Thursday, November 29, 2007

Two chairs, a vase and a flat screen TV

I was going to blog about something deep and soulful, but the more I thought about it the more bored I got. Craft is always exciting so let's go there, shall we? 8^)

Description. I was recently involved in a discussion on another blog about description. One of the authors was saying how much she loathes writing it, and I thought, What? How can that be possible? Writing fiction is almost a hundred percent writing description.

I'm sure she was mostly talking about setting, but even that is integral to storytelling. You can't tell a good story without describing everything from place to dialogue to the emotions of the characters. And that's really my point for this blog about description: It's all about the characters.

We don't describe stuff just for the sake of giving the reader a visual aid. Description utilizes most all of the senses, this is true, but what it really does… its main purpose, as far as I'm concerned… is elicit an emotional response from your viewpoint character. And since story is all about the characters, well, you know where I'm going with this.

Description that doesn't serve to develop characters or move the plot forward does not belong in fiction. If all it says is there's a room with two chairs, a vase and a flat screen TV, who the hell cares? Even if those chairs are red and the vase is holding a bouquet of spring flowers, and there's a newscast on the TV, who the hell cares? It has to do more than that. It has to get an emotional reaction from the character whose viewpoint is used to describe the room, which should result in an emotional response from the reader.

Let's take our boring room with the two chairs in it. Red chairs, whatever. Word choice is important, too, but that's not what I'm talking about here. It's a scene where something will happen, yes. But what kind of emotions will it draw from… Susan, who just walked in after a hard day's work as a receptionist for her brother-in-law, who's a dentist. What does she feel when she's in this room? What does she see? And then what does her sister Marcia, the nurse just getting off a graveyard shift at the hospital, experience when in this room?

I want you to use one of these two characters to write a description of our lovely room with two chairs, a vase and a flat screen TV. What kind of emotion can you drag out of them here? How can you do more than set the stage for the action to come? Can you foreshadow with description? Can you create tension? Absolutely. Now have at it.

Susan dropped her purse on one of the two red chairs shoved so close together they nearly hid the tiny table sandwiched between them. Damn, this room was small. Either that or the chairs were too big. No, it was definitely the room, as evidenced by the growing stack of newspapers on the other chair. She should toss them, but she hadn't read them yet. Like she hadn't looked for a bigger apartment. Like she hadn't changed the long-ago-wilted flowers drooping in her grandmother's vintage vase on the table. The TV, however, was brand spanking new, and quite a space-saver. She should get points for that, right? Wrong. Her priorities were totally out of whack.


Paty Jager said...

Great use of furniture, Karen!

Marcia nudged the door shut with her shoulder and leaned there a minute. Damn, this graveyard shift was going to kill her. Either that or Mr. Harper the whale-sized man that insisted on using her for a crutch to get from his hospital bed to the toilet.

She kicked out of her white, Dr. Scholz shoes and sunk into the cushy, red chair her sister insisted on buying to brighten up her apartment. She plopped her sore feet on the other chair and sighed. She hated graveyard, but two more months and she not only could move out of her sister's place but she could put in for day shift. Once that conniving, two-timing, ex-fiance of hers transferred to another hospital.

Her eyes started to close, she rolled her head to the side. White carnations and one red rose blurred her vision before she forced her eyes open and stared at the vase her sister only used for special bouquets. Those were the flowers her ex used to send her when he wanted something.

She reached over to read the card attached and the big screen TV came on. It couldn't be!

Karen Duvall said...

Great, Paty! Really super nice use of description to elicit emotion. I feel so badly for poor Marcia! And I want to know what's on the TV!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Susan kicked the door closed with her foot and jostled the bags of groceries in her hands. Sure enough, Dane, her sister's lousy-excuse for a boyfriend was stretched out on of the two matching red leather chairs Susan had paid for, sucking back beers and watching ESPN. On - holy crap - a brand new fifty-inch flat screen TV perched precariously on her grandmother's antique writing desk.

And was that . . . yes, it was. Her grandmother's favorite vase, the one she and granddad had picked out on their trip to Italy, lying on it's side on the floor near the heater surrounded by packaging and plastic and cardboard like another piece of worthless trash.

"What the hell do you think you're doing!" she thundered.

"What, you mean this?" Dane asked, gesturing toward the monstrosity without taking his eyes off the orange Home Depot car running laps around some track. "This here's the best damn television Best Buy sells. You can thank me later."

