Those of you who know me, know that what I teach, The Cognitive Method, encourages “embodied writing” (a term I stole it from George Lakoff who stole it from William James who stole it from Shakespeare who stole it from Seneca who stole it from Aristotle…)
But anyway: “Embodied” because when the prose is working well, it stimulates the reader to feel as if s/he were in the body of the protagonist as the protagonist is living through the events of the story. And I’ll try to explain a little of what I mean because with the publication of two of my student’s books this fall, you will have excellent examples of how to put these ideas into your own prose narrative.
The words on the page are directions: they seem to be telling the reader what to think, but done well, the words assist the reader to a state of bodily-sensory excitement by describing specific perceptions---not what to think, but what to feel, as if looking through the eyes, hearing through the ears, tasting with the (… well, you get the idea) of the protagonist and this connects with an intense intentionality; powerful, specific perceptions feel like powerful intentions, and intention is aroused interest: therefore, we read with gusto! Our perceptions are the way we both know what we want and feel if we’re getting it. A baseline of perception is a neurological function we’re all doing all the time; therefore, if the words excite a vivid sense of seeing, hearing, tasting, running, arguing, etc then that’s a great way of connecting the protagonist’s intention directly to the reader’s neurology.
Dialog works similarly, but not only do we imagine we’re hearing dialog, but, because it’s already an energized expression of want/intention, when we read it, on a preconscious level, we’ll engage the muscles of speaking and the brain areas of listening just because we see the signal of quotation marks: we want to read dialog as if we were in the conversation: we can’t help ourselves. Good dialog is extra-embodied.
And as far as the protagonist’s interior life goes, any thinking that goes on is not simply mental, but appears on the page as a process of memory, ratiocination, and active anticipation as the protagonist strategizes after what she wants, struggles to anticipate the next moment or to prepare her body with how to deal with... the calamity that started off so innocently when he cell phone buzzed. [If you go to the opening of Amanda Wakes Up, you’ll see what I mean.]
If that brief description is too abstract, you need to check out two new books. Two students are publishing new novels and their works---while different in almost every other way---are prime examples of embodied writing. I’ve already written a bit about Lynne Constantine’s dark thriller The Last Mrs. Parrish (http://lynneconstantine.com/), and there’ll be more after her pub date, but in the meantime, I’m proud to announce that ex-student and all around go-getter, Alisyn Camerota’s new satire, Amanda Wakes Up is out in hardcover now, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Yes, it’s a fine example of embodied writing and therefore, students of writing should purchase it and steal from her: look at the way she gets that first chapter along!
But it’s also a book of ideas. Embodied writing is about how ideas get into the body, but there are small ideas and big ideas, and Amanda Wakes Up contends with some big, possibly important ideas. Yes, it’s funny, sometimes anguishing, really surprising and really not so surprising (you’ll see what I mean), and it’s all about the sausage making process of how very real, very imperfect people, not only make the news, but have to report the news. To a media fiend like me (and sometime humanist), Alisyn has written an insightful look behind the scenes at the wild and wacky world o’ Info-tainment; Amanda walks a funny line between satire and cautionary tale, but then, I tend to think that any satire that’s any good is going to be a cautionary tale to a significant degree.
While I recommend that you support your local bookstore and go out and buy a hard copy, here’s the Amazon link
Where you can read a few sample pages and immediately see what I mean by “embodied writing”: you will also get sucked completely into the story, so that you will make that trip to the bookstore.
And, Oh By The Way Dept: if you haven’t seen Alisyn in action as a television journalist, catch her on CNN’s New Day. She’s a great interviewer and really does her homework.
Now buy her book!