Here you can read what other writers in our community have written, and my comments.
Becoming Rembrandt: Description Revisited
The homework for the post, “Becoming Rembrandt: Description Revisited,” was to write a descriptive paragraph. Here are two, written by our subscribers.
I entered the space. Dark, oh so very dark. Hanging from space was a
configuration of lights, five rows by twenty deep all five feet apart.
The lamps, with a focused beam of white light, moved in formation, in
patterns, no noise, not fast, but hypnotically, creating pools of
light on a black floor.
Silhouettes of other people emerged and disappeared as the beams
moved. The air was black – everything was black – except these pencils
of soft light. Everything was cold even these lights. They were
cold, cynical and surreal.
Well done, Maree! I could definitely see and feel the mid-winter festival you are describing. Two things: I would not use the word “space” twice on the first line, and I would add a few more commas in order for us to understand the paragraph better. But as it stands, it’s terrific.
It was a gentle garden party, suffused with the warmth of sunlight. Guests poked themselves into warm, windless pockets, their glasses twinkling and laughter tinkling lightly over the drifting piano music. Chilly air rose from the treed gully that stood border-like between the sloping cultivated land surrounding the house and the sharply rising, triangular hill on its other side. Smoke from the roasting lamb swaddled those huddling around the cooking fire. That part of the lawn was already in the cool blueness of shade, the sentry hill blocking more and more of the sun’s rays. One by one the guests either rolled downhill into the creeping cold to thaw out by the fire or were drawn like a warm draft into the house, where a potbelly glowed and the music continued.
Another nice piece. I especially liked the “blueness of shade” phrase; it evoked both color and temperature for me. And I can really feel the sun setting. Most of your verbs and adjectives are spot on, although “rolled downhill” made me think that they literally rolled down the hill like kids do. I like the contrast between the cold and the heat.
Thanks to everyone who sent in a paragraph!
The Uses and Misuses of Description
“Homework” from my last post, “The Uses and Misuses of Description,” was to describe a seventeen-year-old girl and a bicycle using what you learned about description in my post. Here are examples from two readers, Sharon and Raluca. Thanks for your contributions!
Sharon: It was the basket she had always dreamed of. Lilac and white lattice work, flat side against the handlebars; rounded toward the front, with a perfect ring – not too tinny, not too shrill – to the shiny bell attached at the top. Sarah had to have it. The condition of the used bike hardly mattered. It was all about the basket. If this wasn’t the most mature thought process for a seventeen year old girl, so be it.
Great job, Sharon! You described the basket perfectly, and it was very creative of you to choose a basket as the main subject of your description. We all knew it was for a bicycle without your having to tell us. That is great. The only thing I’d do differently is to delete the word “used” before “bike.” The word “condition” explains this in a more nuanced way.
Raluca: Oh my god, she exclaimed, this bike was awesome. It had all the sleekness of a panther, a black panther with white stripes running down its back. Her own bike looked like a scruffy dog next to it. The rear guard was missing and she had never got around to clean the mud off the pedals. It was yellow, but not the cheery, buttery, hipster approved kind of yellow, no, her bike had all the coziness of an industrial accident. It glowed in the night! Her father told her it was to make sure all drivers would see her come a mile a way, and although she loved her father dearly, and loved the sentiment, at the moment she would have happily exchanged the safety of her bike for the coolness of the black panther. “The black panther”, that’s a good name, she though.
Raluca, I love the feel of this paragraph. The words you use get us into the head of the girl and evoke for us the emotions she is feeling. Your metaphors are really good; not boring and not too hackneyed and dramatic. Your use of teenage words helped us figure out the basic age of the girl, without having to use the word “seventeen.”
My New Weekly Schedule
As promised in my last two blogs, which you can read here and here, I am hereby giving you my weekly schedule, which I created with the help of John Meese’s “Daily Life Navigation,” which you can get when you sign up for his blog, here. I welcome comments and suggestions to my schedule, as it’s a work-in-progress.
6:00 AM — Wake up, dress, “toilette,” morning prayers (Sun.: throw in a laundry load)
7:00 AM — Breakfast, personal learning (Sun.: throw in another load)
7:30 AM — Two hours of freelance work, 1/2 hour on email (in that order)
10:00 AM — Break (Sun.: another load)
10:30 AM — Work on blog
12:30 PM — Lunch and break (Sun.: I’ll give you three guesses)
1:30 PM — Freelance work
3:00 PM — go jogging with hubs
4:00 PM — Afternoon prayers, personal learning
4:30 PM — Online course
5:00 PM — Continue with online course or look at Facebook and LinkedIn
5:30 PM — Make dinner, make phone calls, house stuff
6:30 PM — Dinner, phone calls, down time, unexpected tasks, etc.
7:30 PM — Read material pertinent to my blog and business
8:00 PM — Grow email list and/or continue reading business stuff
9:00 PM — Discretionary time: reading, knitting, crossword puzzles, and other Alzheimer’s prevention activities
10:00 PM — Get ready for bed, downtime, make lunch for tomorrow
11:00 PM — Bed
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday
6:00 AM — Wake up, dress, “toilette,” put on makeup, morning prayers
7:15 AM — Breakfast, personal learning
7:45 AM — Two hours of freelance work
9:45 AM — Get ready for work
9:55 AM — Leave for work
10:30 AM-4:30 PM — Work and errands (includes lunch and afternoon prayers)
5:00 PM-ish — Home; wind down and vegetate
5:30 PM — Email and catching up with home stuff
6:30 PM — Make dinner
7:00 PM — Dinner, phone calls, down time, unexpected tasks, etc.
