1. mugen shiyo
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    mugen shiyo Contributing Member

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    Describing Environment and Miscellaneous Surroundings

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by mugen shiyo, Oct 3, 2011.

    I think I have an extraordinary grip on action scenes and characterization. I'd say that comes natural to me. I seem to fail when it comes to the more important parts of the story which is connecting these scenes and explaining the reasons behind them. Also, I suck at simply describing an environment outside of combat or conflict. It's not like I have to take up architecture and design to continue writing, it's just I needed a bit of help so I figured I'd start trying to transcribe what I saw around me. Every once in a while, when I'm in a place and I have the time (I always have a pen and paper on me) I'll try to describe my environment as best as possible in words. Try to order everything to where it provides a coherent picture of what I'm seeing in my head to the person reading my words. I think that's where I fail. I have the picture in my head, it's just hard to put it into words sometimes. Just thought I'd share that if anyone else might have been having the same problems. In the beginning it's awkward and you just want to escape the frustration or awkwardness of it, but soon you get a process or rhythm going and you find yourself being able to instinctively dress down what you're seeing in words. You might do a little research to know a little more about things you pretty much need the correct term to describe (and if you're anything like me, you might like the research more than the writing), but overall it felt like a small self-imposed class that I improved on because I dedicated myself to it...for the most part :p

    That's all. Good writing, everyone.
     
  2. Smythe
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    Smythe Member

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    It really depends on the spin you take with the books. I really enjoy Pratchett-esque descriptions of environments. Here's an example I'm making up as you're reading:

    When Victor awoke, he could see by the bright light of the window that it was well into the morning. The room he found himself in didn't contain much other than himself. A bed, of course, or he wouldn't have slept so sound. The creaky floorboards were a must for any room with a bit of history to it. A little too much history, by the look of the stain on the rug. He looked a little closer at the stain, but slowly backed away, as he was sure it was looking back. There was also a box in the room that was obviously used as a table. He crained his neck and, yes, the upside-down lettering read 'This Way Up' in stencilled blocks. Moving closer, he saw some paper on the desk, and the smallest bit of pencil that could be of no use to anyone. There were scribbles all over the paper, like someone learning to write, without use of their fingers. The door opened behind him.
    In the door stood a man. Most definitely a man. No woman Vincent had ever seen had hands that hairy. He towered over Vincent, blocking any light coming form the door behind him. He smelled faintly of whiskey. Vincent found himself thinking that this wwas the kind of man it was best to be friends with, and probably said things like "ain't" instead of isn't, dropped his aiches, and didn't have any food in the house but three day old bread. And probably half a carrot. He came closer, his musk filling Vincent's nostrils.
    "Mornin' your Lordship," he said. "What time do you call this? It ain't an 'otel you know. There's 'alf a loaf downstairs, I think, but stay away from that carrot. I ain't finished with that yet"


    I know that is geared more towards the humorous/off beat style of writing, but hopefully you can see what I'm trying to do. I always try to keep the descriptions of places organic. If we don't need to know, then you don't have to tell us. If your character can't, see it, you don't need to tell us. I do also do fixed /passive desctiptions, but at an appropriate break in the action, or as someone enters a new space. Be vague - if your character doesn't know what a wankel rotary cylinder engine is, then just say 'a loud piece of machinery whirring behind him'. I let the reader use their imagination.

    Of course, I'm no pro...
     
  3. mugen shiyo
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    mugen shiyo Contributing Member

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    That's pretty good. I guess certain types work for certain situations. I like action descriptions. Mallory has a blog where I think it says the type of tempo used to describe action scenes was cacophony. Either way, thanks for the input, Smythe with a Y, lol.
     
