Monday, February 11, 2013

Guest Post: "Getting Physical" by Silver James

At the moment, I’m wrestling with a scene in my WIP. It involves a lot of action. One of the toughest things to write, in my opinion, is physical actions. No, I don't mean fight scenes, though those present their own set of complications. I'm talking about an actual physical act—picking up a sandwich and taking a bite, rolling over after making love, watching someone from across the room. A writer has to walk a fine line between narrative and dialogue as is. Where exactly does room to play with physicality come in?

I fear I come down on the side of narrative over dialogue. When I'm writing, I SEE the scene unfolding in my imagination just like a movie. The trick is to translate what I see in my head to words so my reader can experience the scene as well.

In a romance, the act of eating or drinking can become a sensual turn on. The way a woman licks her lips, the tip of her tongue brushing across the corner of her mouth to capture a stray drop of wine, the way her throat works as she swallows, the half-lowering of her eyelids as she savors the flavors in her mouth all become visual cues to the hero as he watches her--and hopefully turns him on! Conversely, our heroine may watch the hero work (or work out), and that bead of sweat dropping from his rugged chin to slide down his muscled chest, rolling inevitably toward a place she's forced her eyes not to stare and now finds she can't look away from as her imagination runs rampant.

Stepping away from the heat for a moment, just the physical act of our hero and heroine walking down a street together becomes a glimpse into their personalities. Does he stay on the outside, toward the street? Is he half a step ahead of her to ward off any clumsy oaf not watching where he's going? Or does he let her take the lead? Do they hold hands or does he keep his arm around her shoulders or waist? How does she walk? Does she bounce, or slouch and scuff her feet? Does she keep her head up, eyes roving the faces around them? Does he? Is his stride so long she has to trot to keep up? Or does he slow down, matching his gait to hers? So many questions! (And yes, Iffy is bouncing over there across the room wanting to play “What if?”)

As writers, we want to show, not tell. By getting “physical,” we can impart a great deal of knowledge to our readers by giving physical cues. Instead of saying, “He was angry at her” show the reader. “His eyes narrowed to slits above his flaring nostrils and she watched as his hands clenched into fists, his right one raising as if to throw the first punch.”

As a writing exercise, find a picture of a couple and write a brief paragraph about it. What does the photo “say” in terms of action, setting, mood, and emotion? How would you describe those things? What feelings are the couples expressing about each other and their surroundings? Can you paint a word picture that effectively conveys the sense of time, space, and emotion by describing their physical reaction to the action, setting, mood, and emotion? Do you do this automatically in your own writing or do you add this as a layer when you go back to revise your first draft?

This link is a quick cheat sheet I've found helpful when I need a reminder of what physical reactions a person might have (when I don't have time to stand in the mirror and make faces and poses—lol) As you write or revise today, think about how you can get more physical and beef up your writing at the same time.


With a rampant imagination aided and abetted by a Muse who runs with scissors, Silver James loves to share the stories created in that vast cosmic void pretending to be her mind. Over the course of her lifetime, she's been a military officer's wife, mother, state appellate court marshal, airport rescue firefighter and forensic fire photographer, crime analyst, and technical crime scene investigator. Retired from the “real world” now, she lives in Oklahoma and spends her days at the computer with her two Newfoundland dogs, and the cat who rules them all, writing tales of mystery, mayhem, and magic. Oh, and a little romance.


  1. Great piece! I often struggle writing the physicality of a scene too. (and truth be told, I tend to pay less attention to them as a reader)

    I'm big on acting out in front of the mirror or going to a cafe and watching people interact, just so that I can figure out their physical reactions.

    And more than once I've hit myself or knocked myself out while choreographing a fight scene, lol.

    1. I'm not laughing at you, JB, I'm laughing with you. Yeah, been there, did that, refused to buy the tee shirt. I should admit that I gave my husband a black eye during a fight scene we choreographed. Needless to say, I do them alone now. *bwahaha*

  2. I'm giggling at JB's admission of hitting herself while writing :)

    Great reminder, Silver, that we need to look at everything as a writer. And we need to convey that 'everything' to our readers in a natural way. Overall, I have to say that I do bring 'action' to the scene as I write (like you, I see it taking place in my head like a movie). But I also have to layer in more (or take out too much) when I revise.

    Off to check out the link. Thanks!!

    1. I find that link helpful when I get stuch, Janet. And you write action very well. Just look at the snippets from your NaNo "dancing with the atars" MS from this fall! :)


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