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 Chapter 5: Description; To picture in words by Chris Lombardi

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PostSubject: Chapter 5: Description; To picture in words by Chris Lombardi   Fri Apr 24, 2009 12:53 pm

About twelve years ago, my best friend was reading a draft story I'd written about a woman recently returned from years in a far-off country, grieving the lover she had left behind. In one scene Ruth, the protagonist, is insomniac and considers calling her lover four time zones away. Or rather, she gets up at 2 A.M. and stares at the telephone, an old, black instrument with the battered dial, even though it's the late 1980s:

The light from the street made the phone a ghost.

My friend, reading this, looked up from the page and cried out: ""Where do you get such descriptions? You never notice anything!"
And she's right. When walking down the street together, she always the one to point things out, while I remained absorbed in my thoughts. But it seems that even back then I noticed details from my peripheral vision and filed them for later use. I learned, in the back of my brain somewhere, the heft of a hammer in the palm, the way a set of keys feels like home. Somewhere I noticed the weird shadows cast by the city lights that turned Familiar objects eerie. When I was imagining Ruth contemplating the telephone she (and I) saw a ghost.

My first teacher of fiction was the novelist and much-heralded writing teacher John Gardner, who taught that any good writer is creating, with words on paper, "a vivid and continuous dream". By vivid he meant a dream that feels as sharp and focused as real life. By continuous he meant a dream that remains vivd, not allowing the reader's mind to wanter out of the fictional world.

When I think of description, I think of film, which is quite similar to a dream state. Think about it. You enter a darkened theater and for a couple of hours you are enveloped by an alternate reality that leaves you blinking as you emerge. With the movie, it's the filmmaking that keeps you engrossed. With fiction, more than anything else perhaps, it's the description you want to make sure the reader experiences the story as vividly. and continuously as if he or she is watching a spellbinding film. You don't want the story fading out in the middle like an old Super 8 home movie shown on a bad projector. You want to ensure that your movie is written in full color, even if the colors are gentle, muted and not blazing at all.

Webster's New World Dictionary offers two definitions for the verb describe.

1. To tell or write about; give a detailed account of.
2. To picture in words

To ive a detailed account, to picture in words. That particular Webster's scribe as a poet.
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Chapter 5: Description; To picture in words by Chris Lombardi
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