Excerpts of brilliant descriptive writing

Discussion in 'Insights & Inspiration' started by Ubrechor, Jun 16, 2011.

  1. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Supporter Contributor

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    Lines like those are exactly why every other year or so I re-read The Great Gatsby. It reads like poetry in the form of a novel, and the descriptions are so lush I can picture everything perfectly, yet he used so few words.
     
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  2. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Really? I've read it three times I think, once in high school and twice as an adult, and it gets more boring every time. I understand the story, but tales of the idle rich just do nothing for me.
     
  3. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Supporter Contributor

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    In that one, I'm all about the setting. I love the lush hedonism of it all, and I'm a goner for '20's 30's anything. I never thought about it before, but I do read a lot of stuff about the idle rich from that era. LOL
     
  4. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I've quoted this page many times in many different discussions, because it never fails to leave me gobsmacked. So here, in the spirit of this thread, once again....

    An example from one of my favorite books, Dhalgren (1975) by Samuel R. Delany, Published by Bantam Books, Page 01.

    All you know I know: careening astronauts and bank clerks glancing at the clock before lunch; actresses cowling at light-ringed mirrors and freight elevator operators grinding a thumbful of grease on a steel handle; student riots; know that dark women in bodegas shook their heads last week because in six months prices have risen outlandishly; how coffee tastes after you've held it in your mouth, cold, a whole minute.

    A whole minute he squatted, pebbles clutched with his left foot (the bare one), listening to his breath sound tumble down the ledges.

    Beyond a leafy arras, reflected moonlight flittered.

    He rubbed his palms against denim. Where he was, was still. Somewhere else, wind whined.
     
  5. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Supporter Contributor

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    Isn't it interesting (in a cool way, not a sarcastic way) how different things speak to each of us? It's probably my dyslexia talking but after reading it twice I have no idea what the hell that passage is about or is trying to say, and I don't have the patience to decipher it. But it speaks to you and means something to you, just as The Great Gatsby speaks to me but bores @Iain Aschendale . I love that!
     
  6. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's funny you mention dyslexia. Delany, the man who wrote those words, suffers from profound dyslexia. His writing has some of the most unusual cadence, word choices, and syntaxes I've ever run across. It's never wrong, just... unusual. Getting into his writing is like stepping onto a boat and there's a little chop to the water that day. It takes a bit to get your sea legs under you, but once you do, is there anything better than a day out at sea?

    That's how Delany is for me. :)
     
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  7. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah, a day out at sea with no chop.
     
  8. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Supporter Contributor

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    Interesting! I did not know he's dyslexic. A lot of us definitely do that...I call it my twisted thinking. :)
     
  9. ChloeT

    ChloeT New Member

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    Exactly! He has a way of describing things in an offbeat sort of way that gives you a very clear and sensory picture. I re-read it every year probably. It's such a quick read. He's my writing inspiration.

    Iain, my best friend could only get through it once. It's definitely not for everyone, especially if you don't like tales of the idle rich. I'm with Shenanigator on this one. I love the setting and enjoy reading about the idle rich, especially (or perhaps exclusively) from that era. They're usually great satires that prove that all that glitters isn't gold.
     
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  10. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Whoops, edited, I screwed up where I added my comment:
    My favorite idle rich is Vanity Fair, where he shows how many livelihoods those people destroyed with their habits.
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2018
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  11. ChloeT

    ChloeT New Member

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    You know, that's one I've always meant to read but I still haven't gotten around to it. I have no idea why. Tales of the idle rich are only good when they show the darker sides of things, in my opinion.
     
  12. Zakle

    Zakle Member

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    My favorite series is Winds of the Forelands by David B. Coe. Sure, he has his issues with sometimes being long-winded, but I
    generally love his descriptions. They're short and descriptive without doing too much.

