Description Practice

I am trying to improve my descriptive writing skills.  This blog is as good a place as any to practice. 

Serena gently bit the edge of her lip as she contemplated her hair in the mirror.  She had caught nearly all of it in her hand, holding it loosely against the crown of her head so a profusion of caramel curls fell lushly around her face.  A few stray tresses hung loose in the back, brushing the skin of her neck as she twisted her head for a better view.  She loved the soft, chaotic look of this faked style; with some patience and a near-endless supply of pins she could transform it into a real style, one that didn’t require her hand.  Serena sighed and let it drop, knowing that she couldn’t wear her hair this way for the same reason she couldn’t wear a strapless dress.  She would spend the entire evening touching it unconsciously, certain of its imminent collapse.

Collecting her hair again, this time in both hands, she meticulously crafted a compromise.  She first secured the whole of her locks into a bun high on the back of her head.  With a great deal of patience, she teased out the ends of tiny segments one by one,  encouraging them to curl back onto the bun or to hang free from the back of it.  Once completed, it gave her both the confidence of a stable style with the soft look of an unstable one.  For the finishing touches, she loosed two more pieces of hair.  The first was a small section just above her right ear; this she pulled entirely free of the bun and twisted once before tucking it behind her ear.  Falling long and in a single ringlet, it hung nearly to her collarbone.  The second section was larger, including the entire top portion of the hairline along the left side of her face.  This she softened with her fingers into a multitude of curls hanging free.  Pleased with the result, she tucked two larger, crystal-headed pins into the front of the bun and turned her attention to her clothing.

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Where I Write

Two of my least favorite questions are “Where do you write?” and “How much time do you spend writing?”  I don’t dislike these questions because they are probing, or because I take issue with being asked.  Truly, I simply find them difficult to answer. 

In my world there are two definitions of “writing” – the physical act of putting words to paper (or computer screen in my case) and the creative act of producing the thoughts to be captured.  As for the first, well, I’ve already talked about my laptop, and I will type just about anywhere.  The second definition is the greater one, though, as I never set my fingers on a keyboard without already knowing what I am going to type.

My two favorite places to create are in the shower and while hiking.  My brain is not engaged by the physical activity, leaving my mind to wander.  In fact, if I have writer’s block, I often turn to one of these to prime the pump.  I have also been known to develop my story as I am trying to fall asleep, waiting in line at the grocery store, or even driving in to work. 

I can do this creating in places where writing is not possible because I have been both blessed and cursed with an excellent memory; I have a tendency to replay scenes and images over and over in my head.  This is a blessing for writing – as long as I am toying with a scene, it will stay relatively intact in my imagination until I write it down.  (I do not try to keep everything in my head, however, and I make it a point to frequently ‘archive’ the story on my laptop.)  It becomes a curse when it is a social interaction or perceived mistake that is replayed.  The scenario becomes a sharpening stone drawn repeatedly against the blade-edge of my emotions, honing them thin and dangerous.  I try to interrupt the curse with the blessing, changing the station from reality to fiction.  It works most of the time.

So the answer to the first two questions is a question, “What do you mean by writing?”  Where is simple – I write anywhere.  As for time, I do not spend enough in front of my laptop (I currently have three scenes collecting lint as they tumble in my brain) and I spend a lot, perhaps too much, in the places in my imagination.

A Tale of Two Princesses

I made this story up out of thin air for a couple of little girls at work today. (They helped – they named the princesses, decided what the magician wanted, and picked the color of the unicorn.)  I’ve revised it a bit for the written version, and it is probably better told than written, but I hope you enjoy it!

There were once two princesses, Princess Sara and Princess Beautiful, who were sisters.  Princess Beautiful had gorgeous blonde hair and Princess Sara had exquisite brown hair.  They were happy together, most of the time, but they were jealous of each other’s hair.  Beautiful wanted brunette hair, and Sara wanted blonde.

The two went to a magician and asked him to help them.  “Oh, magician,” they cried, “We are not happy with the color of our hair.  Would you change it for us?”

The magician thought for a long while and finally said, “Yes, I will change you hair, but for a price.  You must bring me a gift – a new magic wand.”

The two girls pleaded, “But magician, we do not know where to find such a wand.”

“Go into the deep, dark forest and ask the unicorn,” was his reply.

So the princesses set off into the deep, dark forest, looking for the unicorn.  On the way, they encountered an enormous bear.  They were very scared, for they knew that the bear’s favorite food was princesses.  The girls also knew that his second favorite food was brownies, and they had brought the best brownies in the world.  These brownies had icing, and sprinkles, and even a little bit of caramel, and they had been baked by the castle chef, who was known to be the best brownie baker in the world.  Trembling, Sara and Beautiful held out the dessert and begged, “Please do not eat us, Bear, for we have brought you brownies.”

The bear considered carefully, weighing his options.  “I do not often get Princess for dinner,” he said slowly, “but it is also rare that I get brownies.”  After what seemed like ages, he finally decided.  “I am in the mood for chocolate,” the bear announced.  “Give me your brownies, and you may pass by unharmed.”

The girls carefully handed him the brownies, and as soon as he had snatched the treats from their hands, they fled into the woods.  Running, they came upon the unicorn without realizing it, and slid to a stop.

The unicorn was handsome, all white with a shining golden horn.  He looked down at the two princesses and asked, “What do you want of me, Princesses?”  (All unicorns recognize a princess immediately, even without their crowns.  Unicorns are magic that way.)

Still shaken from their encounter with the bear, Beautiful whispered, “We have come to ask you for a magic wand.”

