Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pantomiming the gestures of my characters

That story in the last post reminded me of something funny about when I was drafting--how I would get up and pantomime what my characters were doing.

Sitting on the porch in my writing chair, probably about once a day I would get engrossed in the scene I was detailing. Often at that point I would need to describe the gesture of one of my characters. Like how he held his shoulders or put his hands in his pockets while he thought. (Reading Francine Prose's new book Reading Like a Writer got me thinking about the importance of gesture.)

And in trying to describe that gesture, I would stare in space and try to picture it and not quite get it. When I couldn't quite see it well enough to show it on the page, I would find myself--as if on autopilot--standing up and acting out.

I would take my place on the imaginary stage on my porch and put my hands in my pockets a few different ways until I could picture it and knew it. If it was a facial expression of some kind, I would walk into the house and make faces in the front hall mirror. (Since the story is semi-autobio, I can look in the mirror and see traces of the family members my characters are based on.)

I'm sure this must have looked ridiculous to anyone watching from afar. It was mostly unconscious, like a physical restlessness that pushed me out of my chair when my imagination wouldn't quite carry me to the image I was looking for. It's an entirely self-taught technique--not any advice that I read about in all the writing advice books I'm always looking at.

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