Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Keep Descriptions Moving

Last week at WriteOn, one author shared a great scene he had written, but it needed a few strokes of scene description to orient the reader into the space. Another author spoke up and said, as a reader, he generally skipped over descriptions and moved straight to the action.

I definitely could see his point.

Action, not description, is what propels a story forward and keeps a reader reading. This is true in fast-paced genre thrillers as well as slower-paced literary fiction. But the lack of description can create a disconnect between the reader and the author's imaginary world, not the result an author wants when the goal is to immerse the reader into the story.

Verbs, not adjectives, make descriptions come alive. Some examples:

Tall, gothic, tower-like structures framed the street on both sides of Jenson’s college strip; the main building of the six-story school towered above them all. The complete campus spanned the entire street. Years ago, the townspeople had nicknamed this street His Majesty’s Row because the great castle-like structures once housed the area’s notable merchants, entrepreneurs, attorneys, and physicians. Most of those homes had long since been converted into businesses or apartments for upperclassmen and staff. Whenever the college needed more space, it simply bought another house. (Visage, Chapter 1: College Bound)

Melissa quickly asked Julie what piece she was learning and only half-listened to the answer as they crossed the street to Berkley’s. The classic look of the tall, narrow brown brick building with arched doorways and windows complemented the inside walls, which the Berkleys had plastered with testimonials and photographs of satisfied patrons through the years. Customers filled the counter stools, which stretched from one end of the spacious dining room to the other, and almost all the square oak tables and chairs. Julie found an empty spot in the back near the bathrooms. The menus rested between the salt and pepper shakers. Melissa smelled French fries and sauteeing onions. (Visage, Chapter 2: Vampire or Revamped?)

The library, a maze of rooms richly decorated in dark woods, oriental rugs, and lace curtains spanned three floors; it provided the perfect setting to fan her obsession. The second floor housed all non-fiction topics, and the third, at the top of the house, with its overstuffed couches and chairs under the slanted roofs for lazy weekend reading, lodged the finest literature. Not to be outdone, floor number two contained a coffee station featuring home-baked treats and small parlors in the turrets for browsing or studying. (Visage, Chapter 2: Vampire or Revamped?)

The words Starlight Bowl sat atop a bright yellow half-dome on the building’s roof. An asterisk replaced the “a” in “starlight,” and the entire sign flashed blue. Connected to the alley was Crossroad’s Tap, a favorite weekend hang-out for Julie and Tracy. Inside the bowling alley, gray stucco walls and brown paneling clashed with the plastic green seats and orange celestial patterns on the bright blue carpet. The girls pushed through the crowds. (Visage, Chapter 4: Outdated)

The Drakes’ square kitchen, scarcely big enough for its round table, nevertheless felt pleasantly homey, with its polished wood floors and white walls, cupboards, and counters. The blue and white striped glass plates neatly stacked in the drying rack matched the blue and white striped canisters on the cupboard shelves and the limp towel hanging from a handle drawer. A blue teapot, ready for duty, rested on a back burner. The air smelled of cinnamon and cloves. (Visage, Chapter 5: Under the Stars)

At the top of the stairs, Melissa saw a tiny bathroom directly in front of her with two small bedrooms on either side. The landing was so small, Melissa and Julie could not fit on it at the same time. Julie turned left, and Melissa followed her. Julie’s bedroom contained the simplest of furnishings: two twin brass beds with matching brown chenille bedspreads and one tall dresser between them. A desk stood opposite on the south wall; pleated curtains matched the single beige rag rug on the floor. The roof slanted and formed a peak. Three large hooks were screwed into the wall left to the door. The room had no closet. On one of the beds, a large striped cat was curled up and either purring or snoring, Melissa could not tell which. (Visage, Chapter 5: Under the Stars)

The next morning, immediately following the pancake and sausage breakfast Mrs. Dalton insisted on cooking, Melissa and Julie walked to Katie’s house, a tall boxy, slightly dilapidated three-story, with gray wood siding and green shutters, where shutters remained. Chipped concrete steps led up to the front door. The back yard stretched into the woods. (Visage, Chapter 5: Under the Stars)

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