    Behind the stone, seated at the table, a Qirsi man watched him. His eyes were medium yellow--not as pale as those of the woman standing next to Tavis, but not as bright as Fotir's. He wore his white hair loose and long, but while this often had the effect of making the Qirsi look even more wan and frail than they were, it did the opposite for this man. He looked formidable, as if the magic he possessed was bolstered by a physical strength that most Qirsi lacked. -- Rules of Ascension, detailing Grinsa.​
     
  13. Wowbagger

    Wowbagger New Member

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    The opening paragraph of Jack London's 'White Fang' is quite beautiful. By the end of this paragraph you are just "there". A masterclass in vocabulary, particularly the verb choices ('frowned' / 'reigned'):

    Dark spruce forest frowned on either side of the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean toward each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness - a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the Sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozenhearted Northland Wild.
    And, of course, this from John Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men', which creates a very different atmosphere, but demonstrates much the same skill:

    Evening of a hot day started the little wind to moving among the leaves. The shade climbed up the hills toward the top. On the sand banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little gray sculptured stones. And then from the direction of the state highway came the sound of footsteps on crisp sycamore leaves. The rabbits hurried noiselessly for cover. A stilted heron labored up into the air and pounded down river. For a moment the place was lifeless...​
     
  14. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

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    I'm currently reading Thomas Hardy's 'The Return of the Native'. Here is how he describes the protagonist Eustacia Vye in Chapter 7-Queen of the Night, in Book One:
    Eustacia Vye was the raw material of a divinity. On Olympus she would have done well with a little preparation. She had the passions and instincts which make a model goddess, that is, those which make not quite a model woman.
    A few paragraphs later he describes her appearance:
    She was in person full limbed and somewhat heavy; without ruddiness, as without pallor; and soft to the touch as a cloud. To see her hair was to fancy that a whole winter did not contain darkness enought to form its shadow—it closed over her forehead like nightfall extinguishing the western glow.
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2019
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  15. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    There's a description of men hanging by the neck in Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale that is sublime. I can't be arsed finding or transcribing it here, though.
     
  16. Malisky

    Malisky Sirocco Contributor

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    One of my favorite books is Anatole France's "The Revolt of the Angels".

    I love how his eloquent narrative voice is spiked with irony and humor, and the way he portrays people and their human condition. His style is comical and tragic. Cynical at places, which make for a light hearted laugh and uncovers the ridiculousness of human nature and emotional at others, which creates a sense of deep melancholy and makes the reader relate and feel for the character that is far from being two-dimensional. He really has a way with words and can describe his thoughts and very complex concepts beautifully in a very creative manner. I believe him to be a genius of his kind. Apart from this, after reading his book you feel as though you've been educated. It stays with you. What you've read is a well constructed story that questions your beliefs upon various aspects: religion, social status, traditions, politics, philosophy, love. You can almost hear him read it to you. It was hard picking a specific passage so I chose two.

    "Nothing ever astonished Maurice. He never sought to know the causes of
    things and dwelt tranquilly in the world of appearances. Not denying the
    eternal truth, he nevertheless followed vain things as his fancy led
    him.

    Less addicted to sport and violent exercise than most young people of
    his generation, he followed unconsciously the old erotic traditions of
    his race. The French were ever the most gallant of men, and it were a
    pity they should lose this advantage. Maurice preserved it. He was in
    love with no woman, but, as St. Augustine said, he loved to love. After
    paying the tribute that was rightly due to the imperishable beauty and
    secret arts of Madame de la Berthelière, he had enjoyed the impetuous
    caresses of a young singer called Luciole. At present he was joylessly
    experiencing the primitive perversity of Odile, his mother's
    lady's-maid, and the tearful adoration of the beautiful Madame
    Boittier. And he felt a great void in his heart."

    "Comrades," said the great archangel, "no--we will not conquer the
    heavens. Enough to have the power. War engenders war, and victory
    defeat.

    "God, conquered, will become Satan; Satan, conquering, will become God.
    May the fates spare me this terrible lot; I love the Hell which formed
    my genius. I love the Earth where I have done some good, if it be
    possible to do any good in this fearful world where beings live but by
    rapine. Now, thanks to us, the god of old is dispossessed of his
    terrestrial empire, and every thinking being on this globe disdains him
    or knows him not. But what matter that men should be no longer
    submissive to Ialdabaoth if the spirit of Ialdabaoth is still in them;
    if they, like him, are jealous, violent, quarrelsome, and greedy, and
    the foes of the arts and of beauty? What matter that they have rejected
    the ferocious Demiurge, if they do not hearken to the friendly demons
    who teach all truths; to Dionysus, Apollo, and the Muses? As to
    ourselves, celestial spirits, sublime demons, we have destroyed
    Ialdabaoth, our Tyrant, if in ourselves we have destroyed Ignorance and
    Fear."

