EXERCISE An Exercise in Description

Discussion in 'REFINING WRITING' started by Peregrine, Mar 19, 2016.

  1. ~An Exercise in Description~

    Description can be one of the trickiest parts about writing, because the best descriptive writing requires one of the hardest skills to master:

    Show, don't tell.

    But, the only way to become better at anything is to practice! So, for your enjoyment and edification, a descriptive challenge~ This exercise draws inspiration from a descriptive exercise that can be found in “The Art of Fiction” by John Gardner. The instructions for this particular rendition of the exercise are quite simple:

    Describe an old airplane (or other old mechanical method of transportation, such as a car,
    train, or boat, if planes do not pique your fancy)
    as seen from the perspective of a person who just lost their job and is facing eviction.

    Do not mention work (which includes the former job), money,
    the economy, or a search for shelter.

    That's it! Write as much or as little as you like, in whatever depth you please. If you would like critiques from those reading, myself included, please specify that somewhere in the post. Otherwise, only good things will be said!

  2. (I'd love critique on this, even though I don't know much about cars haha. Pardon the italics, I always use them when I write first person to help distance myself and get into character. o3o)

    All the spring in my step was gone as I plodded down the front staircase, clutching the house key in my hand like it'd jump out at any second. I told myself not to look back at the house; it was better if I didn't stay too attached to it. Instead, my eyes were set on the car in the driveway. She was an old run-down hunk of junk, but she was mine. Just about the last thing I had left that I could rightfully call mine, too. I couldn't help but run my fingers over the rusted metal. It was cool, not yet warmed by the July sun that was poking over the horizon, but the roughness of the peeling paint was distracting. Part of its character, though. Every scratch in the moss-green chassis, every stain in the cream-colored seat covers, every crumb or loose coin caught in between the cushions, they all had a story. Maybe the old jalopy would carry me far away, somewhere I could have a stable life again. Somewhere I could make a new story.
  3. A very good start @Moogle-Girl ! I'll throw out a few of my own thoughts on it, which you are more than welcome to take or leave as you will. :)

    The roughness of peeling paint is a great way to show that your character has no money, because he or she hasn't had the opportunity to fix it, or buy a new car at all. Pushing little details like that further, to more trivial things that could be cheaply fixed, such as a broken headlight lens or a side mirror that is held on by duct tape (or even a crack in the windshield that catches that hot July sun :D) would really help promote a sense of poverty and desperation.

    Where I feel that desperation and sense of immediate urgency gets lost is how... endearingly you describe the car. Your character sounds fairly optimistic, reminiscing about stories the car tells, and anticipating it to carry him or her somewhere better. That hopeful tone makes it seem far more like a willing departure, even though your character's life has been unstable, than a forced eviction due to an inability to make house payments, immediately after the loss of a job that was probably the only thing keeping them afloat. If your character doesn't have anywhere to fall back on, that car is likely to be the only shelter they have for a while, and if it is that old and run down (and who knows if they'll even be able to afford gas money?) it won't exactly be the most pleasant place to live, and if they can't take a shower and wash their clothes, how are they ever going to get another job?

    Of course, those specific concerns are things your character can't directly think about, due to the restrictions of the challenge, but the stress of all those things is likely to weigh upon them, yeah? That kind of stress is generally the kind of thing that might keep people from focusing on fond stories about, well, anything. Detail choice is going to be highly significant in revealing your character's state of mind, and how they are feeling about this situation.
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  4. That's true! I didn't think it could be interpreted in that way. I suppose I was going for more of a wistful feel, like he's running away from his problems, but it really doesn't get the severity of his situation across on his own. How about this as a continuation? I might be pushing the restrictions a little, haha. >w>;

    But no, I couldn't be thinking about romantic stuff like that. I'd always dreamed about moving out of this backwater town, and I had the chance now, but that heap of a car wasn't getting me anywhere interesting. One of the side mirrors was about to fall off, nevermind the rear view, plus the oil'd been leaking since yesterday. It was too easy for me to ignore all the flaws before, when it only had to get me one or two places that weren't too far off, but it was all stacking up, and there wasn't any way I could be getting it fixed now of all times. And besides, even if I could go somewhere far, far away... what would I do then? There wouldn't be another rug out there to replace the one they'd pulled out from under me. There'd be no running away this time, I told myself. No more of that. But that just meant I'd have to face this head on, and, well...

    I sank down onto the porch steps and stared at the car, hoping I'd see an answer in the scratches of the old, green paint.
  5. Yup! Definitely pushing it a bit. :) That's okay! Great attempt, and thanks for being the first to hop in. :D
  6. Sure, thanks for the critique!