Shaking Hands with My Characters: The Physicality of Writing

Shaking Hands with My Characters: The Physicality of Writing

lisaI hear a voice in my head. She begins speaking when I’m walking, 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.

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 her story that way.

I’ll try again another time, I think.

But she can speak with an urgency as I breathe in and out during a yoga session, distracting me from focusing on my breath, or while driving around on errands, giving me more hints as to who she might be and the story she wants to share.

Yet again, the computer screen remains blank.

I try another approach.


I get out one of my many journals and a favorite pen. 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 now speaks effortlessly in a voice I cannot claim as my own. But her actual story I am beginning to be able to decode, although she may want to take my hand a few more times and guide it through my scribbles and scratches on 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, and only then, will she allow me to place fingers to keys and write without stopping. Then, and only then, will she trust me enough to tell her story without ink staining my fingers or arrows filling the pages where her words tumble on top of one another in a semi-coherent creative mess.


If she releases me to the ease of the computer screen, then, and only then, do I know I have a truly sound story to be told. I can begin, although sometimes I have to revisit with her in that more physical way before the full story can come to light.

I realize now that my fiction-writing process is very different from other ways I might write; If I’m writing a blog post, an academic essay, or anything non-fiction, I can easily tap it out on the keyboard (after taking copious notes by hand, of course). But when it comes to writing fiction, I seem to need that more visceral connection with my characters. I need that physicality  of pen and paper. I need to walk with my characters  to the rhythm of their footsteps. Once I’ve done that, then I can sit at a computer and pour out entire chapters in rapid-fire succession.

I will be conducting a writers’ conference workshop where, for writing inspiration, I will draw on creative dramatic techniques from my experience as a theater director. Creative Drama allows for writers to explore their ideas via physical activities and improvisation, rather than sitting in one place staring at the blank page or computer screen. Now I am looking forward to exploring how other writers can listen to the chatter of their own characters and walk with them in rhythm to their own footsteps.

By Lisa A. Kramer of

2 Responses

  1. Lisa – I thoroughly enjoyed reading Shaking Hands with My Characters: The Physicality of Writing. Thank you.

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