Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Make Settings Pop With These Words


When world-building, writers often go too heavy on adjectives, which actually muddles the scene instead of enlivening it.

Readers, like children with short attention spans, are drawn to action.

Verbs make movement happen. 

Now that doesn't mean you forget about adjectives. They have their place. But balance their use with verbs. Open the door of your world through the actual telling of the story, rather than as an aside, which can make readers restless and pull them away from the plot.

A couple examples:

He pushed the heavy door open and peered into the shrouded room, cold as a winter morning after the fire had gone out, and stinking like bad meat and perfume. Granny Spencer's beeswax candles blinked at his intrusion. Barrels of ice stood guard like evil henchmen. Mama Prudie's best ivory damask tablecloth didn't hide the cooling board upon which the homemade coffin balanced. Sitting on a stool at the foot of the casket and resting his head against its edge was Papa Everett, cane lying beside him like a loyal hound. At the creak of the heavy door hinges, Papa Everett lifted his head, held out his hand, and smiled weakly. 
(Before the Blood, John's Story, Chapter 3: Keys to Heaven)

Outside, he picked up his ax and headed for the woods. The settlers had spent just one winter in this barren land, and they could testify to its harshness. The bare trees and short days warned of winter's approach.

Galien glanced at the naked brown hills to his left.

Come spring, they would start constructing frame houses, away from the lake's chilly blasts. Even farther away, northwest toward Jenson, was Clyde Fisher's extensive vegetable plots, harvested and stored in the cellar of the general store.

Galien had not told Adele, but he feared wintering in the three-room cottages, which, although sturdy, would require much wood to offset the brutal cold.

How much wood, he did not know.

He crunched through leaves halfway to his ankles. Orville had already felled a tree and wasn't in sight, but Galien knew the routine and began chopping the old oak into logs. 
(Before the Blood, Bryony's Story, Chapter 2: The Wages of Sin is Death)

Twilight and a misty fog had come to Lower Manhattan, transforming the already bleak landscape into gray and gloom, and trampling the early morning's hopes for a better day under the carriage wheels of those fortunate enough to ride in carriages.

The rest tied their wraps tighter and trudged by weary footsteps to the places they called home, whether that be a four-flat, three rooms above a shop, or an open fire behind a boarded-up building near the city dump. For most of them, their day's labors were rewarded by, if not a warm supper, then enough accumulated scraps to fill their bellies and count as supper.

Shopkeepers locked shops and blew out lights. Office clerks gripped their bags and hurried home to empty rooms or expanding families, neither preferable to the other. Shoe-shine boys and match girls counted too few coins in little blue hands and prayed these were sufficient spare the rods and merit crusts of dry bread and thin soup.

In their midst strode Kellen, glancing left and then right at the buildings and taking the fog with him as he left their presence. The moon rose; the crowds gradually dispersed; the buildings grew taller and shabbier. In the distance, a dog howled, but across the street, a second shrank against a sagging building with a low growl. Its ears pricked in disbelief; its fur bristled, warning of impending attack; its eyes gleamed with hate and fear.

Abruptly, Kellen stopped. There it was: 4 East 7th Street. 
(Before the Blood, Kellen's Story, Chapter 8: Just Sign on the Dotted Line)

It was a short jaunt from the alley to the  sidewalk on Delavan, where vagabonds shuffled or reposed. As they rounded the corner, Henry glanced up at the sign hanging on the front of the pub. A stern Billy goat sentinel, black spectacles perched his nose, glanced back.

The shutters on shop windows remained tightly latched. A hazy moon lit their way. Harold drank beer from a flask and pranced with a lilt in his step. Henry yawned and tripped to keep pace.

Harold deftly turned left, away from the brownstones and down a dark lane, where dogs barked, decomposing buildings treacherously leaned, and muddled voices filled the air.

With purpose in each step, Harold headed toward one large structure, a monstrous building that leered at passersby through its broken window teeth. Its sinister appearance didn't sway the wheelbarrow-pushing hoards shuffling in and out its cavernous mouth door.

Harold skipped past the jaws of death. Henry followed. Millions of stacked newspaper bundles filled the warehouse. He sneezed, coughed, and blinked against the swirling paper dust.

A firm hand collared him and dragged him outside.

"Wait here," Harold barked. "Can't have you fainting like a girl."

Henry leaned against the stone and gulped the night air, hardly pure with its stench of garbage and sewage, but cleaner than the choking grit inside. He coughed again and lit a cigarette.

(Before the Blood, Henry's Story, Chapter 2: The Gypsy)


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