Daily Archives: June 28, 2007

The multitude of description, part two

Putting description into motion

Writing a technical description of something is not easy, but things are rarely static and are rarely stand-alone.

In Tolstoy’s and Dickens’s times, there were no telephones, no TVs, no Internet, no movie theaters. Traveling fifty miles was a long trip, even by train, and expensive. People knew their village or their neighborhoods, and very little else. Authors had to resort to lengthy technical or pictorial descriptions so their readers could “see” what the writer wanted them to see or so they could understand the mechanism of a contraption.

Today, however, most people will know what I’m talking about if I write about the green expanses of Ireland, the Sahara, or the smog of Los Angeles. They know what a toaster, a TV, or even a science lab looks like, so I don’t have to describe every little thing about them. What I need to do is to put those things into motion to give them life. Below are four places where adding motion can make them more “real” to the reader. As last time, first write motion into the place, then use the place as a setting for putting your character into motion. Remember to keep it short.

A bagel bakery containing bagels, bagging machines and aluminum pans

1. Contrary to other large bakeries, this bagel shop, as huge as it was, still used employees to make, fashion and bake. Its only concession to modern times was the bagging machines. Once the bagels were cool enough, the bakers would upturn the aluminum pans onto a conveyor belt that led to the machines that sorted, counted and filled the bagels into plastic bags which, when filled, were dumped into cardboard boxes.

2. Ellen couldn’t believe the noise, and the heat. The roar of the ovens, the swish of the conveyor belt, the hop and skip of the bagels marching towards the bagging machines, the clang of the aluminum pans as the bakers stacked them, produced a mad symphony that made her dizzy.

A view of Switzerland containing trees, mountains and railroad tracks.

1. A few spindly trees clung to the side of the mountains that stretched to the heavens, while the railroad tracks seemed to hug themselves so they could squeeze into narrow passages or through long, dark tunnels.

2. Ellen remembered the endless length of railroad tracks, squeezed between barren mountains on one side and clusters of spindly trees on the other.

A house on the night before Christmas, containing silence, stockings, and dreams.

1. The silence hung heavy while the empty Christmas stockings waited. Dreams tiptoed through the children’s slumber, adding a smile to their expectations.

2. Ellen tiptoed through the silence of late Christmas eve. For the past week she’d  dreamt that Santa filled her stocking with rocks. I don’t think so, she thought. She’d wait for him and tell him she’d been a good girl. Well, mostly good.

A health club containing a swimming pool, a basketball court, and Nautilus machines.
1. The water in the swimming pool sparkled under the neon lights. The basketball court waited quietly for the sounds of the game. The Nautilus machines held their breaths until they clinked and clanked with the strain of use.

2. Ellen plunged into the cool water of the swimming pool and winced at her still-sore muscles. She’d take a turn at the Nautilus machines after her swim so she’d be warmed up before the pick-up basketball game on the outside court. A week at the health club and she’d be good as new.

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