Aside: Character-Driven Workouts

Okay, hear me out. This one’s for writers who struggle to exercise.

Also this is especially fun for people who play D&D, Pathfinder, or whatever-have-you. Like moi.

You know that t-shirt that says, “I’m working out so I can do some of the things my D&D character can?” Well, the way I see it, doing – or attempting to do – some of the things your characters can do is a great way to learn about your character and get into their head, while getting exercise. And it’s kinda fun, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Think about it. How often have you played, say, Assassin’s Creed and wished you could do parkour? And if you can… props to you. All the props. All for you.

Now I’m not saying you have to go out and buy a sword or something to swing around, or go leaping around trying to do flying kicks or weird, super-human abilities. That’s a great way to hurt yourself. Or you wallet. However, picking out an action that your character does that might seem trivial to them, and trying to do it yourself, can and probably will help you write that character better. And it might just put some muscle on those bones. (points at self; I am twig)

For example: many fighters, soldiers, warriors, and mercenaries (so, many main characters) in fantasy stories wield swords. What do you think their training looks like? What would they do every day to keep their skills honed? You don’t have to have a sword to do this. For some, it might make sense to go outside, find a decent sized branch on the ground, and start swinging it around. For others, try one-handing a five or eight pound dumb-bell (or heavier, if you’re much stronger than I am). It’s a little heavier than an actual sword would be, but I feel like the extra weight compensates for the fact that the center of balance isn’t farther away from your hand. Once you have your weapon of choice, imagine you are that character, and start walking yourself through the motions. How would they slash? How would they parry? It might be a little weird at first, but if you think of it as warrior training, it might be a little less tedious. Especially if you’ve been sitting down and typing all day.

Archery types who don’t own bows – either because of money or lack of aim, or fear you might break something with it – can invest in a resistance band, which can be pulled up and let down as though you’re drawing back a bowstring. Since there aren’t any projectiles involved you don’t have to worry about breaking anything. Or anyone. The closer you hold the band, or even by doubling it over on itself, the more resistance is provided, and the heavier the “bow’s” draw will be.

Of course if you’re like me and you have characters that tend to walk everywhere because they don’t actually own horses, they do something every day that you might be able to do as well. Walking. It doesn’t have to be a long walk or a strenuous one, just some time spent on your feet every once in a while can help a lot of issues.

If you don’t feel comfortable walking, play a monk or mage, or feel awkward leaving your chair, I recommend Tai Chi and/or Qigong. Most techniques can be done seated, with a little creativity. The key is integrating all parts of the body, just to get them moving.

My current exercise routine varies from day to day as I feel the need to change, but I do stuff based on many of my characters, from books or otherwise. I practice Marcus’s ranseur techniques with an oak walking stick, I practice Eirnin’s archery with a resistance band. I have a ten pound dumb-bell that I can swing two-handed as though I’m using an axe, rather than a sword. For two of my tabletop RPG characters – Sadiq, a monk, and Hyena, a brawler, – I practice both Tai Chi and Kenpo, which is something I have prior experience with. Esper is a special case, since I do actual own a (not sharp) saber, and can work out his style with it, as well as Aelius’s to some extent. And, like all of my characters, I don’t own a horse (or a car), which means I walk everywhere. Thankfully, I live in a smallish town and built up excellent endurance via high school marching band. And no, I never do all of those on the same day. I would be exhausted and probably risk injury. My knee already gives me enough crap from the walking alone!

I would like to emphasize that you should never do any fitness program or exercise that makes you feel uncomfortable, or that you’ve been told by a professional that you shouldn’t do. If you pick up a big ol’ rock to heft around because your character carries people or things out of danger for a living, but you find that you’re straining, put it down and walk away. The goal is to have fun, get a break from the keyboard, and not hurt yourself. Please don’t hurt yourself. Be careful.

– Ej

ps. If you want to try this but lack inspiration, look up, “[Your favorite character here] Workout.” I know there’s one on the Witcher out there somewhere, which partially inspired me to start doing this.

pps. Again, check yourself before you wreck yourself. Listen to your body. If it hurts, stahp. Especially if you aren’t used to doing crazy business like flailing around with a weight in your hand. Do what you can, don’t feel bad if you can’t do as much as someone else, and celebrate that you did a thing in the first place.

Bonus fun fact! This is how I taught myself to draw! Getting up and acting out what the character on the page is supposed to be doing so I knew how it looked in 3D. I still do it sometimes. I have applied it to writing as well. A few combat scenes in the Tales of Esper Ravenwood trilogy involve actions that I stood up and acted out so I could figure out how to write them. See? Told you it was useful.

Character Tip: The Well of Nope

You ever have characters that, no matter what you do, you can’t seem to find a decent conflict for them? Maybe they’re a major support that needs a subplot, maybe it’s a main character who wants nothing to do with the story being told, or maybe it’s a character that should have a bigger role in the story but nothing is working.

Enter, the Well of Nope. Also known as the giant list of things that your character never wants to do, be, or witness.

There’s a phrase that I keep in my head when I’m writing, especially when I’m planning a story: “Never name the well from which you will not drink.” Not only useful to remember for character development, but decent life advice as well. Never say never, as in, never say you’ll never do something. This can have unintended side effects. For instance, when I was in school I constantly told myself that I’d never be an author because I don’t tell good stories. Esper and the rest of the Five Realms happened. I also told myself I’d never be a good multiplayer gamer, because lots of information overwhelms me. Overwatch happened.

So, what would your characters “never?” This question actually goes deeper than one might think. As an example: a young man never wants to become like his father. Which begs two questions: What about the father does he hate, and what is the father actually like? Answering those not only gives insight into the boy’s psychology, but also provides a direction and potential for growth. Let’s say the boy dislikes his father because he ignores his son. That would, of course, be from the young man’s perspective and not the objective truth. The flip side to that is that the father is a hard worker and wants desperately for his son to have a better life than he did, so he throws himself into his work.

That would mean a potential path of growth for the young man might go something like this: The son has grown up and made a name for himself, but now he has a young apprentice. He keeps working, but when he realizes that he’s ignoring said apprentice, he faces one of his “never’s” from the Well of Nope. From there he can confront that issue while maintaining his hard work, eventually becoming very much like his father, but not just the negatives. The end point might be that once he’s made peace with the fact that he is his father’s son, he realizes he is better able to manage both his work and his apprentice. He ends up knowing when to work and when not to ignore, and resolves whatever conflict stemmed from the neglected apprentice.

Marcus, from The Redgate Chronicles, also has an example, and one that illustrates how the Well of Nope can also be used as a massive catalyst. Because of his appearance, he believes he’ll never find love. When that belief is proven false, it gives him both hope and an exploitable weakness. It leads to him both screwing up in the worst possible way, but also to him trying again. The massive screw up? Changes the world forever, and leads him toward encountering and subsequently dealing with even more of his never’s.

While single never’s can have far reaching consequences, there are usually multiple answers to this question. Esper has a long list of never’s that he confronts throughout his story. All of them are double-edged swords, bringing both complications and boons. See how many answers you can find to that question, and pull them apart to see how the result would affect the character, both negatively and positively. How many of those can you weave into the plot? How many would change its course entirely?

From which wells would your character never drink? 

Think about it.
– E.J. Lowell