Saturday, September 1, 2012

Flecks of gold were swallowed up

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
~Anton Chekhov

The Penslayer has challenged, and I'm up for it.

Description, as I said in my last post, is hard for me.  Hardest of all is that elusive thing called describing your characters.  Sure, it can be done easily enough.  "Margot was sixteen years old.  She was tallish and had long dark brown hair, dark brown eyes and a pointy kind of chin.  You are now getting verrrrrry sleeeeeeepy..." (Or at least you will be quite soon if I continued on in such a fashion.)

If I wanted to read flat, flavorless here's-what-she-looked-like description, I'd go back to first grade and re-read Peter and Jane literature.  It's description, yes.  It serves the purpose, yes.  But it's not done well.  And though I'm not the one to pass judgment on what has been done well, I can read--as can all of you--and I can see for myself--as can all of you--when something has not been done well.

This is where I should stick in the disclaimer about how I don't think my description is very good and blah-de-blah, but the thing is-- I actually think the following descriptions are pretty good and I'll tell you why in a moment.  (Um, I will disclaim that everything's subject to lots and lots of editing and this is only the first draft and more blah-de-blahs that you aren't interested in.)  The serious ones from Sky come first and then at the end I couldn't resist sticking in a tidbit from The Butterwick Boardinghouse Detectives.

Philippe wasn’t any taller. His face was just as it had always been—a little more lined and thin, perhaps—and he still had the tiny, smooth scar on his chin from that mock duel with his friend Pierre when he was fourteen. His voice was the same, his hair had kept its curl—though the color seemed closer to dirt than sand at present—and he still squinted much longer than necessary when he came inside after bright sun. And yet something was different, something Margot couldn’t put into words for Fina and wouldn't have wanted to.

In this paragraph that begins Sky's second chapter, I introduced Philippe through Margot's perspective.  Her brother has been away for nearly a year, and so she naturally looks at him with an almost critical gaze, hoping that he'll be exactly the same.  (Of course he isn't--no one is after eleven months--but that doesn't stop Margot from hoping that he might be unchanged.)  In this paragraph, you learn that Philippe has blond but rather dirty hair with a bit of curl to it, that his face is thin with crinkles around his eyes and he has a scar on his chin.  Yet it's more interesting to read about in the snippet than in that boring sentence.

It had taken Margot far too long to reconcile herself to the emptiness in her sister’s eyes. Amber had turned to mud, radiance to shadows. Flecks of gold had been swallowed up in a mist that never faded under the sun—because it could not see the sun.

I've told you before that Fina is blind, but in that sense you have an advantage over the someday-reader of Sky.  Because I haven't yet told the reader in so many words that Fina can't see.  I've chosen instead to hint at it (later there will be a flashback in which Margot remembers the fever that took Fina's eyesight) and for now I only refer to her blindness sparingly.  But in this case, I used it to tell the reader what color Fina's eyes are--how they used to be, and how they are now.


Mareta’s hand found Margot’s, and her chin trembled like an arrow in the hand of a frightened archer. Sweat slipped from her palm and clung to Margot’s. “I need more water,” she said, quite clearly and without the slightest touch of anxiety. Her voice, after all, was what soothed the baby’s tears and comforted him during the fever-dreams. She could not allow it to slip and let in fear or alarm.

Mareta is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful character in my story, yet I've been hesitant to tell the reader how she looks.  (If you're curious, take a gander at the picture on the top left.)  Mareta is the kind of woman who radiates beauty from the inside out, however, and it's that shining inner loveliness that I've tried to communicate through the way she moves and speaks.  Even in the snippet above, where she's dealing with a desperately sick child, she keeps her composure and manages to appear calm when she does not feel so.

And then just because writing nonsense is fun (and fun is good)...

Then came the day when Jack was clunked on the head by that all-knowing specter called Realization, who informed him that Deirdre was a very beautiful person and then proceeded to follow up the clunk with several not-so-gentle whunks and thunks to punish him for not being clunked at an earlier date. The whunks and thunks also served to remind poor battered Jack of the exact shade of dark brown manifested in Deirdre’s eyes and the precise filter of light that made itself known through her hair when she wore it down. However, he was so busy apologizing to Realization for being such a knobble-head that he didn’t bother to think about what nice cheekbones she had until three AM when he was trying to go to sleep and it was too late to ring her up and tell her so.

6 comments:

Kendra E. Ardnek said...

They sound pretty good. Of course, it's not completely clear whether they're stunning when they're out of context ... but out of context, they're pretty good!

Rachel (Cynthia) Heffington said...

I do declare I like these bits. And good work on describing the blind girl's eyes without saying she's blind! A hard thing, that. And the ending of that last bit made me chuckle.

Elizabeth Rose said...

Contrary to your opinion, m'dear, these are utterly lovable snippets. I'm so glad you chose to post some of your more descriptive pieces; I never knew how good you are at imagery! The quote about Fina's blindness was my favorite. "Flecks of gold had been swallowed up in a mist that never faded under the sun—because it could not see the sun." Your words cut into my heart sharper than any knife.

Jenny Freitag said...

You may as yet be uncertain about your skills in description, but one thing I have noticed, if I have noticed anything at all, is that you get the sense of it: you know what good description is and you know how to make it. So I don't think you need to worry too much about your description. If you keep plugging away, I'm confident you'll get it firmly under your belt.

As to these pieces, I think they are splendid. Philippe's section was superb and very realistic. You gave me a sense that I ought to know him, I ought to have some eleven-months-previous image of him with which to compare, and that the comparison wasn't quite meeting up... In fact, you put me in Margot's position. THAT is spot on. I adore the "flecks of gold" passage (of course!), and the inner strength, the almost physical sense of pulling oneself together, that I got in the passage with Mareta. And poor Jack. That transitioning stage in a boy's life can be like that. ;)

Excellent word-play, Miss Dashwood!

Miss Dashwood said...

Kendra,
Thank you!

Rachel,
I'm glad I could give you a chuckle-- with Sky I feel like I get too serious on occasion. That's when I turn to Detectives for a thorough dose of nonsense. The poor story has, as yet, no real plot, but it's fun to scribble at from time to time.

Elizabeth Rose,
Thank you so much for your sweet encouragement! Imagery often makes me uncomfortable, feeling as if I'm being too fanciful, but as I'm writing more of it it's becoming more natural, I think. Practice, practice.

Jenny,
Thank you so much for commenting! I'm a huge fan of your blog, and I have to say, seeing your name in my comment box made my day.
I feel too that I ought to know Philippe better-- the problem is, I don't as yet. There's still so much of his story that is untold, and it's coming to me only in little bits and snippets.
I'm so glad you got the sense of strength from Mareta's passage! Feeling something myself and translating it to words so someone else can feel it are very different things and I was concerned that that passage didn't communicate what I was trying to say.
Thanks so much for your helpful and sweet comment!

Katy-Anne said...

I think that these descriptions are very good. Especially because I have tried to write descriptions several times and failed miserably. You somehow do it so that I forget I'm reading a description and actually see the object you're describing.