1. jonchoo
    Offline

    jonchoo Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2010
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    M'sia

    Troubles with making rooms

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by jonchoo, Sep 2, 2010.

    I always have trouble getting the right details for rooms. Do I say "As he entered the room, dull brown walls greeted his eyes. The furnitures of the room were colored bright which doesn't suit the surroundings...":confused::confused:

    I appreciate any help

    Thanks
     
  2. Blips
    Offline

    Blips Member

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2010
    Messages:
    54
    Likes Received:
    0
    I'd focus on the shape (to begin with). The color of the walls and furniture is pointless if there is no general shape in which to place them. Rectangular, square, L-shaped, etc.
     
  3. Shinn
    Offline

    Shinn Banned

    Joined:
    Jan 1, 2008
    Messages:
    925
    Likes Received:
    5
    Location:
    New Zealand
    I agree with Blips. The shape will allow the reader to get a mental picture of the room.
     
  4. Arvik
    Offline

    Arvik Member

    Joined:
    Jun 15, 2010
    Messages:
    20
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    The Local Group
    Light quality and the room's size are also good details to mention. Open rooms with lots of sunlight have a completely different feel than cramped, dim rooms. You can use those details to help create the scene's atmosphere.

    As for other details like furniture, wall colour, etc, try walking into a room and see what strikes you right away. Is there something that reveals something about the occupants? An overflowing bookshelf, toys neatly lined up, a huge mess? How does the room make your viewpoint character feel?

    Typically, if something is different, or unexpected, it's worth mentioning.
     
  5. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,723
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    Remember that in most situations, the room isn't really important. Does the reader really need to know what color the walls are? I would keep the room description to a minimum, unless:

    1) The look of the room or its contents are important to the plot, or
    2) You are describing character by describing the room - a French professional assassin's living room probably wouldn't resemble that of an American basketball player.

    But most rooms are fairly anonymous.
     
  6. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    I agree with minstrel. I usually don't describe the room or the furniture it in unless I think it's important to the story. I prefer to let the reader's imagination fill in the blanks.
     
  7. jonchoo
    Offline

    jonchoo Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2010
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    M'sia
    Okay, so you mean by just explaining what strikes you first when you enter in the room and just let the reader's imagination fill in the blanks will do?
     
  8. Manav
    Offline

    Manav Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2010
    Messages:
    839
    Likes Received:
    21
    Location:
    Imphal, India
    I would say give informations of the things in the room or about the room that you want the readers to notice, which say something about the character who lives in that room or use that room. Most of the time color of the walls won't matter much, but it'll matter if the walls were unpainted or badly needs re-painting.

    So, people can only tell you what to or not to write about a room in general. But the thing is it should depend on the mood, the theme, the chars of your story. In other words, utilize description of a room to further your story. If you approach with that in mind, I think you'll know what to do.
     
  9. Lyssaur
    Offline

    Lyssaur Member

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2010
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    3
    I agree. Unless the color of that chair in the corner is important to the story, then the reader probably doesn't care, nor will he or she be likely remember it.
     
  10. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    Some writers would spend fifteen pages just describing the lampshade, others would just have him in the room with no description and move on with the plot. Readers of one sort tend to hate the other. Most authors are somewhere in-between, but leaning strongly towards keeping things moving.

    So the question you need to ask is why are you describing the room? Is it to tell us something about the person who decorated/furnished it? Is it to create atmosphere? Is there something about the room that has implications for the story?

    In any case I'd be careful of clichés like "greeted his eyes". Maybe "As he opened the door the first thing he noticed was the clash between the dull brown walls and the gaudy, mismatched furniture, as if there was one item from each apartment in the block. The second thing he noticed was the body on the floor, directly opposite the broken window. It seemed to suit the walls better than the furniture did."

    I've tried to give the impression that somebody had furnished the room from whatever came along, and also to communicate a sense of cold detachment on the part of the person opening the door. The point is, the description does something.
     
  11. Peerie Pict
    Offline

    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2009
    Messages:
    724
    Likes Received:
    29
    Location:
    Scotland
    I can't speak for everyone but the last thing I want to be reading about is the fine details of how a room looks. An example of when it might be relevant is if it says something about the persons' life. In a book I'm reading, a man visits his brother in New York for the first time since he moved there. As he walks in, the sparse room is described in some detail to show how much his brother's life has descended into poverty.

    You might also be trying to set a scene that conveys an atmosphere; happiness, nostalgia, suspense, fear...
     
  12. w176
    Offline

    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2010
    Messages:
    1,067
    Likes Received:
    49
    Location:
    Luleå, Sweden
    I would go practice looking at rooms. It is how you view rooms that will give flavour to you work.

    Practice when coming in to all sort of rooms and areas a few times a day and try to mentally note what -you- notice about the room and how -you- would describe it.
     
  13. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    describe only what the readers need to know... don't go overboard on trivial detail that's not germane to the story, or important to character/s in the room...

    and go check well-written stories/novels to see how the best writers do it... that'll be more helpful than asking here...
     
  14. Lothgar
    Offline

    Lothgar Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2010
    Messages:
    417
    Likes Received:
    37
    Generally speaking, if a room has no real relevance to the story, simply identifying it as the kitchen, or the sitting room, or a bathroom or whatever should be enough.

