1. Pixiebells
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    Pixiebells Member

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    Potential need for lavish descriptions

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Pixiebells, Jul 7, 2015.

    I am not one for writing imagery. Part of this may be because I'm both a writer and an artist, but it's mostly because I can already see it in my mind, and I keep forgetting my readers cannot. lol. Anyway, I'm witting a book in a historical setting (1660s England) and descriptions of the home of the characters, and the clothing of the time period are all very important to describe for several reasons
    1=I need good visuals to send my readers back in time
    2-I need more imagery in general
    3-One of the themes in my novel is class difference, specifically my characters are living in an upper class lavish home in the English countryside, and a main character feels out of place because he comes from a poor background. These families have been friends for a very long time, but he's still intimidated.

    So how in God's name do I describe the ornate home and lavish fashion without boring my readers and potentially myself??

    Any input will be appreciated!!
     
  2. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I tend to go for more minimalistic descriptions because it's what I like to read, and I find that my style has formed in part around that. Some people enjoy really in-depth stuff. If that's what you enjoy reading, I'd suggest doing some exercises and getting into the habit of doing that kind of thing. Some people will be bored by it, some will eat it up; all you can do is make sure it's good lengthy description that actually appeals to the latter group.

    On the other hand, you don't need paragraphs and paragraphs of description to get a picture across. I find that a few well-picked words and leaving the rest to the reader's imagination is perfectly effective. Choose a couple things - say an ornate gold-trimmed vase, a marble staircase with a mahogany banister - and describe them and the reader will get the idea of what kind of place they're in. As for noting the outsider character's intimidation, focus more on that, on how his surroundings make him feel, than on what the place actually looks like. You might well accidentally call to mind a reader's own house, or their grandparents' house, somewhere they associate with comfort and safety, if you go too far. It's a horror trope, really, but not describing the monster so that the reader fills it in with their own fear and not describing an alienating fancy house so the reader fills it in with their own idea of alienating fanciness are basically the same trick.
     
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Hi, welcome to the forum.:superhello:

    I use images from Pinterest and describe them. I have multiple boards for the various locations in my story. So, for example, I've just written a description of a large cavern the people in the story gather in like a big banquet hall. So I perused images of caves, cave formation, banquet tables, and gatherings of 200-300 people. From those I pieced together the parts I wanted.

    I also have the setting in my mind, but despite my knowing the place, it's not well defined. Whereas when I look at images I'm able to describe what I'm looking at.
     
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  4. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    How does this main character get an entrée into posh society?

    I know that there was some social mobility in those days, but the chances of somebody from a poor background making it were slim. The pantomime tale about Dick Whittington is largely that... a pantomime tale. In reality, he was a very wealthy merchant. If you want to have a boy from a poor background making it as a merchant, he'll feel that he's looked down upon because he's "new" money, and will feel out of place, so that could work. But why would a family from a "poor background" be friends with somebody posh? If you've lost your CEO job and been thrown into financial disarray, you've lost most of your "friends" - and that's nowadays! Admittedly, there was probably more noblesse oblige about being kind to your tenants, but it wasn't friendship.

    As to the OP. try Googling "English Country House" and drilling down from there - I followed "Montacute house" - that should give you some ideas.
     
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  5. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's often best to just blur the details in with the action - you don't have to say "there was an ornate silver tea service on the delicate side table" as a separate thing, you can say, "Amanda was silently grateful the ornate tea service was silver rather than china, so she didn't have to worry about her shaking hands chipping her cup and saucer as she set them on the delicate side table." As a reader, I prefer to have the description mixed in with the meat of the story, rather than set aside in a few blocks of text I'm probably going to skim.
     
  6. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Describe only what your lower-class character would notice, and nothing else.

    Also, make sure what you're describing is different to what you've described earlier - you don't wanna describe one lavish gallery just to go and describe a lavish dining room that both have floor-to-ceiling glass windows and chandeliers hanging and oil paintings on the wall.

    Describe only the things that are important to the observing character or things your character is interacting with.

    Describe only a few details that really sum up the whole image and gives the reader a taste of it - unique details that makes the description interesting and memorable.

    Describe the details through character emotions - maybe he's scared of tearing the fine silken tablecloth or leaving footprints on the polished wooden floors, maybe he's jealous that his host has feather-stuffed pillows when he doesn't, maybe he hates how sweet the cake tastes because he's used to something plainer, maybe he breaks a china cup. Maybe he hopes his hand-me-down shirt with the single rusted button would impress the upper-class girl who's stolen his heart. Maybe he slicks his hair back with his spit and gets an odd look from his host, who then passes him a comb. Maybe he blushes because he has a lower-class accent and someone richer had just "corrected" his pronunciation.
     
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  7. Norm the Robot
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    Norm the Robot Member

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    Yeah, I'd say go with a very general description initially to give the imagination something to chew on. Then more detailed descriptions based on the observations of your main character.
     
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  8. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    This only applies if you're always writing from the POV of the lower-class character, and are also always writing in either first person or close third. In any other case, there's lots of potential to describe things the lower-class character wouldn't know about.
     
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  9. Pixiebells
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    Pixiebells Member

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    Ooh, oops I should've specified...he's just staying there.

    The opening plot is that two families are friends, one living in London and the other moved to the countryside roughly 5 years before the story starts. After the youngest child from the poor family dies from the plague (that's not a spoiler, it starts the story,) the two other children come to stay at the other family's lavish home.

    Sorry if that caused any confusion!
     
