Lisa A. Kramer

Author, Speaker, Theater Artist, Creativity Facilitator

Shaking Hands with My Characters: The Physicality of Writing

I hear a voice in my head. She begins speaking when I'm walking, or taking a shower, or trying to sleep. She starts to tell me her story. I sit at the computer screen and hope to capture the story, but nothing happens.Hands Typing I'm not blocked, exactly. It's just that she doesn't want to speak through the click and clack of my fingers on the keyboard. She's not ready to tell the story that way.

I'll try again another time, I think.

She speaks with urgency as I breath in and out during a yoga session, distracting me from focusing on my breath. She starts talking as I drive from chore to chore, giving me more hints of who she is and the story she wants to share.

Yet again, the computer screen remains blank.

I try another approach.

Snapshot_2013918I get one of my many journals and one of my favorite pens. I take myself to a coffee shop/writing place and order a drink ('tis the season for pumpkin spice chai). I don't bring my computer. I put my pen to paper and I begin to write.

The character speaks through me. Her voice wanders seamlessly through language I cannot claim as my own. Her story is only beginning, but it is now mine to tell . . . or almost. She may want to take my hand a few more times and guide it through the scribbles and scratches of the page. She may ask me to go for a walk in the botanical gardens and listen as she chatters among the trees and flowers. Then, only then, will she allow me to place fingers to keys and write without stopping. Then, only then, will she trust me enough to tell the story without ink staining my fingers or arrows filling the page where her words tumble on top of one another in a semi-coherent creative mess.

arrows and scribbles


If she releases me to the ease of the computer screen, then and only then do I know I have a story to be told. I can begin, although sometimes I have to visit with her or other characters again in a more physical way before the full story comes to light.

I realized today that my writing process for fiction is very different from anything else I write. If it's a blog post or an academic essay, or anything non-fiction I can go straight to the computer screen and let my fingers flow (after taking copious notes by hand of course). But, when it comes to fiction, I seem to need a more visceral connection with my characters before I can truly begin. I need the feel of the pen. I need the touch of the paper. I need to walk with them and have conversations with them to the rhythm of my footsteps. Once I've done that, then I can sit at a computer and pour out entire chapters in rapid fire succession. I don't need to hand write every chapter, every story, or every moment. However, I do need to hand write something which allows me to understand the character and the story he/she wants to tell. (Usually it is a she at the moment, hence the feminine pronoun throughout this post).

It's like I need to shake hand with my characters and introduce myself. I need to sense them physically and feel them emotionally. I need to bring them to life in my imagination before they can come to life on the page.

I've submitted to present a workshop at a nearby writer's conference where I would share how creative dramatic techniques and theatre tools can inspire writing. I've always thought this would be an interesting tool for many writers who spend so much time sitting and writing and don't often explore their ideas through physical means or improvisation. Obviously, I need to practice what I preach. I don't know if the workshop will be accepted yet, but I'm more convinced than ever that a theatrical, whole body approach can help any writer.

Update: The workshop was accepted! Now I am looking forward to exploring how other writer's can learn to shake hands with their characters.

Do you find it easier to write with pen and ink or on the computer? Do you ever need to get to know your characters through physical ways?