Body Awareness Puts Flesh on Your Characters

I’m taking this incredible course called Writing for Warrior Healing presented by Laura Probert.  Our first week is all about body awareness.  She asked us today to think about how body awareness relates to our work.

You may be thinking, “What? That’s crazy.  Writers don’t have to think about body awareness.”

Okay, putting aside the fact that ignoring your own body can cause all kinds of aches and pains directly related to hunching over a keyboard for hours, I must differ with you.

While I was in the service, I had a friend who told me he could always identify me from across the base just by seeing how I walked up and down the hills.  And he could tell if I was heading to my shift or on my own time.

Your character’s body awareness can build an image of his physicality and personality faster than you can write two hundred words about hair and eye color, height, and weight.

Don’t believe me?  Let’s try a little experiment.

Take a couple of slow deep breaths and bring your awareness to your left leg.  How does your leg feel right now?  Where is it with relation to your chair?  Is it wound around the legs or are your toes atop the arms of the roller mechanism?  Is it tight, relaxed, hot, or cold?  Is it asleep because you’ve been sitting on it?  Bring your awareness to the fabric of the chair or of your clothes touching your skin.  Is there any pain in your foot, your ankle, your knee, or your hip?  If you stood up right now would you be able to take a comfortable full step or would you gingerly place your weight on your foot?

Okay, now that you’ve experienced this connection to your left leg let’s look at what your characters’ body awareness reveals.


Our Cast of Characters

Carolina saunters across her bedroom, strapless heels clicking with each step, the flirty skirt of her dangerously short sundress swinging.  A glance in the mirror, a light touch of one pinkie finger at the corner of her mouth and she knows she’s as perfect as anyone could dream of being.  Everyone at the country club is going to sit up and take notice today.


Caleb walks up to Smoke, strokes the horse’s nose, checks the girth, and swings lithely into the saddle, his feet finding the stirrups in the same motion.  He doesn’t have to think about what to do when his mount kicks up with morning mischief.  He taps the horse’s withers and loosens the reins.  He and Smoke have been doing the same morning dance to determine who’s boss for too long to remember.


MarySue walks the mall each morning.  Head up, arms swinging, her heels fall first before her foot rolls forward onto her toes.  She breathes deeply and deliberately.  She checks her watch, verifying her heartbeat with her favorite app.  Only four more circuits before she goes home to whip up an egg-white omelet.


Howard inches his way across the dining room of the retirement home.  He grasps the handles of his walker as though he’s afraid it will run away from him.  His feet never quite leave the floor, scuffing the toe of his right shoe because that foot drags.  He keeps his head down, checking his path for obstacles.


Knowing this much information about each of our characters, how would each of them be aware of their body?  What would be the most important aspect of that awareness?  How do they each feel about their body?

Once you’ve answered those questions, ask yourself how their body awareness would have each of them exit a car.


Carolina:  She’s hot, she knows it, and she works it.

One long, bare, tanned leg extends from the open door of the convertible.  Once she’s sure she has the attention of every valet on the line, Carolina swings her other leg clear, her short skirt sliding enticingly high.  Before they get more than a glimpse of something lacy and revealing she unfolds from the car seat like Venus rising from the sea.  Dangling her key in front of the closest attendant she purrs, “Promise you’ll take care of my baby, and I’ll make you very happy before I leave.”  Her smoldering gaze stuns the young man into speechlessness.  Only then does Carolina swing into movement, hips swaying, hair floating on the breeze, and red sequined heels winking in the sunlight as she ascends the steps to the clubhouse.


Caleb:  His body serves him, he respects what it can and can’t do, and he takes for granted that it will do what he needs.

As soon as his pickup slides to a stop outside the WildeCat Bar, Caleb shoves the door open.  One booted foot lands firmly in the dust, and before the second one hits the ground, he’s slamming the truck door and on a direct trajectory to the building’s door.  He pauses at the door only to search for the neighbor and fellow rancher he’s meeting for dinner.  Without a break in his stride, he dodges waitresses carrying trays loaded with pitchers and icy mugs of beer and detours around a group of cowboys attempting to learn the latest line dance.  His friend kicks out a chair for him, and Caleb drops into the seat while running a careless hand through his hair.  The waitress tries to catch his eye as she slides a cold one in front of him, but he and his neighbor are already deep into talk about the drought.


MarySue:  Her body is her temple, and if she has to kill herself with exercise and diet to be healthy that’s just what she’s going to do.

Darn!  She lost count of her ab contractions at the last red light.  That meant MarySue had to do an extra hundred leg lunges before going to bed tonight.  She threw the door of the sedan open and bounced out.  Maybe if she got the groceries inside and put away fast enough, she could catch the late yoga class at the Y.  Passing the mirror on the laundry room door she stopped to run a critical eye over the slight pooch of her stomach.  She knew while she was eating it that biscuit was going to be trouble.  And were those bags under her eyes?  They certainly weren’t there that morning when she left the house.  Lord, what she wouldn’t give to be able to eat just one delicious, country breakfast without paying for it for the next month.  Turning from the mirror in disgust she jogged into the kitchen with the bags of groceries.  She would do two circuits around the kitchen island before returning to the car for the next load.  Would she never learn that you just can’t enjoy life if you want to be healthy?


Howard:  His body is giving out on him, but he’s not giving up on it, just giving a lot more thought to every move he makes.

The home attendant reached out a hand to help.  Howard slapped it away.  He may be old and slow, but he could still get himself from one place to another.  Given enough time and a sturdy metal walker.  He never thought the day would have come when his old bones betrayed him like they had last year.  Now all he could do was squirm on the dense fabric of the retirement home’s van until he could get both feet facing the open door.  At this rate, he’d be wearing out the seat of another pair of pants before you could say, “Bob’s your uncle.”  It wasn’t more than a few inches drop to the pavement, but it felt like miles while his feet dangled as he attempted to reach the ground.  Even when he thought he had both feet on the ground, sometimes he couldn’t tell for sure.  Not a lot of feeling in them some days.  Today was a good day, though, and he gave a grunt of triumph as he finally levered himself upright with the help of his walker.  Didn’t even crack his head on the edge of the door this time.  Ha!  Maybe they’d have ice cream for dessert tonight, and he would celebrate another day on his own two feet—plus two wheels and a pair of metal legs.  What the heck!  He was moving, wasn’t he?


Sit down with your characters as ask them how they see their bodies.  Ask what makes them aware of how their bodies work for or against them.  Then let that seep into their stories in place of a physical description.

Share with us in the comments what you discover about your characters through their body awareness.

4 thoughts on “Body Awareness Puts Flesh on Your Characters

  1. Wordsmithmistress : a person who works with words; especially : a skillful writer : a woman who has power, authority, or ownership: a woman who has achieved mastery in some field noun • verb • adjective

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