Saturday, April 12, 2014

One Step in Front of the Next

Several things fell together today that gave me this idea. I was walking down my trail, thinking how I was watching where I put my feet, carefully picking my next step. This was necessary because my trail is rather icy at the moment. Let me elaborate. A few days ago, on a relatively warm afternoon (for us this time of year), my husband and I went out for some firewood. It was warm enough that the surface of the trail was mushy. Marks from the snowmachine's track and the inch wide runners on the sled, and in some locations, the smooth bottom of the sled, were cleanly left in the snow. Now that the days have gotten colder again, these marks in the trail are quite hard; if it was any harder, I would need ice skates to navigate the surface regardless of the tread-marks left by the snowmachine, and marks left by the sled sometimes made the trail a potential slippery ankle-twister. My boots have a horizontal tread and between the two, slippage is at a minimum, but hazards were frequent, and there are a couple places where the slant in the trail is enough to warrant quite a bit of care.

My thoughts went to when I was in the army and they were requiring me to break the habit of watching where I put my feet. And then there's my work in progress where my character was forced to shed his hunter aspect and replace it with a prey aspect in order to become a suitable target to catch a crew of Knock Out thugs. There is also the current editing project I'm working on where the writer used 'walk' more than once. All this together made me realize that there is so much more to the word 'walk' than just putting one foot in front of the other.

So much can be learned about a character just by watching how they cover the distance between point A to point B. The army teaching me how to walk is them teaching me how to be a predator. Of course, if you were to ask any of those guys that, they wouldn't see it that way. I mean, I had been walking for eighteen years by then; I knew how to walk. My growing up on a ranch was another reason for me to watch where I walk; I didn't want to step on some cowpie, and since I managed to escape my mother barefoot more often than not, knowing what was underfoot was kind of important. Cowpies wasn't the only hazard underfoot. Those were out in the corrals, I had to navigate sand-burrs before I got that far. At any rate, I grew up with a strong inclination to watch where I set my feet, and then I joined the army and they wanted me to hold my head up, to keep an eye on the sergeants and officers and other such important things. They never mentioned keeping an eye on the horizon where an enemy might be coming from. Like I said, they didn't really understand what they were teaching us. They wanted us to look like proud soldiers, not shambling civilians. See my distinction? The soldier is the predator - the civilian is the prey.

Keeping the head up is more than pride, watching for potential attack can be paranoid but it can also be a strength and confidence. Keeping the head up also keeps the shoulders square, it changes the entire body posture, and the walk itself alters dramatically. Confidence in the surface under your feet leaves time for your eyes to search the horizon for whatever might be of interest out there. Noticing the pretty girl perhaps, or the nice tight ass in a pair of bluejeans, or the werewolf lurking in the shadows. If your chin is keeping track of the top button on your shirt, you're not going to notice anything out there - you become the hunted, the prey, the target. You can run being less likely to trip. Of course if you're standing to fight, you're not worried about tripping.

There are lots of words describing how a person crosses from point A to point B. Make use of your thesaurus and explore a few. To merely walk is too generic, too boring; it says nothing other than that distance was covered, and there are certainly other ways to convey that small detail. How you say your character crossed the distance paints a picture about the person. Always have a picture of your character in mind when you move him or her across the page. It's important.

How does your character move?



William Kendall said...

I can see that being a huge mindset change, having to learn not to watch where you're stepping.

You're reminding me of late in my MS, having my protagonists and several others converging on the villa where the antagonists are holed up. Everyone moves swiftly and silently, using the terrain for cover every step of the way.

Anna L. Walls said...

Being the hunter. Moving like cats. Deadly like wolves. Determined like only people can be. Do they make it?