Monday, June 11, 2012

Light on Broken Glass {Guest post by the Anne-girl}

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
~Anton Chekhov

Description. The tool that brings the scene to life. Description is extremely important. I didn't use to think so. I always thought that description was when an author either couldn't think of anything substantial to say, was having too much fun stringing words together and making pictures. Oh sure, description was fun, even occasionally easy to write but I didn't see it as important.

Then I started writing the book I'm working on currently, A Legend of Honesty, and as I was trying to convey the characters' emotions and impressions I found that describing the world around them as they saw worked best. Description, I found, takes the heartbreak, or suspense, or beauty of a scene and enhances it.

So the question is, how do I write good description?

First of all eliminate the word was in description as much as possible. Not altogether Sometimes it is necessary, but as a general rule don't say "The sun was shining with a white, unforgiving light." say instead "The sun withheld forgiveness in its glare, white and staring it beat on their bent heads with a sort of triumph."

See the second sentence gives you much more of a feel for the characters' emotions, you get the sense that these are defeated people defeated to the point that even the sun seems against them. The word was can be annoying to a reader. "The moon was cold and distant. " The sky was blue." The air was hot and rich with summer scents." Of course such and such was! if they weren't you wouldn't be telling us!

Also to return to the quote at the beginning, don't say the obvious. Of course the moon is shining, what else would it be doing? Of course the sky is blue, instead of pointing that out remind me that it's blueness comes from the reflected ocean. Instead tell me about the effect the moon has on your character or the effect of what your character is feeling has on his perception of the moon.

"The moon going red with reflected flames."

This brings me to something else. Freezing the moment. Possibly the whole key to writing good description is freezing the moment. When a character has just been betrayed  and his whole world in in ruins around him it somehow makes the scene more real if you stop and let the reader know that there is a robin building its nest over in that tree, even though the world is in ashes for the character.

"The glaze creeping over his eyes as he tried to shut out the hate that showed in the farmer's eyes. The green of the grass remaining peaceful through the mayhem. "

Perhaps you noticed that both these examples were written in present tense? I find that this thing I call stop and go writing is the best form of conveying a flash back. What you do is you let your character remember but each sentence is a different remembered feeling, sight, or sensation. All written in present tense.

Here's a bit to let you know what I'm talking about.

 Eric slipping from his back and the cold impression of where his body had been.  The fight racing red and tangy across his brain. The blood pounding through his veins, the battle cry rising in his throat. The opening appearing like a breaking wave. Signaling his boys to go. Seeing the guard reaching for Eric. Flinging himself from the horse. His brain going blank and his sight narrowing to Eric’s limp form. His feet pounding the ground. His hands reaching his body lunging. The last desperate upward plunge. Toward Eric, toward the rescue that loomed golden above all other adventures.

Another cool way of doing description is when something really exciting is happening making everything go in slow motion. That guard reaching to grab the fallen hero and ride away with him? Make everything but the outstretched glove fade away and all other sounds be blocked out but the roar of hooves. Let the reader's vision narrow to a point. And then just to be tricky let your next sentence describe the whole scene likening it to a swarm of angry bees or a wave of reckless bravery, jerking your reader upright and forcing him to remember that other things are going on around the character in question.

Also, bring in a man with a gun. Don't use old cliches. Yeah, it's true that the spring world can be bursting with life and song but I think your reader would prefer to be informed that the world had decided it wasn't dead after all and was giving a party to commemorate the decision.

Give inanimate objects emotions and personalities. Remember the unforgiving sun at the beginning? Well you can also write about sulky streams and pouting mud puddles. It all depends on your character's mood. Annoyed at the world? Then even the brook and the tulip tree will look bad tempered and sulky.  Is she feeling fanciful? Make sure the mud puddles pout and the driftwood scolds the sea shells.

Wishing you all lots of lighted up broken glass and shiny moons, with thanks to Maria Elisabeth for letting me do this and congratulations for her Blogiversary, I remain respectfully yours,

The Annegirl   


Miss Melody Muffin said...

Sink me, I couldn't agree more with everything you said, m'dear!!!

Jessy Jones said...

I can't believe I decided to read this just now. I mean, reading it immediately after writing "Myrna". It seems like the opposite, because so much of what you're saying is there - even the inanimate objects!

How ironic is that, right?

Lovely post, Anne-girl. I can't get enough of them! (Even if they are on someone else's blog ;) )