Daily Archives: June 25, 2007

The multitude of description, part one

Another difficult part of writing is using description. I’m not a fan of long descriptions, à la Tolkien or Tolstoy, taking pages and pages to painstakingly build the setting into which the protagonists with play, work, fight, love and die. I’m not a fan either of the minute description style used in romance novels, for example, to give a near photographic image of the protagonists in the story. I’ve always preferred using my imagination to see a character and identify with him or her.

So today we’re starting on description exercises. Again, I invite you to do the exercises yourself and post the result in the comments section. The first in the series of exercises on description is about what I just talked about: keeping it short.

The exercise: For each of a hot air balloon, a fashion show, a modern kitchen, and a gun, use a paragraph to describe the function of it. The descriptions can be totally biased, or of a journalistic or encyclopedic tone, but the purpose is to use as few words as possible to create a picture.

Then write a one- or two-sentence description that could fit into a story. Here are my feeble attempts. (Note: description is, for me, one of the hardest thing to do, so you’re also welcome to constructively critique my writing –no flaming, please).

A Hot Air Balloon

1. A hot air balloon is usually made of flexible pieces of material sewn together to make a bag two stories high. The top has the shape of a ball, while the bottom tapers into a funnel-like aperture. Over this pouch is cast a net, its ends attached to a wicker gondola large enough to hold people and a gas heater. The balloon soars upward by filling the pouch with a lighter-than-air gas such as helium. Since it has no propulsion system, it goes where the wind goes. To rise, the balloon is filled with more heated air; to go down, the hot air is released through a series of openings.

2. Ellen lifted her head when she heard a whooshing sound in time to see the hot air balloon, so low she could almost feel the flame of the gas heater on her face.

A Fashion Show

1. As long as women and men want to make a statement with clothes, others will use art and cloth to design them. In order to exhibit their creations, designers have invented the fashion show. People interested in viewing the new designs sit around three sides of a long elevated platform, called a runway. Models –and through the years increasingly tall, slender, almost androgynous men and women– walk toward the audience, showing off hats, skirts, dresses, shoes and often more bare skin than material to the blasting sound of music. They flit and flutter, in a type of walk that is almost like a dance. They stop at the edge of the platform, wait to be admired and photographed, turn around then walk back and disappear to be replaced by another creation, worn by another model.

2. Ellen took her assigned seat at the back of the room. Covering a fashion show was not her idea of influential journalism and she’d be damned if she’d enjoy watching a gaggle of anorexic cranes unhinge their hips while walking, pouting and looking like they couldn’t be bothered.

A Modern Kitchen

1. The modern kitchen is not complete without major appliances such as a refrigerator to keep food cool and fresh, a stove and oven to cook it, and a dishwasher to clean the dishes and pans the cook used to prepare it. Some, however, would say those are the basics, but not the only essential instruments for anyone who has to work in a kitchen. A microwave oven speeds up heating and cooking food. An electric can opener saves the wrist. Then there is the electric juicer for homemade juices, the waffle iron for those Sunday brunches, the deep-fryer for that serving of French fries with the burger, the coffee-maker –and espresso machine, for those morning lattes– a toaster oven to reheat that slice of pizza, a blender for those frozen daiquiries. In fact, if you can think of a mechanical way of doing something in the kitchen, it has probably already been invented.

2. Ellen looked around and sneered when she saw that Darrell had surrounded himself with all possible modern appliances, from electric juicer to waffle iron to walk-in freezer. They gleamed silver against the granite counters and the dark cupboard doors, so pristine she knew he’d never used any of them.

A gun

1. A gun is a metal weapon that shoots bullets or shells through a tube. The bullet is projected at great speed when a hammer hits it, thus igniting a charge of gunpowder. The hammer is moved by a trigger, a piece of metal pulled with the index finger. The explosion propels the bullet out of the tube.

2. Ellen froze when she saw Darrell pointing a gun at her, his eyes hard, his jaw set. She heard him cock the hammer and knew she was dead before he pulled the trigger.

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