Thursday, December 26, 2013

An Exhaustive Room Description


I wrote 78% of my Thursday-due blogpost, but I like it enough to keep working on it, so I'm not giving it to you yet. I'll polish it up and post it another day. I'm sorry that I occasionally give you stuff that I don't mind vomiting out half-finished, because:
 A) I'm vomiting it out half-finished,
B) You therefore know I don't think it's worth the effort to polish. 

Heh, ok, so sometimes I'm just a slow writer. Whatever. Anyway!
Here's a writing exercise I did in my living room, about my living room. The prompt (given in bold) was supplied by Mary Robinette Kowal. You can find it yourself at True to the prompt, it's long, repetitive, rambly and unedited. Very long. And boring. Since it's only about my living room, I pretty much wrote about couches for a straight 30 minutes. If you really want to keep reading, consider yourself warned.

Exercise 1 
Sit in a location and describe it using third person. You are the point of view character, but instead of writing in first person, write in third. You must keep writing constantly for thirty minutes. Try to use all five senses, which include what is heard, smelt, felt, seen, and tasted. Do not describe people in the location, except where they cause the room to react. For instance, someone shifting in their chair would cause a squeak in the room.

The room had three sofas, each a different color and material. The oldest, and by far the most expensive, was a red leather affair, wide and possessed of a haughty elegance. The second sofa was brown plush, fluffy and deep. You could tell by the number of wrinkles crisscrossing the cushions that it was the softest of the three. People who sat it in would often startle as they sank far deeper into the sofa than expected, only to be lulled by the gentle support and smooth caress of the cushions. The third couch was obviously the most junior. It had a corduroy green cover that was a little too large, and bagged and sagged in odd places, making the smaller couch look like it had stolen the skin off a green elephant. Since the other two sofas were bare, the cover gave the third a distinctly sheepish look, as if it was trying to dress up to impress the others. Even worse, it wasn't really a full sofa. More of a loveseat, it was. Only the desiccated pull-out bed made it paradoxically heavier than either of the two full-fledged couches.
 The low hardwood table was stained a lovely walnut color that matched the first couch. It gave the living room a completed feel, almost  as if it were a real parlor or living room rather than the frugal entryway to a college bachelors apartment. Even the chips and scratches along its carved legs could not detract from its solidity.
The room overall had the feel of a room that had put together in a mixture of careful eclecticism and slapdash opportunism. Which, in fact, it was. The rich plush of the leather couch stood at odds with the cheap green-covered loveseat across from it, but somehow they both seem to belong to the room, if not to each other. The TV was huge, but not ostentatious, since it was an old square box that was as thick as it was wide. It should have dominated the room, but it didn't, probably because it knew it was only the second-hand gift of convenience given by the former occupants to the current ones. It had been a gift of convenience for the giver, not the receiver, as had most of the furniture in the room. The bookshelf (a light-colored Ikea piece) didn't even have a back, but was simply pressed against a wall and laden with so many books that one would be hard-pressed to notice that it didn't even have a back. The bookshelf had been literally pulled from the trash on a dumpster-diving expedition, rescued, washed, and put to good use.
The entertainment center beneath the TV held a bundle of connector cables for hooking up laptops, a few DVDs that ranged from Michael Bay to Miyazaki, and a set of family board games without even the light layer of dust that the DVD player held.

The room denoted an unusual amount of culture and taste for a college bachelor's pad. There was a full piano in one corner, a guitar in another, and piles of literary classics interspersed with Calvin and Hobbes collections on every surface that could carry reading material.

The floor was hardwood, a little dusty from frequent use but otherwise clean and well-kept. The hum of the AC was interspersed with the thumps of slamming car doors in the parking lot outside as neighbors left for work.
A pile of rolled and folded blankets were tucked in a basket in front of the guitar. The room was completely still, save for the green row of lights in the modem, which flickered at a frantic pace.  All the rest of the room was immobile.

Two paintings stood above the two full couches, each unconsciously matching the tone of the couch with their frame.

The only poster in the room was a plastic-paned one of Michael Scott, hanging above the piano. In the evenings, the soft yellow lamp on the piano would turn on, and the manager of Dunder-Mifflin would appraise the room with a cool eye and crossed arms, a glowing benevolence as comically out-of-place as he had ever been in The Office.

Exercise 2
In puppetry we say that “focus indicates thought.” What your character is looking at is what they are thinking about.  As a writer, you can only show the audience one thing at a time, so the order in which you show them and, more importantly, what you choose to show them becomes a door into your character’s thoughts.
Look at the room again.  What’s the first thing a ballet dancer would notice about it? A lumberjack? A teacher? A cook? A child?
Exercise:  Write a short description of the same room from the point of view of a character. Pick a role for your character which is easily defined, such a dancer, janitor, or child.
The emphasis here is in choosing which items the character would notice first and the order in which they would notice them. Your reader should be able to identify the character’s role without ever needing to name it. 

The first good sign upon entering the room was the smell. It was the smell of regular cleaning and warm, constant use.  As if someone was baking fresh bread in a laundromat.  No matter how much you tried, no amount of frantic last-minute cleaning would make an apartment smell like this. That was enough to forgive the piles of mail addressed to graduates that had moved away semesters ago, collected on two coffee tables and the top of one bookshelf. A quick scan was enough to confirm initial impressions. No food stains, no hidden piles of dirty laundry or trash. No badly-disguised pile of dishes with a blanket over them. All more or less in order.

The more permanent aspects of the room were not in as good a state. Though the furniture was nice and artwork tasteful yet unassuming, the walls behind them had the tell-tale scratches of eight or twelve moves since they were last repainted. The hardwood floor was even worse. It had been mopped not too long ago, and swept within a week, but there was no covering up the scuffs and scratches of sliding sofa legs and the deep grooves cut piano wheels, leading to the corner where the culprit instrument meekly stood. 

Ok! So that was it. If you read all that, feel free to make any comments on the exercises, results etc., and to guess the occupation of my Point of View Character in Exercise 2. First correct answer in the comments wins! 

Also I just realized that since I've spent the last week with family I should have talked about how cool we all are and what great times we've had this Christmas. So... sorry, I didn't. I do that to you all in person. Love you!

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