Next up on my new blog schedule: Writer's Exercises. Each month the lovely and talented sysops at the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum put together a writing exercise. This month the awesome author, former agent and writing teacher Barbara Rogan put together an exercise about description.
What I got out of the X (and directions): Basically description needs to work with the scene, not the other way around. You want to set the scene by writing it with the action through emotion and voice, keeping the reader engaged on the real focus (plot), not the background (surroundings).
Ex 1: Hero dashed through the street, still unable to shake Baddy. He passed a blue four door Saturn and ran under a billboard with a picture of a blonde supermodel in a bra and panties. There were three puddles on the sidewalk and a cafe at the end of the street with three round outdoor tables. He darted throught the double glass doors of a ten story building. There were blue walls and tile floor. A receptionist desk had yellow flowers and a computer. There was no secretary. The second gunman stood in front of him holding the gun to his face.
Ex 2: Hero splashed through another puddle, slowing him enough for Baddy to close in. He made a sharp left, clipped the fender of a small car and sidestepped a chair. He dashed inside the first door he found and skid across the tile, nearly crashing into a desk. He flung an arm out, knocking over a vase and steadied himself only to turn and find a gun pointed at his face.
Okay, not stellar, but you see the difference, right? (I hope.) Someone in pretty much any situation is going to notice "the goal" over the scenery. And will especially see that gun before they notice the color of the walls.
Directions (paraphrased) for the X: Write a detailed description of a barn as seen through the eyes of a character who's just learned his son is dead. Don't mention the actual death, but make the readers feel it through the way the character sees the barn. Word limit: 400
There are two parts. I will post my Part 1 this week and Part 2 next. ( I hit 420 originally, but cut a couple of lines for blog purposes - so I'm at 403)
Jake pushed aside branches at the end of the gravel path. The midday sun glared off the giant white barn.
He grabbed the latch on the oversized double doors and a dragonfly took off for the roof. He scanned the dark green wood, but the bug was camouflaged, the roof blurry.
He swiped a forearm over his eyes and yanked open the door.
Other than some hay along the back wall the place was barren. Lonely. He plopped down on a bale and thought about the joint in the pocket of his flannel. Kasz would need him later, but he’d be cool by then. He wrapped two fingers around the smooth roll of paper, and pulled it out to run the sticky-sweet smell under his nose.
Blinding light railed through the opening door and he looked over, squinting, to see a tall silhouette.
Damn. He dropped the joint back into his pocket as Isaac walked over and joined him on the makeshift bench. Silent.
Jake’s eyes swept the stark wall in front of him, over all the tiny cracks and holes letting in shards of light that cast a pale glow across the dirt floor.
The loft. Immediately, his gaze fell to the rickety wooden ladder in the corner.
Kasz had stepped to the first rung and told him to wait for her to climb up, just in case. They’d both known it would hold, but she’d also known how much he’d enjoy her ridiculously short skirt on the way up.
A layer of golden-honey straw had blended with the strands of hair that haloed around her head. Unstained pine boards had creaked and groaned under them. She’d joked about all the splinters she’d get. Had there been any, he’d have happily pulled them all out.
It had happened only seven weeks ago, but it may as well have been a lifetime.
Isaac shifted next to him and straw rustled through his memories, jolting him back to the dark and emptiness that surrounded.
“Just came to say I’m sorry, Jacob.” With a slap to Jake’s back, Isaac stood and shuffled across the hard-packed dirt. “I’ll leave you alone to your thoughts.”
“Isaac?” Jake said as the man reached out for the door.
Isaac turned, wordless.
“Kasia said,” Jake cleared the dust from his throat. “She’s convinced it was a boy.”
“I’m sorry, son.” And Isaac was gone in a blurry haze of light.