  10. Pixiebells
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    Pixiebells Member

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    I'm 3rd person omniscient, all the way.
     
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  11. Pixiebells
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    Pixiebells Member

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    Thank you all for the suggestions! I'll focus on key details, put in emotions and actions, and brush up my "A Novel Concept" (for things about my novel/its time period) Pintrest page.

    Thank you :)
     
  12. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    Someone's been watching Downton Abbey. :p
     
  13. Pixiebells
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    Pixiebells Member

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    I've watched a couple episodes, what brought that up? The whole 'class in English society', I presume? :)
     
  14. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    Just the whole notion of writing a period English piece. :p

    Trust me, there is nothing there but Earl Grey, Rich Tea biscuits, and croquet.
     
  15. Pixiebells
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    Pixiebells Member

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    Don't forget stuffiness! And well-tailed clothing. :D And apparently background servants who hear everything.
     
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  16. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    How about mixing the descriptions with meaningful actions? A bit of this, a bit of that.

    I read once that picking one object in a room that is that room in a nutshell and describing the crap out of it (in only a couple of sentences, of course) is the most effective way to go. But I think the reader would have to have some experience of that kind of room before it would work, so I'm unsure if it applies in this case.

    The example given was a cheap hotel room with ripped wallpaper, a sagging bed, and a blinking neon sign right outside the window. What the description concentrated on, though, was the broken and rusted air conditioner in the window. The vents were caked in crud and brown water dripped from one corner onto the bare mattress.

    This is a poor imitation of the original, but hopefully I've given you some idea of what that person was talking about. For me, the description of the air conditioner brought the entire room into focus.
     
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  17. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    Really good points there.
     
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  18. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with the people here who think you should filter your descriptions through your character. You can do this by letting us know how the character sees the setting—the kinds of details that grab his attention, and why. Or you can show him moving through the setting, the kinds of things he touches and interacts with.

    One mistake I've noticed in some writing is creating too much detail during an action scene. If the character is focused on getting something done, he's not going to notice every detail in the room. He's only going to notice the ones that influence his purpose, and maybe give a background feel to the place.

    If he's being chased by six burly guards and needs a place to escape to, he's not going to notice the cherubim carved on the woodwork or the fact that the pewter dishes on the sideboard were imported from the USA and made by Paul Revere. Instead, he's going to notice that his feet are slipping badly on the polished marble floors, and he'll be gauging the escape value of the windows, and maybe noticing there is a wee door at the end of the room that might be just what he needs. On the other hand, maybe he's been invited to visit the place, and escorted into the room by milady's servant and asked to sit and wait while milady has her breakfast upstairs. While he waits there for an hour or so, he might well notice details like the carved cherubim, and perhaps check out the pewter on the sideboard. He'll be less concerned about whether the windows offer an escape route, and may only be mildly curious about the wee door—which he's very unlikely to open if he wants to stay in milady's good graces. (He still might slip on the floors, though, if he's not wearing the right kind of footwear.)

    The best advice I can offer is READ. Read the kinds of fiction that deal with the same sorts of things you'll be dealing with in your own book. It doesn't have to be the same era, but any good historical novels will do. How do these authors handle detail and description? They will give you the best blueprint for your own work. It can be a mistake to sit watching films or TV shows instead. Yes, these scenes will be brimful of visual detail, but what you need to practice is translating the visuals into words. You need to create enough words—and just the right words—to set the scene without dragging the story down. Other works of fiction are the best source to tap.
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2015
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  19. tasjess
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    tasjess Active Member

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    Perhaps think about what your main character would notice most in the setting that's strange to him. For example, a character who had been raised in a home with dirt floors may be entranced by a plush carpet. This gives a "feel" for a room and a reason for the description without turning into something arduous for author and reader.
     
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  20. Pixiebells
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    Pixiebells Member

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    Wow, these are fantastic suggestions! Thank you all so much!
     
  21. Pixiebells
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    Pixiebells Member

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    NEW ASPECT OF MY ISSUES:
    How do I describe fashion--the posh person's point of view? They wore very elaborate clothing back then, and one of my characters frequently designs her own dresses due to an avid love of fashion. Thoughts?
     
  22. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I wouldn't make the descriptions too list-y or head to toe. I would focus on certain interesting details that will catch the readers eye and keep her/him from skimming. Being that the character designs the dresses it might be interesting to explore her thought process on how she wants to handle the designs - is she a forward thinking person - should I dare to show an ankle? does she incorporate things into her designs - like a love of butterflies or nature or politics or certain fabrics?
     
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  23. Pixiebells
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    Pixiebells Member

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    Ooh, I could delve into her creative process! I acutally love fashion too, and designed my own wedding dress, then we found a dress and altered it to match my design. Good call!
     
  24. tasjess
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    tasjess Active Member

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    Showing the characters interacting with the clothing (nervously adjusting buttons, swishing long skirts, pulling at tight collars, being itched by lace) or observing small details of the clothing as an indicator of who the characters are (the blue of the dress reminded her of the sea of childhood holidays, the elaborate hat complete with taxidermy bird was disconcerting - reminding her of dead things and decay, the clicking of the heels on the floor reminded her of horses passing by her home) can be a good way to observe without slowing the pace of the story. You can also describe physical features of characters and fashion at the same time (The long black trousers emphasised the length of his lanky legs, giving him the appearance of a water bird that was underlined by the glasses perched on his beak like nose.)
     
  25. Pixiebells
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    Pixiebells Member

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    Thank you! And that was impressive You pratically just earned a parenthetical citation there!! ;) lol
     

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