Mixtape
Blogging in Lieu of Comfort Food

Descriptions

You know, when you’re looking out for them, descriptions are everywhere.  Usually you read them and go on, or maybe you read them, think, “Oh how beautiful/interesting/nice/horrible/freakish/etc.” and go on.  However, when you’re trying to learn how to write descriptions (previous post here), every one you read stops you in your tracks. 

It makes it very difficult to read at any sort of pace.  That’s appropriate when the description is the point, as in this evocative description of Yellow Lady's Slippers at Beyond the Fields We Know:

...These wild colonies of Yellow Lady's Slippers are rare creatures indeed, and my slow treacherous climb up that rocky hillside has something of the nature of a pilgrimage. I find a small level place and sit there among the orchids, borrowing the smallest soupcon of their golden glow and listening to the wind moving among the blooms, through the grasses and over the old stones...
(read the rest here)

Or this lovely description, Scherzo for Winds, at Via Negativa, which also comes with a video and music (All three go together, but since the description comes last, getting caught up in it isn’t a problem.):

...A common fritillary weaves drunkenly past my right shoulder, seemingly unconcerned by the sudden strong gusts throwing it off course. (Does it have a course?) I think a new verb is called for: it serendips.

From time to time, maple seeds come helicoptering in and disappear into the tall grass. The evidence of past years’ red maple profligacy dot the field, seedlings just big enough for the deer to find...
(read, watch, and listen here)

But, when you’re trying to read a story, stopping at all of the descriptions interrupts the flow.  And, if it’s an excellent writer such as Terry Pratchett, who describes things that exist solely in his own head/world, it can be very intimidating (Okay, for me, the descriptions quoted above are intimidating too, along with being beautiful). 

For example:

Eric The bees of Death are big and black, they buzz low and somber, they keep their honey in combs of wax as white as altar candles.  The honey is black as night, thick as sin and sweet as treacle. (p. 1, Eric)
Or:

The River Ankh, which never what you might call sparkled, oozed between its banks as if the heat had sucked all the spirit out of it.  The streets were empty, oven-brick hot. (p. 3)

Or:

All books of magic have a life of their own.  Some of the really energetic ones can't simply be chained to the bookshelves; they have to be nailed shut or kept between steel plates.  Or, in the case of the volumes on tantric sex magic for the serious connoisseur, kept under very cold water to stop them from bursting into flames and scorching their severely plain covers. (p. 5)

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t write fiction.  That’s not for a lack of stories; I’ve always got at least two or three going on in my head.  In fact, the problem is stopping them.  Teaching aerobics takes my full attention; taking someone else’s class doesn’t.  The stories keep popping up.  Singing in choir?  I'm busy: they’re silent.  Listening to the choir director working with the tenors basses altos okay, anyone else but the sopranos?  Yes, I have to work at keeping the stories at bay.

P5210040 They’re actually very useful because I rarely have to be bored.  There’s always a performance in my mind to entertain me.  Well, except for places like school where I was supposed to be listening so that I could answer some easy question the teacher tried to spring on me.  

However, I never try to write the stories down because the descriptions would stymie me.  It’s not just that I feel that I can’t do them.  When I do try to write descriptions, I feel like I’m being either pretentious or pedantic (other people's descriptions don't usually strike me that way, just mine).  When I describe things, it feels like either I’m trying to be something I’m not or I’m just being totally boring.  I’m not saying this makes any sense, but it is what keeps me from writing descriptions.

I've been starting slowly this week, coming up with just a few words to describe things on my walks:  "the feeling of space between me and the distant trees," "the dwindling of birdsong as twilight comes on" (nope, that one sounded pretentious), or "the shading of the pink into the orange on the rose" (clunky).

I’m still working on a description for the writing workshop, though there's absolutely no way I’m reading it out loud!

[Now, for those of you who have noticed, it would not be polite to point out to me that I’m doing an awful lot of writing about being unable to write.  And, if you do point it out, I will be forced to chatter at you about how shy and introverted I am.]

[Rhododendron photo from last week at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill.]

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