Wednesday, July 02, 2008

An example, as promised.

In my previous post, Four Little Lights in the Fog, I promised to return with an example from Stefan Merrill Block's book, The Story of Forgetting, of describing the 'coffin, not the grief'. So here it is. The teenaged narrator's mother, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's, has disappeared from the family home one night, and her son goes looking for her.

"But my voice only echoed across the wide, blank pavement, with only the tungsten streetlamps bearing witness, hanging their heads, apathetically dim. I almost turned back to get my dad and the car, but for fear of losing even a second, I just kept running, beyond the staring, skeletal eye sockets of a thousand darkened windows, past the endlessly churning motorized waterfall at the entrance of our neighbourhood..."

I think we can gather from this that Seth is feeling pretty bleak. Taken out of context, it almost seems over-written, but in the novel it works perfectly. I hope this goes some way to illustrate what I was banging on about.

I highly recommend The Story of Forgetting by the way.


Roger Morris said...

Hi Rachael, thanks for putting up a concrete example. I think this writing the coffin thing is what I instinctively try to do, I dunno. I suppose sometimes it may slip... Sometimes, also, I do like to use explicit description of a character's state of mind, either as a contrast, or to slightly wrong foot, because that aspect might be subjectively provided by the character themselves, if you see what I mean. Maybe not. Anyhow, I'm feeling really lucky because my daughter has invented something that means I will never be stuck for a story idea again!

Rachael King said...

I don't think of this as an exclusive 'rule', but just as one of the many tools in the toolbox. Using this kind of description, along with other ways to describe how a character is feeling (what are they thinking is another one), just presents a really, good, 3D character, I think. It helps to build atmosphere, which puts the reader into the 'space' that the cahracter is in, making them empathise that much more.