Do you Feel Me?

Little hand, big hand… touch is vital in life, why leave it out of the story?

Skin on skin.

Touching, hugging, holding hands, stroking, patting, caressing…

All those words bring so much emotion with them, and we haven’t even gotten into sex, and I don’t mean to.

Touching is becoming taboo in our society for so many reasons, and although I’m an unreformed hugger, and never mean to give it up, I also respect those who need their shields up. But in writing, to never use it as the emotional tool it can be? No, not sex, or rape, or violence – those are like using an axe where a scalpel will do (but sometimes you need an axe, and to know how to make the chips fly).  No, I mean the little touches that you have in a day, between a couple, or friends, or siblings, or a parent to child… studies have shown that touch enables a child to fully develop properly, and when a preemie is isolated in an incubator, the parents glove up and lay on hands to help them grow and heal.

When we write our stories, it’s sometimes easy to focus on the plot, on the action, and forget the sensual. But adding a layer here and there can bring a story from the workmanlike to the divine, finally becoming a world you can lose yourself in as you connect to the characters. There are several senses, so many ways to add a dimension to your writing. But I was thinking about it the other day, and thinking that I don’t add enough touch.

I have, in places, put touch in deliberately, without being sexual. In Trickster Noir, I wrote a scene where they sleep together, him so frail she’s afraid she will damage him, but he needs her touch. As I go through daily life, I find myself looking forward to getting hugs from my kids, or a quick passing tousle of someone’s hair (usually followed by an exasperated Mom!). I get up and reach over to squeeze his shoulder before I leave the room. I know men are very different from women, and rarely touch one another.

It occurred to me that a great way to convey deep emotion between to males would be to write them shaking hands, and the comforter squeezes the other guy’s shoulder at the same time. For most guys, that’s pretty emotional on the outside. I’m not going to write my fairy bounty-hunter hugging anyone but his gal, for sure. So it’s a tool you have to consider before using. Kids show emotion through touching, sometimes good, and other annoying. When I was about 12, I for some reason decided that every time I saw my beloved cousin Mike, I’d wallop him in the stomach. Poor man never got mad, just told me after a while he had stomach problems.

In a terrible situation, where your hero is in deep, being harmed, imprisoned, or tortured… imagine the power a simple touch can have to unhinge the mind after that. A gentle touch in a place of pain can create a bond with the person who seems to care… but do they? manipulations of hopes can be truly cruel. Stockholm syndrome sets in, and suddenly the good guy is doing bad things, through the power of a touch.

His and hers hands
Connections build your character. In fiction, just as in real life

And don’t forget the playful. A laugh to offset tension, a tweaked ponytail, or a poke in the ribs to tickle. Think about who you touch, and why, and how it makes you feel. Other than sex, unless that’s what you’re writing… Anyway, someone already wrote about that far better than I could. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

I’ve been reading a lot of relatively new writers recently. I note that often they are doing far too much telling, leading to a stilted, stiff story. It occurred to me that adding more perception would help, in some places. Having the characters convey their emotions without saying “they felt this way” would be a useful tool. Of course, sometimes you just can’t save a story.

I had a moment this week where I really wished the book I was reading was a paper book, not being read on my tablet. I would have thrown it across the room for the cathartic thud against the wall, then got up, picked it up, and held it over the trash can while ripping handfuls of pages out and watching them flutter down…

Ah. That feels so much better!


  1. I am very aware of how different people use touch as a form of expression. I personally do not like being touched by people that I do not know well–I loathe the practice of hugging as a casual greeting (which is common in many social circles).

    When I was younger and more concerned with what people thought I endured a lot of hugs, these days I simple tell people that I don’t hug and let them deal with the information however they choose.

    Because of this, I am aware when I write of how “touch comfortable” my characters are. Cultural and personality differences can lead to tension between characters and misreading body language cues, and I think this sort of friction helps to make characters more real to the reader.

    1. I almost made a flippant remark about how men rarely touch each other, instead they touch each others women. But in many instances this is true. I know of no men that I am comfortable giving or receiving hugs from (much less the French custom of cheek kissing) but several where I will say hello to the man and get a hug from his wife/girlfriend, and one who get a smack on the butt from me as a greeting. Individuals are different, I wouldn’t dream of smacking most guys wives on rear as they walked by, and most would rightfully slap me for doing so. But such interplay has been going on for so long that like Cedar deciding to punch her cousin in the stomach, I no longer remember what started it, it is just a long standing joke that all parties expect.

      1. I’m actually a little more comfortable touching men than touching women, but I prefer not to touch people at all unless I am quite intimate with them. I also would prefer not use first names with people I don’ know well, but that I am willing to accept as a lost cause.

        1. See I grew up where first names were the norm, last name, usually accompanied with Mr., Mrs. or Miss was formal while last name only was used amongst closer friends.