8:00 PM — Mon. and Wed.: read material pertinent to my blog and business; Thurs.: start preparing for the Sabbath
8:30 PM — Online course
9:00 PM — Continue with online course if need be; discretionary time: reading, knitting, crossword puzzles, and other Alzheimer’s prevention activities
10:00 PM — Get ready for bed, downtime (Wed.: make lunch for tomorrow)
11:00 PM — Bed
6:00 AM — Wake up, dress, “toilette,” morning prayers
7:00 AM — Breakfast, personal learning
7:30 AM — Two hours of freelance work, 1/2 hour on email (in that order)
10:00 AM — Break
10:30 AM — Work on blog
12:00 PM — Lunch and go into Sabbath mode — jogging about 3 pm with hubs
These are the three best telephone conversations from readers of my post, “Say What? The Telephone Conversation as a Plot and Characterization Device,” which ran on September 17, 2015. Text is in blue; my comments are in red.
Oh…darn that phone, who the devil is calling…Hello…Police? Sure, I’m his mother…My son? Can’t be, he was in his room at 11 pm, so how could he have been in a bar brawl at 10:45?…We watched the 11 pm news together in his room on his TV at 11 pm…What???…Sorry, officer, you have the wrong Jones boy, my son is a redhead, and he doesn’t drive a motorcycle. And now that I’m fully awake, I just looked into his room and my son is fast asleep!
Nice one, FH. The mother’s sleepy grumbling at the beginning is realistic. Furthermore, we understand exactly what the police officer is saying on the other end of the line via the rest of the conversation. I especially liked the “We watched the 11 pm news” sentence. Repeating “11 pm” has the right amount of snarkiness in it to communicate that the mother is annoyed that the police officer is doubting her knowledge. The last sentence is the only weak point. I would intimate that the mother is walking down the hall with her cordless phone: “One second, this can all be solved by my checking his room…yeah, just as I’ve been trying to tell you: my son is in his room fast asleep!”
From CU (I have trimmed it somewhat):
Excuse me, is this the police station…..
Well my phone just rang. No my caller id used to work but then my phone got wet…. No I didn’t drop it in the toilet….
No I don’t have a smart phone….Yes, I know it’s primitive but that’s the way we do it, anyway, please can you help me…
My teenage son went to the Ukraine for the holidays…No, we’re not, but I thought it would be good for him…No my husband was opposed but I insisted and….
Anyway, the holiday ended two days ago and I haven’t heard from him.
No, I told you before, no smartphone, I can’t Whatsapp him…
So at 2 am I heard the phone ringing but by the time I got there there was no one on the line and then I checked his bed and he wasn’t there…
I forgot to ask when he‘d be back. It didn’t seem relevant. I mean, once the holidays are over who stays there, but he’s still not home….
Well do you have a way of getting in touch with him? It’s a dangerous place there, the Ukraine….
Yes, he’s not a foolish kid. He has a certain amount of street smarts but he’s only seventeen and he doesn’t speak a word of Ukrainian…
It may not have been so smart to send him…
I mean there are drugs there and other sorts of temptations and now I don’t know where he is…
Doesn’t that make him into a missing person?
Can’t you do something?
Call the army. That’s what they did during the earthquake in Nepal?
How about Interpol?
Do you have connections with the Ukrainian police? They must deal with missing persons…
You mean don’t you have any arrangements for a missing person….
He’s my son…
He’s a baby. He’s not even eighteen….
Please don’t hang up on me…
I like this conversation because it’s descriptive. You can feel the mother’s worry in the prose. The conversation gets more and more desperate, and the end is poignant. I’ll bet most of the mothers who just read it felt a bit choked up, no? The author was able to convey these feelings to the reader. Even though at times the mother repeats what the officer says (“No I didn’t drop it in the toilet”), it’s very effective here, as it conveys her frustration with the officer’s irrelevant questions. The only issue is that I was confused about who is calling whom. It wasn’t until the author wrote “So at 2 am I heard the phone ringing” that I understood that it was the mother who called the police because at 2 am she got a call but missed it, checked her son’s room, and saw that he wasn’t back from the Ukraine yet. I would suggest to the author that she make clearer who called whom and why.
This one is from SG:
“Ehem…Hullo????” Stella croaked. “Yes, this is she – and this better be good at 2:00 a.m… Officer WHO from WHERE???…Oh dear. Is he alright?…Just a bit drunk??? Officer, I swear I’ve never seen him drink anything stronger than coffee….I certainly did NOT know that he was out. When I went to bed he was watching TV….Officer, I realize that but a mother has to get some sleep too, you know…Alright, alright. And what if I don’t come down to the station?…Well, that would teach the little monster a lesson, wouldn’t it?…On a bench??? Don’t you have a cot or a reclining chair, at least?…I know. I know. But he’s still just a little boy….Alright, Officer, I’ll be right there…”
Another nice job. The word “croaked” conveys sleepiness and late-night phone answering, and it’s a great verb. We know exactly what the police officer said to her in every part of the dialogue. I liked “Officer WHO from WHERE?” – it’s a realistic way for a mother to respond, without spoon feeding the reader. “Just a bit drunk?” is great: it enables the author to relay the information without resorting to parroting the officer, i.e., “He’s drunk?”