Organizing Written Description of Place

English: An alcove in Navajo Sandstone near Mo...

English: An alcove in Navajo Sandstone near Moab, Utah.  Nothing to do with the text, but pretty cool.

This was useful to a few people over on intfiction.org, so I’m quoting it from that thread.

Jamespking wrote:

Quote:
The immense magma river flows below effortlessly, although slow and patiently. The whole cave is lit by its fiery belly. From here you can see the broken pillar rising from the flames like a finger pointing the sky — a sky made of crumbling rocks and metal — and the stony walls surrounding the sight like the steps of a giant arena. Below, the thin cornice cuts a distinct line on the side of it, losing itself in the distance inside a small passage to the west. The piece of quartz you are standing on has resisted the quake’s onslaught and is now holding itself onto the rock like a cat on a tree trunk. Something like steps rise from here to an alcove, up above and near the ceiling. A faint cyanotic light pulsates inside it. You can reach it to the northwest

This is TERRIBLE prose. On behalf of the author, I must say he was writing it trying to think in English not being english himself. That could lead to awkwardness.

First: every other noun has an adjective before it. It gets boring really soon.

James,

What is lacking is organization to the whole passage. Description of a place needs to develop in an organized way, just as an argument needs to, and the structure of that organization must match with the way the human mind processes and understands locale.

Visual description should be organized in a way that matches the way humans organize visual information, description of embodied feeling or emotional feeling should be organized in ways that match those senses, and so forth.

To do this, consider the way that, if you were in the location, you would direct your attention from moment to moment.

If I can be forgiven for making the attempt– Let’s look at the parts.

  • The immense magma river flows below effortlessly, although slow and patiently.
  • The whole cave is lit by its fiery belly.
  • From here you can see the broken pillar rising from the flames like a finger pointing the sky — a sky made of crumbling rocks and metal — and the stony walls surrounding the sight like the steps of a giant arena.
  • Below, the thin cornice cuts a distinct line on the side of it, losing itself in the distance inside a small passage to the west.
  • The piece of quartz you are standing on has resisted the quake’s onslaught and is now holding itself onto the rock like a cat on a tree trunk.
  • Something like steps rise from here to an alcove, up above and near the ceiling.
  • A faint cyanotic light pulsates inside it.
  • You can reach it to the northwest

The point of view this structure reveals is a DM’s point of view. It’s me looking in, considering the walls, the lighting, and working my way in to the player’s current options.

If I were there, I would probably attend to where I am, and my attention would then move outward.

Quote:
Sweltering, you stand on a piece of red-lit quartz that has survived the quake and clings to the rock like a cat to a tree. Northwest, irregular steps rise from here to an alcove near the ceiling. Inside the alcove a faint cyanotic light pulses.From the alcove, a cornice leads along the stony walls enclosing this huge arena. Far to the west, the cornice loses itself in some passage into the rock.

Red heat, so intense it feels solid, radiates from the patient magma river that flows below. A broken pillar rises from the flames like a finger, pointing to the ceiling of crumbling rocks and metal.

–Now, I don’t mean to hold myself out as an expert IF writer. My own productivity is pretty limited. And clearly as a writer you could select from among many organizational principle. The “from where I am out” basic strategy, which I picked here, is just the one I picked. You might instead pick “the environment in,” or “panning left to right,” or so forth.

But do consciously pick an organizational strategy, and stick to it in your writing. Also something I like, and therefore do, is to drop one- or two-word hints early in a passage, which details are explained later. So I dropped “red-lit” well before I described the lava river.

Conrad.

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Published in: on July 10, 2012 at 6:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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