Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Let's Get Physical: Describing Physical Elements... TUESDAY TIDBITS


Raise your hand if you like reading long lists of physical descriptions in prose... whether they be describing a a person, place, or thing.

*crickets*

What? No takers?

I've read stories like that before and it irks me. My, how the sands have shifted... I used to write that way as well. The passages always began so innocently. Something akin to:

Jenna walked in. She had dark brown hair and light brown eyes. Her red camisole matched her red heels. She wore a pair of form fitting, dark rinse jeans. The club was dark and noisy. Lights flashed in time to the blaring music.

If I was writing the scene now, I would try to reveal her physical features over time, not all at once. I might begin with one feature. Have her do something or say something and then come back to the next feature a little later. I also like to engage a person's physical features during pauses or beats in between dialogue. And mostly one at a time... maybe two... but never ever more than two at a time.

In terms of environment, I always try to have the character notice something about the setting or environment. If that's not possible, or I've used the *notice something* trick already, I try to have the character interact with their setting... take a book off the shelf, scrape their feet across the dry earth, run their hand over a rough wall, etc.

Here's an example from my current WIP, The Sky Throne:


I stepped inside the door to my new home, a modest log and stone, one-room building. It beat The Cave any day. In one corner stood a wooden desk and chair. I trailed my hand over the grain of the wood. Beside it, a window overlooked the olive trees outside, close enough to pluck from. I wheeled around and saw two doors with handles near the center of them. They didn’t exactly look like and entry or exit.
Curiosity bubbling up, I walked the six paces across the room toward the doors. Grasping the handles, I opened them slowly. From a horizontal bar inside, hung two blue, two white, and two black tunics, along with one white cloak. Uniforms. Uggh. I fondled the fabric of the tunics and turned them over in my hands.
           The wooden planks beneath my feet creaked as I stepped around the space. I sat down on a raised platform bed with a goat’s wool stretched over it. I ran my hand across it and drew in several deep breaths. 

*****

So, tell me... what techniques do you use to introduce physical features and setting?