stuck out just a little. She mimicked me. Not in a mean way but to call my attention to what I was doing. My grandmother would tell me to put my tongue back in my mouth it was not helping a thing. What did she know? Was she in my head? Lol, but she meant well and I loved her.

    1. The mimicking kids had me laughing. I have a 7 year old and he sits in the front with me since I have a sports car. Everything I say or do when I drive ends up being mirrored from the passenger side. And sometimes he just busts me for saying things I shouldn't. 🙂

  16. Oh yea...I full out act my characters...however that's probably why they smile and nod too much. I can keep typing if they nod and smile. However burying their face into the palm of their hands interrupts my typing.

    1. Happy shiny people (can you hear the song now? I'll be singing it all day). 🙂
      My characters shrug a lot in the first draft. And then I wonder why I have such a knot between my shoulder blades at the end of the day.

  17. Since there is little room for privacy in my house with 4 kids, dog, and hubby, I usually sit in my minivan in my driveway to get some writing done. And yes, I act out many of the scenes that my characters are participating in. After explaining to my neighbor that I was not "off my meds" (he was a little worried that the kids had finally pushed me over the edge), he just chuckles and waves when he sees me ensconced in my minivan. Sometimes I think that writers have a bit of an actor in them, as we try to convey in words what we are thinking and feeling. Thank you for this wonderful and amusing post, and if you are ever in my town of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, please ignore the woman in the minivan talking to herself and gesturing while she's scribbling down words in her notebook. 😉

    1. I love Cherry Hill. We lived in Blackwood for 6 months recently.

      We have a friend who checks into a hotel for a 3-day weekend when she needs to do some serious writing. Her hubby takes care of their little one, and she gets room service and unplugs everything so all she has to do is write, eat, and sleep.

      Saves having the cops come out in West Sacramento looking for the crazy lady in the minivan.

      1. I know a lot of writers who go on writing escapes. I keep dreaming about a writing retreat on a tropical island. For now, I'll just stare at the sunny yellow walls in my office and the cherry tree outside my window that would really, really like to bloom if it would just stop snowing!

  18. My desk faces the wall in the office, so I can make all the crazy facial expressions and whatnot I want. (Which is a good thing because I *do* go "full body" when I'm writing. LOL!)

    1. Smart move to face the wall, Jami. My desk faces the window which is great for when I'm thinking about something but not so brilliant when I'm middle of some bizarre gesture and a neighbor walks by with his/her dog. 🙂

  19. I don't act out gestures, but I do talk to myself while I'm doing dishes, putting away laundry, etc. My husband has learned to ask, "Are you talking to me, or the people in your head?"

    1. That's Great!
      I talk to household objects a lot when I'm trying to work through a problem in the book. Sometimes they actually answer - not literally of course but I have gotten answers in weird ways before. That's another blog. 🙂

  20. My husband was staring at me last night and I realized that I was holding my head in my hands...fingers all roped into my hair...I looked like a crazy scarecrow I imagine...

  21. Oh I am sooo glad I'm not the only crazy person here! LOL! As for aerobics, my heroine from one of my series is an instructor. I haven't gotten into those scenes yet, but...I think I'll write those parts when I'm home alone. 🙂

    1. Ha! Interestingly enough, it seems like all my characters end up being runners. I'm not, at least not anymore. Maybe that's why I keep making them run - because I wish I could.

  22. Hmm... I probably do this, but I don't know if anybody's ever pointed it out to me. I've been reviewing one of my Nanos to revise it, and I've been noticing things that work and don't in terms of kinesthetic descriptions, including my two main characters being tied to chairs. It could be awkward to act that out at a coffee shop. 🙂

    1. Oh that's funny. You could ask a couple of fellow coffee shopers if you can tie them up. Okay maybe not. 🙂
      And I bet you do some - maybe not the big gestures, but like a lot of us, the face twitching, head tilting stuff. I catch myself a lot of times stretching my fingers or twirling a curl when I've written that into the scene.

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