  4. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Cacophony isn't about tempo. Cacophony is when you use a lot of words that have harsh phonetic sounds, like "ck," "br," "q" etc. For example, the Black Speech of Mordor in Tolkien's works relies on cacophony. :)

    As for your original question, I'd advise you to not overthink descriptions. Less is more. Slip in a detail or two naturally in passing and readers will often have entire backdrops created in their minds already. When I say naturally and in passing, all this means is that the point of a sentence shouldn't be to describe something - just insert a word or two that gives hints of description, when the actual point of the setting is something else.
    Examples:
    "He cursed and slammed his fist on the steering wheel when the bubbling mud below swallowed his tires for the fifth time." (Driving on muddy road)
    "Mary paced along the rotten porch floorboards. Yet another gust of wind whipped into her face, making her gritty contact lenses sting even worse." (Windy desert-like area, possibly ghost town)
    etc.

    Unless it's a complex fantasy or scifi setting, you only need small drops here and there to paint a picture for readers. Hope this helps at all.
     
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  5. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    "Never do the dirty work when others can do it for you."

    In this case, the dirty work is describing. So why not let your readers do the imagining all about the scene?

    Just to reiterate an old writing cliche.... Show, Don't Tell(yes, it applies to a lot of things).

    Instead of: "The room was round, with old, dusty shelves lining the faded wooden walls. The floor was made of pure marble, contrasting sharply with the rustic look of the walls. A heavy steel door sat at the other end, with an intimidating brass padlock securing it. Carter walked around the room, looking for the secret passage he'd been told about."

    Try:"Carter ran his hand along the rounded wall, pressing hard into the dusty shelves, his hawk-like eyes searching for the secret passage he'd been told about. This room, apparently, was meant to confuse. The marble floor contrasted sharply with the wooden walls, as did the heavy steel door. Finding nothing, he sighed and half-heartedly attempted to pick the brass padlock securing the door, with little success."

    It focuses more on the character instead of the room. After all, Carter is more important to your story than the room. We now know lots more things about him. He has hawk-like eyes. He gives up fairly easily. He knows how to pick a lock(otherwise, why would he be trying?). He knows about a secret passage in this room because somebody told him about it. We also peer into his thoughts("this room, apparently, was meant to confuse") and his opinions("The marble floor contrasted sharply with the wooden walls, as did the heavy steel door").
     
  6. Smythe
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    Smythe Member

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    Even in sci-fi and fantasy, I wouldn't spend more than a few consecutive sentences on pure description, unless I chose to write in a particularly rambling style (i.e. designed to mock the genre). Even if the surroundings were completely alien, perhaps more so if they were, I would describe it through the characters perception and actions. That's how I do it, but everyone is different.
     
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  7. mugen shiyo
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    mugen shiyo Contributing Member

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    Sorry, Mallory, for the misinformation. I meant Asyndeton...for action writing. I like that type.

    But gotcha. I'll kick my habit :p
     
  8. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Smythe - I agree with you 100 percent. I should have made that clearer in my post - no, I don't think description infodumps are either good or necessary, even in alien settings. I just meant that it might have to take a few more small detail-slips than would describing an Average Joe neighborhood.

    Mugen - No prob. Asyndeton is generally what you want for action, or any other scene where you want a chaotic, choppy or fast-paced tone. :)
     
  9. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I always do that, because I can't tolerate reading more than a small paragraph of description at a time. But many people who reviewed my work also insist on adding more descriptions. They would normally say something like this: "Your description is well placed and enough, but you should write more descriptions as you have glorious India to play with." I guess many readers still consider India an exotic land. So, should I consider such readers when writing descriptions? Should I write three/fours lines when I am sure that one line is enough?

    Please direct me to your blog, if it is outsite of this website. I want to read it.
     
  10. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Manav, it's my blog on WF. :)
     
  11. slurpy_NinJa
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    slurpy_NinJa Member

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    I know you asked about detailing environments but I can see that if I gave any advice I would be repeating what everyone else has said(all of which were awesome points). However, can you give an example of how you would give detail on an action sequence? I'm curious to see how others do it. Plus, I tend to be a little hard on myself in general but especially in writing lol.
     

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