Monday Challenge: Break A Sweat

Cross Country Skiing in Merrickville

Derp. (Photo credit: Martin Cathrae)

I went cross country skiing for the first time this past weekend. I am reminded that gravity is a cruel, heartless bitch once again.

But while I was marvelling at an activity that causes your own sweat to freeze on the outside of your clothes, I was taking note of how I felt: sore hip from that first fall, the ache in my shoulders and legs, the heat of my core, the cold of the wind. The sounds were interesting: hush of snowfall, glide of the skis, crunch when one of us fell and broke through the icy top layer into the fluffier snow below. I was both invigorated and exhausted by the end, partially from the exercise and partially from the cold.

And I was wondering how I could use this. Maybe writing a mountain crossing, or a winter competition. Or doing a piece about a post-apocalyptic snow-covered world where the air freezes in your lungs and the Old Ones stalk the icy shores.

But all that writing needs to be grounded in the physical. Writers, being by their own inclination unusually focused on the mind, tend to forget about the body. So we leave out a lot of important details and fall back on cliches: the chill up the spine, the aching back after a long day, the burning flush of shame when the character realizes they forgot their pants again. There’s nothing wrong with these, per se. But we can do better.

So, today’s Challenge, should you choose to accept it, is this: write me a scene of physical exertion without tell me what the activity is. For example, if you were writing about weight lifting, you could describe to me the sound the metal plates make when they slide down the bar and clank into place against the others already stacked, or way sweat pools behind your knees and in the hollow of your back, or the strange helpless feeling when you realize that you can’t lift that barbell one more fucking time without tearing something, but leave out the words ‘weight lifting’ or ‘strength training’ or any of that shit.* You know what you’re trying to describe; now show me. Show me through the effect it has.

And don’t dare leave out the physical. We have no yet ascended to a non-material plane of existence**, so use the real world. Even the nasty bits. Especially the nasty bits.

*Normally I don’t go in for this kind of authory sleight-of-hand, but this is to expand your writing abilities, so I’ll give it a by.
**Not that I’d want to. Boring as shit.


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