Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Height of Writing

Hello, my name is Helen and I’m a writeaholic.

Writers spend a lot of time on writing. They write, they research for what they’re writing, they think and dream about plot and scenes, they jot notes at a stop light or while waiting in the check-out line, they talk to other writers, they read books, newsletters or blogs on writing, they go to meetings, workshops, conferences, and talks on writing, they do book signings and other book promotions, they act out dialogue, they tape record scenes or the entire manuscript and critique it, they go to critique groups, they edit and edit and edit. And if all that isn’t enough, some of us think about writing in general when we’re not thinking about a specific book or manuscript.

Last week, I was hanging upside down in a big chest freezer and it made me think about writing.

No, I wasn’t acting out a murder scene. I was defrosting the freezer. Now, growing up I was tall; I’m not so tall now. I haven’t shrunk, but the next generation has gotten taller, so 5 foot 9 inches doesn’t seem as tall as it did when I was in high school. But, even so, the freezer is quite deep and to get the melted ice off the bottom and sides, I had to bend over the side and just about hang upside down, with only my toes balancing me on the floor.

And this made me think about writing.

How many times do we have a character do something without checking to see if that character could physically do it? Take defrosting a chest freezer as an example – not that you’re likely to have a character doing that, but you might. Hmm, I’m seeing a female character trying to defrost the freezer when the killer creeps up behind and shoves her in and closes and locks it. Then…oh wait, sorry, I got off subject. We were talking about defrosting. If I’m five foot nine inches tall and having such a struggle getting the job done, how would you have a character who’s five foot two do it? On the reverse side, there are plenty of things a short person can do that would be difficult or impossible for a tall person.

It’s good to think about such things before a reader catches it and writes you a note or, worse, writes you off as an author to read. 
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19 comments:

  1. Great point. From a reader's viewpoint if the characters are doing things that are impossible, I lose interest (unless of course if it's a fantasy).

    Okay, when the killer pushes the victim in the freezer does he turn the freezer back on? Would this be a home freezer or at a store? Now you've got me wondering. :)

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  2. You had me cracking up, trying to visualize you hanging upside down in a freezer in order to defrost it. Really? And it made you think of writing...that's a true writer. It's a great point. I'll remember this.
    Karen

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  3. This is such a good point, Helen! If we've created a character, we need to look at life through their physical viewpoint, not just their mental/emotional viewpoint. If they're small, we need to think small (and I'm a tall one, too. I do write lots of tall characters for that very reason!)

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  4. I love this post, Helen! When I'm working with clients and setting the scene with them for early decisions that need to be changed, I always remind them that they had a different vantage point than they do now. And doing mysteries - I have tried various things to see if they are do-able. Where would their arm stretch to if they were dead on the bed? Can you fall and smack your head hard enough to kill yourself? and on and on...so this is great. This brings me to another point - I may be nuts but I think a lot of us women writers are tall - I'm 5'11", you are tall, Elizabeth is tall - I think Hart might be too...I LOVE BEING A TALL WOMAN!

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  5. Hm, I think you let some fiction writing creep into your blog post with that freezer caper going on ;)

    Sometimes I wonder if we ever stop writing, in some way, shape or form.

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  6. Great point, Helen! It's something I do take into consideration when I write my novels and when I figure out my characterizations. And maybe that's why my main characters are my height. ;)

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  7. I think research is important, but most of that research will, and should, be cut from the manuscript. One writer of my acquaintance went through a lot of machinations and deceptions to find out how to open a window in an antique railway carriage. The only such carriage was in a museum behind velvet ropes, so he had to sneak in when the guard wasn't looking. In the end, the sentence that ended up in the story was, "She opened the window."

    What will end up in your story? Will it be something like, "She spent the morning defrosting the freezer" or will it involve a lot of contortions?

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  8. Those inconsistencies are so important. As a reader when i see them I lose faith in the story and the writer.

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  9. I agree, you have to make sure your characters' actions are believable for their body/personality/etc. It's all part of the illusion you weave as an effective writer. If your illusion has a wrinkle or two in it, it brings your reader out of the story.

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  10. I am height-challenged at 5'3", so I almost always take a character's size into consideration. Stretching to reach something on a shelf, being enveloped in a large chair, almost hitting head on low hanging lamp - there's lots of times we need to think about size.
    BTW - if I'd leaned over, I would've been IN that freezer! Matter of fact, I probably would've just crawled inside to clean anyway...

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  11. I only have this issue when I'm changing genders. I have to think more about what my male characters would do in a given situation than my female characters.

    I loved the visual of you hanging upside down in your freezer. Only in my visual you had more of a vampire thing going on....

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  12. Thanks for the reminder I need to clean out my freezer. I'm 5'4". This will be interesting.

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  13. Great post, Helen. I acted out a scene once with my sister. She said I can't act.

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  14. This is a fantastic post for making me realize that I'm not the star of every story so I need to see from the character's perspective. I'm one of your commenters who would have fallen in, so as an aside, it made me happy we never purchased the freezer we considered buying a few years back!

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  15. Wow - you're not feeling tall at 5'9"? I'm 5'1 and a half on a good day! (Notice short people always include the half - it's very imporant!)

    I've actually ended up in our freezer several times when trying to clean it. My hubby thinks it's pretty hilarious :)

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  16. In case my first comment didn't make any sense, it's cause I'm double blogging...

    I'm taller than you, but you are certainly not short, Helen.

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  17. Good point, Helen. And I love the image of, “ hanging upside down in a big chest freezer.”

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  18. Great point. Once in a while I catch something in a book that I really, really doubt.
    And as to your freezer, at 5'4" I bought an upright freezer.

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  19. I'm sorry. When I read that I thought of you hanging, bat-like, inside of a walk-in freezer. I'm done laughing now. I'll head back to my cave...

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