Today Nancy talked about effective description–that it needs to be specific, tonal, and interactive. By this she means that it’s not enough to say someone has a beer–whether it’s Oly or Blue Moon matters, because it tells you something about the person. For description to be tonal, it needs to take on characteristics based on the viewpoint character’s state of mind. The shade of a tree can be cooling, sheltering, restful, or depressing and sinister, depending on who is standing in it and where their mind is at. Interactive description involves a character coming into contact with the thing being described. So sure the coverlet is red, but standing in a room saying the coverlet is red is just kind of boring, so you say instead that she threw the red coverlet to the floor.
This came up a lot during the critique of my novel excerpt. I have what Nancy calls “White Room Syndrome,” and I know it. I even have “White City Syndrome” because I’ve been afraid to just go ahead and decide what city it’s taking place in (Minneapolis is where I originally thought it should be, and I think I’ll just go with it). I have a much easier time imagining people interacting with each other than with their environments, so there’s a lot of scene-setting that just hasn’t happened, or in some cases, happened too late. So I have a lot of work to do in that area.
Walter talked more about plotting today, which is another area where I am in sore need of help. I won’t recount his entire lecture here, but some of the techniques for building plot that he went over are:
-Doubling, where the main character’s problems and situation are mirrored by another character, who takes a different approach to it.
-Side story, subplot. Subplots should reflect on main character and his/her problems.
-Foreshadowing. Crucial for surprises, particularly changes in character.
-Deleted affair, where the entire story occurs immediately after an event we never see, such as a war.
-Raising the stakes.
-Reveals and reversals.
-Literalizing the metaphor.
-Frame story and framing device.
In Found Objects I’m trying to use doubling, side story/subplots, and reveals and reversals. We’ll see what else I end up with. I apologized again to the class for not having my outline done, and Walter asked if I would mind having my novel used in a class plotting exercise on Friday. Mind? I am SO GRATEFUL for the help! I really want this thing to work–I love the characters and theme but damn do I not know how to plot something as long as a novel. Short stories, no probem. Novels, I’m at a total loss.
The class really seems to be gelling. They’re all just such nice people, sincere and pleasant to be around. I wish we had a little more time to socialize, but we’re all working too hard for now. Maybe this weekend.
So far, so good. My only complaint is that my stomach hasn’t stopped hurting since I got up here. I was talking to my suitemate and she said hers did the same thing at high elevations in Colorado. It’s pain, not queasiness, which would be more readily associated with the elevation–but then when everyone in the house has the stomach flu and is hurling I just get pain for several days, so maybe this is what queasy feels like to me. It’s worst when I eat, so dinner is kind of a tense affair for me as I try not to grimace my way through a delicious meal. I’m really hoping it resolves soon, because it sucks and it’s making it hard to sleep, or eat, or smile.
Our assignment tonight was to write a paragraph of no more than seven sentences describing a person alone in a room in a house, doing something. I still have that and one more critique to do, so I’d better get to it.