  2. You’re absolutely right. It’s a kick in the pants to me. My current novel SHOULD involve greater tactile sense and people touching than it does. Yes, I have a busty LC getting manhandled as she’s kidnapped, but I also have two long time friends who fall in deeper like through touch. I need to pay more attention to touch. Thanks.


  3. It’s been interesting as the character of Rada Ni Drako grows older, her need for touch increases. In later stories, it becomes one of her few tethers to sanity, which raises some interesting questions. If you can’t trust people enough to let them get close, how do you get friendly physical contact? And what if you can sense what people feel toward you, but positions and protocols forbid your asking the people who care the most about you for their help and touch? Yes, she could shift shape, but most humans react poorly when a 140 lb, one-eyed jaguar-like predator stalks up and says, “Hi. Pet me?” into their heads. 🙂

    Oh, and read the link. I think I pulled a muscle laughing. And I think I’ll keep panning the camera up when “those scenes” appear.

    1. Oh, I dunno. I once had a Great Dane insist she be petted, by physically walking under my dangled arm, and pushing her head into my cupped hand. Then she gave me the “aren’t I an adorable big puppy?” look.

      In an RPG campaign, played a werewolf who grew up in wolf culture, not people culture. I had a lot of fun thinking up various ways of communicating without running off at the mouth. It *was* tabletop, but I used hand gestures to communicate the set of her ears, described postures etc. Touch became a big part of it. For her and a different character, friendly “wrastling”, that is, picking a non lethal fight with a friend. It was a way to touch base with her own kin after dealing with those space aliens called human beings.

      That exercise really helped me as a writer. Even reflecting on it years later brings more insight on how to convey certain things and bring certain people and settings to life.

      A second exercise like this was a project I did in high school, given to me by a brilliant English teacher. I spent a week as if blind, and did a report on it. You can recognize people by the shape and disposition of their hands, and the texture of their skin. You are also more aware of the internal air pressure of a room, and can sense people are there even though you can’t see them or hear them. Your sense of touch becomes more keen even before your sense of smell becomes sharper, or hearing starts to compensate for your lack of sight.

  4. Cedar, as an Empath, I don’t like to be touched unexpectedly, or by some people. So, in answer to TXRed’s question, it is difficult.
    There’s also the “new” cultural taboo, of Male’s touching children, who aren’t their own. Based on the media sensationalism of Child abusers. Being male, I am _automatically_ suspect, around crying children, and can’t even offer to help, without attracting unwelcome attention.
    I’d like to see more people aware of the problems inherent in being an Empath/Telepath. Starting with that fact that most people _broadcast_ their feelings/thoughts. Being in a party, with a lot of drinking, is like being in a working steel mill, with air raid sirens going off, for me.
    So, the problem you’ve identified, IMO, is mainly the fear of child molesting charges. People no longer openly express emotions. That and the reverse reaction caused by some people trying to make open sexual behavior acceptable. Any touching gets associated with sex, instead of a natural part of life.

  5. Hmm, now I’m going to have to go back and see how I’ve used touch. I have wondered if I mightn’t have had my female characters thumping their smart ass boyfriends a bit much. But I don’t know how I’ve used touch specifically apart from that.

  6. Normally I’m not very tactile. I’m fairly inhibited about touching people or being touched, no matter how much I might enjoy it. But then I was trying to think about examples in my own writing, and Kiwi reached out and smacked me in the frontal lobes. There’s actually a lot of touch in that story, more than I can think of in any of my others. (The first thing that came to my mind was Alex and the residual feeling of Aniti’s fur on his fingers, likening it to the fuzz on a cat’s ears. Which reminded him he hates cats.) And the more I thought about it, the more I realized was in there.

    Maybe that’s why I keep thinking about it, even though it’s already done.

  7. I was in a foreign country for a year, a few year back. I realized at once point that I was feeling practically ill for no obvious reason. I kept hugging myself. Then I realized, I hadn’t been touched by anyone in over three months. Literally broke down and cried. No one touched me. I interacted, but no one touched me, as a foreign single working woman in this society. Was such a relief when I was able to visit my fiance a few months later.

    After living abroad in several countries, I’ve realized that men not touching each other is a cultural artifact and not a fact of the male existence globally. I think part of the hardest adjustment each time I’ve returned to the U.S. is staying distant from other people. I’ve become used to the fact the girls hold hands with their girl friends, and boys lay all over the top of each other without any fears of being less manly.

    This realization has affected my own writing. My characters touch, tickle, tease and just lean against each other. In my personal life, I lean towards touching with permission. Touching for mutual strength is an art some of us have lost.

  8. Huh, that’s interesting. I don’t think I very often have characters touch. Unless they absolutely have to, like someone needs a boost.
    I wonder if that’s because I can’t . . . but none of them are allergic to other people’s choices of hand lotion! So there isn’t a good reason for them not to engage in casual physical contact. *Wanders off to poke at revision with a sharp stick.*

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