Our bodies rule our characters like gods

The way we write is obviously tied to how our bodies feel, but how often do we talk about that? It seems like writing tips usually focus on writing as a cerebral activity.

I wrote a blog post yesterday about How I Choose to Where to Submit that many people liked, but when I re-read it, I realized some parts sounded snarky, which is uncharacteristic for me. I didn’t realize it at the time I wrote it, and I feel the tone came from the fact that I’d been in intense pain all day and night and throwing up from that. Therefore, that WordPess post was my only foray into doing anything at all, and I wrote it in the wee hours when I should have been sleeping if I hadn’t been too ill.  I felt bad about it, especially as so many people shared it.

With fiction, I’d never write something and see it reach the public in the same day. I put it away and rewrite, so it has the benefit of many days’ moods, coming from normal physical changes. Some days I haven’t slept or have gotten dehydrated from the heat, or am in extra pain, and I leave out a lot of words, have poor clarity in sentences, don’t catch logic flaws, have typos. Because I always have some level of all those issues, impulse submitting is never a good idea for me, though it’s often very tempting. I write something I want to get off with a flourish, that day, to fit into a deadline perhaps, because I’m enthusiastic about it, am too confident that it doesn’t need more days’ work. But no — Bad idea. I think this is the case with most people writing seriously.

But what about the effect of daily shifts in how our bodies feel on narratives we are writing? If we’ve made an outline and stick to it, it might not cause drastic trajectory changes, though it might still change the quality, tone, dialogue, language, etc.. If we don’t write from an outline, and each session’s writing has the potential to affect the plot, our poor characters’ lives depend on whether we drink enough water, eat healthy food, get enough sunshine and exercise, socializing, and all those basic human processes.

Consider your protagonist when you chose to eat lots of carbs, which are calming, or proteins, which are energizing — you’re eating for two. If you want your characters to delve into dreamy states, using lush prose, save the coffee for when you want to write choppy sentences in intense action scenes. If you want to write a big world-shattering climax, get up and move around first, arms out wide, chest expanded, maybe dancing, maybe singing loudly, standing up straight rather than continuing to write curled over, sedentary, quietly. Studies have shown that we produce more testosterone and less cortisol when we are in powerful positions. The writing stance is not one of those. Your hormones can make writing muscular and full of zing and authority or passive, feeble, and tentative.

We can be writing a longish narrative and each day’s bodily balance can change the directions the plot goes in, the way the characters interact and feel, the lightness or darkness of the scenes, the richness or flatness of the setting. Right? Have you ever noticed that your storyline is directed at all by your mood, fluctuating hormones, pushing yourself to write too long? It’s impressive we creatures are able to continue a narrative in a cohesive way at all, considering how differently we feel if we have low or high blood sugar and pressure, sitting in an uncomfortable chair in the cold with leaf blowers outside the window or lounging outside on vacation, if we are tired or hyped up, raging in infatuation and producing tons of neurochemical surges, or depleted nutritionally and functioning by willpower.

How about your experience with your body ruling the lives of your characters like a volatile god’s whimsy?

For more on the relationship of body to writing, and links to lots of articles, my Online Writing Academy has this page, Somatics for Writers.


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