Thank him? THANK him?! Was he serious? The SOB didn't have money to pitch in for rent or food but he could go out and buy the ugliest television on the planet and stick it in her living room? Susan didn't even like TV!

That was it. The last straw. Susan dropped the paper bags at her feet, pulled out the Italian take-out she'd picked up at Mamarissota's and dumped the entire container of spaghetti all over Dane's head.

He shot off the chair with a flurry of curses Susan barely heard as noodles and red sauce ran into his blond hair and down his favorite Seahawks shirt. "You're crazier than a loon on Christmas Eve!"

"And you," Susan said, feeling smuggly vilified, "are evicted. Get your crappy TV and get out."

She turned for the kitchen and congratulated herself on her practicality. Red leather had been a good choice on those chairs after all.

Karen Duvall said...

LOL, Eli! Good job! I'm loving reading everyone's great examples. Way to elaborate on a simple theme. Very nice.

Paty Jager said...

Eli! I loved how you played off the "red" chairs. Great snippet!

Alice Sharpe said...

Fun blog idea, Karen, and a good way to see how different we all are. Here's my effort:

The minute she stepped off the elevator, Lucy knew she'd done it again. How many times this month had she locked herself out? Three? No, four. She dug in her handbag and patted down her pockets, but she knew the whole time she searched that the key sat right inside the door on the little table where she wouldn't forget it.

Only she had. God, she couldn't face Lenny the lecherous landlord again. After a full shift and a half mile walk home from the hospital where she worked, she was dead on her feet. She didn't feel like fighting off Lenny's advances.

So, what were her options? Spend the night in the hall? Break down the door?

She twisted the knob once in frustration and almost fell over herself as the door pushed in.
Merciful heavens. Now she was so forgetful she not only forgot to pick up her keys but also forgot to lock the damn door behind herself?

No. She hadn't forgotten to lock the door, she could remember pushing the little button thing inside as she left a million hours before.

A niggling uneasiness inched up her spine.

Jared. She'd taken her key back from the louse when she kicked him out, but what if he'd had another one made before he handed it over? What if he was inside right now waiting for her, stinking drunk as usual, wanting nothing more than to pick another stupid fight?

Furious, she shoved the door the rest of the way open. If Jared wanted a confrontation, he could have one. He could sell tickets for all she cared. He could invite that slut Lavern, she could have a front row seat.

"I know you're in here!" Lucy yelled, marching full steam ahead, flicking on the wall light without pausing.

She stopped abruptly. Her eyes became a camera lens. Snap -- her grandmother's vase, fracture marks visible from where Lucy had glued it back together after Jared threw it at her. Snap -- the large screen TV Jared had bought with her last tax refund. Snap, the snow white chair she kept in the corner. Snap, the chair's match, Jared sprawled all over it only the chair wasn't white anymore, it was red.

Blood red.

The big hole in Jared's chest explained the color change. Lucy suddenly wasn't tired at all.

Karen Duvall said...

Whoa, Alice! If there was a prize for this exercise, you'd definitely be the winner. Talk about visceral! Nice!

Paty Jager said...

Gee, Alice, do you write suspense??? LOL

Alice Sharpe said...

Paty-- I try to write suspense, it's the way my brain works now.

I thought everyone's scenario was wonderful. We all have such wonderful imaginations! I loved your, Karen, tiny room with that dominant TV and your heroine's skewed priorities (that are so human!) And Paty's left me wondering what was going to happen next, the primary element in any novel. And Eli's red leather chairs stole the story! What a set up, what a conclusion! A little mini story, like a juicy hors d' houvres.

I wish everyone would give this a go! Honestly, if you love writing and you love writers, indulge in a little play! The best thing about that space that allows you to receive follow up comments in your email is that it no longer matters if you respond on the same day!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

I loved all of these. ROFL. And like Alice, I wish more would play. It's fun!

And Alice, you crack me up. As I was writing that snippet, my first instinct was to have good ol' Susan lose it with Dane-the-dork and whip out a kitchen knife and stab him - hence, the REAL value of having red leather chairs - but then I figured that was too twisted for this group and resorted to spaghetti. Little did I know your deranged mind would go in the same direction...

Danita Cahill said...

Sorry I didn't play yeaterday. I wasn't home most of the day. Have to run off to blog now, but maybe I'll get a brainstorm -- as opposed to a brain fart -- adn come back later and try this.