    And Satan, turning to the gardener, said:

    "Nectaire, you fought with me before the birth of the world. We were
    conquered because we failed to understand that Victory is a Spirit, and
    that it is in ourselves and in ourselves alone that we must attack and
    destroy Ialdabaoth."
     
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  17. RyanRoszak

    RyanRoszak Member Supporter

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    That Jack London excerpt is wonderful, for sure. I'm liking the concentration of Fs in the first couple of sentences. I know this can create a bit of distance and artifice, but playing with consonants is often so rewarding. A description to revel in.

    One that comes to mind immediately for me is the arrival of Dracula's ship into Whitby in Bram Stoker's Dracula - I'm sure it's a popular one. Here' a short excerpt, but the whole scene is great, and generates so much visceral momentum as it goes along:

    "Then without warning the tempest broke. With a rapidity which, at the time, seemed incredible, and even afterwards is impossible to realize, the whole aspect of nature at once became convulsed. The waves rose in growing fury, each over-topping its fellow, till in a very few minutes the lately glassy sea was like a roaring and devouring monster. Whitecrested waves beat madly on the level sands and rushed up the shelving cliffs. Others broke over the piers, and with their spume swept the lanthorns of the lighthouses which rise from the end of either pier of Whitby Harbour.

    The wind roared like thunder, and blew with such force that it was with difficulty that even strong men kept their feet, or clung with grim clasp to the iron stanchions. It was found necessary to clear the entire pier from the mass of onlookers, or else the fatalities of the night would have increased manifold. To add to the difficulties and dangers of the time, masses of sea-fog came drifting inland. White, wet clouds, which swept by in ghostly fashion, so dank and damp and cold that it needed but little effort of imagination to think that the spirits of those lost at sea were touching their living brethren with the clammy hands of death, and many a one shuddered as the wreaths of sea-mist swept by.

    At times the mist cleared, and the sea for some distance could be seen in the glare of the lightning, which came thick and fast, followed by such peals of thunder that the whole sky overhead seemed trembling under the shock of the footsteps of the storm.

    Some of the scenes thus revealed were of immeasurable grandeur and of absorbing interest. The sea, running mountains high, threw skywards with each wave mighty masses of white foam, which the tempest seemed to snatch at and whirl away into space. Here and there a fishing boat, with a rag of sail, running madly for shelter before the blast, now and again the white wings of a storm-tossed seabird. On the summit of the East Cliff the new searchlight was ready for experiment, but had not yet been tried. The officers in charge of it got it into working order, and in the pauses of onrushing mist swept with it the surface of the sea. Once or twice its service was most effective, as when a fishing boat, with gunwale under water, rushed into the harbour, able, by the guidance of the sheltering light, to avoid the danger of dashing against the piers. As each boat achieved the safety of the port there was a shout of joy from the mass of people on the shore, a shout which for a moment seemed to cleave the gale and was then swept away in its rush."​
     
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  18. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Dickens.

    They left the high-road, by a well-remembered lane, and soon approached a mansion of dull red brick, with a little weathercock-surmounted cupola, on the roof, and a bell hanging in it. It was a large house, but one of broken fortunes; for the spacious offices were little used, their walls were damp and mossy, their windows broken, and their gates decayed. Fowls clucked and strutted in the stables; and the coach-houses and sheds were over-run with grass. Nor was it more retentive of its ancient state, within; for entering the dreary hall, and glancing through the open doors of many rooms, they found them poorly furnished, cold, and vast. There was an earthy savour in the air, a chilly bareness in the place, which associated itself somehow with too much getting up by candle-light, and not too much to eat.​
     
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  19. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    On a slightly different note, here's an image John Prine's song "Saddle in the Rain" (and he's a master of the evocative phrase):

    Mr. Prine is currently trying to shake off a COVID-19 infection; his condition has been changed from "critical" to "stable." Let's hope he pulls through, and that we all do, too.
     
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