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.
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!