    If the room has relevance to the story, then describe it in one or two sentences.

    In the room goes beyond relevance into having actual importance to the story, then describe it in as much detail as is required.

    You might use several paragraphs to describe the dark, ominous, forbidding, gothic structure of Dracula's castle if it is important to set the scene and mood for the story that's about to unfold.

    However nobody wants to hear the details of what Dracula's bathroom looks like.
     
  15. cryssfox
    Offline

    cryssfox Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2010
    Messages:
    25
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    planet Earth
    I second what the others have already stated about relevance to the story and would like to add a note about action. Be careful describing what a character saw as its rather boring for most readers no matter what verb you use (noticed, observed, looked at... all rather verbs that plod along, dragging their little verb feet across the dirty shag carpet.) Instead of describing the room as your character enters it, I would only describe what your character actually interacts with. Does he flop down on the orange plaid sofa? Does Sally shove him up against the wall, pressing his face against a purple paisley wallpaper, demanding, "What have you done with my lava lamp?" Your reader only needs a few choice details to feel like they're in the room. No need to assail them with scenery, let the scenery through organically.
     
  16. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    It's a particular literary style, which I associate particularly with French writers (Proust, Saint-Exupery) but no doubt somebody can think of some English-language examples. I love it when it's done well.
     
  17. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    That's all about controlling pace, though, isn't it? If there's no change of pace then a fast-paced story will seem as flat as a slow one.

    I actually did a study on this for a university assignment. In a sample of published fiction taken from the BNC:OU corpus I found that about 15% of the processes were mental processes like "thought" and "saw", compared to almost 40% material processes (the "interaction" you mention). When I looked at texts that were identified as predominantly "showing" or "telling", the proportion of mental processes was almost the same (13%) for "showing" but was about 25% for "telling".

    The moral seems to be that there's nothing wrong with a reasonable smattering of mental processes like "noticed", but if you're using them a lot then you should check that you're not "telling" too much.
     
    1 person likes this.
  18. Motley
    Offline

    Motley Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2010
    Messages:
    125
    Likes Received:
    20
    Location:
    USA
    Use a few vivid details that evoke emotion or recognition, and leave out all the other stuff.

    Or, if you are writing in 1st or close 3rd person, only report on the stuff the character would notice. A barefoot waif would notice the plush carpet. A high-powered businessman would notice the massive mahogany desk. A harried mother of a sick child would notice the silk damask sofa that she definitely did NOT want little Joey to throw up on.
     
  19. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    Like anything else, it depends whether it's done well or not. Consider the following description by Jean Rhys:
    After she had parted from Mr Mackenzie, Julia Martin went to live in a cheap hotel on the Quai des Grands Augustins. It looked a lowdown sort of place and the staircase smelt of the landlady's cats, but the rooms were cleaner than you would have expected. There were three cats – white Angoras – and they seemed usually to be sleeping in the hotel bureau.
    The landlady was a thin, fair woman with red eyelids. She had a low whispering voice and a hesitating manner, so that you thought: `she can't possibly be a French-woman.' Not that you lost yourself in conjectures as to what she was because you didn't give a damn anyway.
    Is that boring? I don't think so -- the description engages me and draws me in (as does the uncertain POV).
     
  20. skinnydipper
    Offline

    skinnydipper New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2010
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    0
    Check out Steinbeck "East of Eden" for room and furniture descriptors used in character development.
     
  21. cryssfox
    Offline

    cryssfox Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2010
    Messages:
    25
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    planet Earth
    Well of course, but descriptions are one of the harder things to do well. I've seen a lot of beginning writers get lost in their settings; not that it can't be good, but just that with many emerging writers it isn't.

    That's an interesting study, and yes, that is also what I meant by having the characters act on the scenery.
    What are the rest of the processes or did you only analyze those two?
     
  22. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    Absolutely -- although it could be argued that in East of Eden the environment is the main protagonist. :)
     
  23. stubeard
    Offline

    stubeard Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2010
    Messages:
    178
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    England
    Can I just check I've understood this properly (as Google (other search engines are available) doesn't seem to want to be my friend today)?

    Mental processes are things that the brain does and material processes are things that the body does?

    e.g. "saw a ball" vs. "turned to look at a ball"?
     
  24. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    Material processes are things that anything external -- the body, the sky, the bullet hurtling towards the hero -- does. Mental processes take place inside a mind. Looking is a material process, seeing is a mental process. The other main processes are verbal (pretty obvious, and I suppose it could be a special case of material) and relational which relates to characteristic and ownership. Sometimes used are behavioural (which covers cases that are borderline material/mental) and existential (again pretty obvious: "there was a thick fog over the city.").

    For those who don't know what I'm on about, these are top level classifications of "processes" (roughly equivalent to verbal phrases) in systemic functional analysis. Something that it's probably not worth bothering about when you're righting but that is very useful when doing close readings of texts.
     
  25. JTheGreat
    Offline

    JTheGreat Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2010
    Messages:
    381
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    Everywhere and Nowhere
    I once read a fanfiction that did rather extraordinarily at description. Even though the author didn't describe wall colors, I could picture it perfectly through the personality in the clutter. Meh.
     

Share This Page