The unicorn nodded wisely, for he had already known.  “I will give you a magic wand,” he said, “but for a price.  You must give me many kisses, and brush my mane.”  For this is what unicorns love most of all.

Eagerly, the princesses both kissed his face many times, and carefully brushed his mane.  When they had finished to the unicorn’s satisfaction, he reached up his golden horn and touched the branch of the tree.  It broke free and fell, turning into a magic wand as it did.  The princesses picked up the wand carefully, thanking the unicorn, and raced home. 

As they neared the bear, Sara and Beautiful slowed down.  They sneaked by quietly without the bear’s notice, for he was still stuffing his face with the brownies.  Once free of the forest, they rushed to the magician’s castle and handed him the magic wand.

The magician was pleased with the wand.  Waving it in the air in a circle, he touched each Princess on the head once, and their hair quickly transformed into their desired color.  Princess Sara had gorgeous blonde hair, and Princess Beautiful had exquisite brown hair.  And they both lived happily with their hair color for the rest of their lives.  The end.

A Written Refuge

I was an isolated child, both geographically and socially.  My sister and I were great friends, although we had very different ideas of fun.  (I tended to want to be outside – she liked dolls and plastic ponies.)  But the two of us were the only kids our own age in our neighborhood, so there were not a lot of possibilities for friends there.  The few friends I had from other activities lived on the other side of town, leaving our friendship dependent on adults with cars and frequently stranded at the places where our lives overlapped. 

When it came to school, my biggest concern was learning.  Smart is never in, with kids, so being happy to be intelligent kept me apart from most of my classmates until high school.  I also cared little for fashion (still don’t, most of the time) and was out of the loop on pop culture.  All of this made me an exceptionally good target for teasing.

I don’t want people to think I was physically bullied in school, but I definitely received more than my share of verbal taunts.  Comments about clothes stung, and when boys I liked used that knowledge to taunt me about my innocence (and even ignorance) of physical contact, it hurt.  The comment I remember most?  It came from a girl in my English class in junior high.  “Why do you try so hard?  Boys don’t like girls who are smart.” 

Amidst all of this, I found a refuge, solace in the written word.  I was never without a book, sometimes two or three.  Any free moment, my nose was buried in the pages.  Fiction, especially, was my shield; I have been blessed with the ability to completely immerse myself in another world, to the point that I am sometimes disoriented when I close a book or leave a movie.  From this, it should be no surprise that I grew to develop my own characters, my own stories, or that I so thoroughly fell in love with fantasy when I was introduced to it in high school.

Even to this day, books are my safe place.  Standing in line or waiting for anything, I will likely have a book out.  If I can’t sleep, or I need a moment away from people at work, I read.  And now, a new variation; writing.  I do not need a computer or a notebook to write.  I simply call my characters into my head and build scenes, develop dialogue, design costumes and scenery.  This is actually the original source of my stories; creating characters and storylines in my head, in situations where I was bored and a book was not appropriate.  Two of the characters in my new novel are old friends; they helped me fall asleep every night for the first few months I lived on my own.  Thinking about them kept me from worrying about all the things a female alone in an apartment should fear.  Later, the multi-layered plotlines of my now-completed novel gave me a distraction from a stressful job and master’s degree work.

What does this say about me, that I need to take comfort in the imagined realms of others and worlds that are only found inside my head?  I am no longer that outcast child, to seek solace in a story.  And yet the tales still draw me, the words call, and I find my best rest, my most beloved refuge, in the pages.

Lasting Impression

I have not read the book Strangers on a Train nor seen the Hitchcock movie by the same name, but I do know the plot.  Apparently it is very popular with crime TV, which I watch a lot.

I already knew about the CSI episode “A Night at the Movies” – this is the first I was exposed to the conceit, and Grissom gives a detailed explanation of the original movie plot.  CSI is one of my favorite shows, and I have seen the episode numerous times.

Castle also had an episode, “Double Down,” with the same premise, although skewed from what I know of the movie because both killers actually do the deed.  In both the CSI episode and the movie, one of the two gets cold feet.

In a quick check of Wikipedia, I found many other references and ‘theft’ of the plotline from other shows as well.

Wouldn’t it be awesome to come up with a plotline or story that is so memorable, it gets copied and referenced over and over?

What I Read: Online

While I am somewhat old-school and love a good book or magazine in my hands, I have found several online sources to follow.

I read PostSecret every Sunday.  I don’t have a secret to share, but I do find myself connecting with the secrets of others.

Slate is my favorite (almost only) online magazine.  My favorite column is Dear Prudence.  She gives great advice with a caustic and clever wit, which occasionaly makes me laugh out loud.  The science geek in me has been demanding that I also follow Blogging the Periodic Table obsessively; I will be sad when the blog ends, and I will probably end up buying Sam Kean’s book. 

I’ve been perusing WordPress in the past couple of weeks, and I have to say that I like JannaTWrites quite a bit.  I must admit that I checked it out at first because she’s been reading my blog (thanks for the comments, Janna!), but I have continued to follow hers since she has a pleasing writing style.

Beyond that, I use the internet to play Sporcle quizzes, check email, and watch Castle episodes.  🙂  Oh, and to write this blog!

What I Read: Print Media

I read a lot, as I mentioned in the previous post.  I also read a lot of different things.  I’m starting to find more and more in the internet world to read, but print media is where I’m most comfortable.

I subscribe to National Geographic.  That is the main magazine I read, although I do peruse my husband’s Birder’s World for a few of the columns.  (I especially like “Birder At Large” by Pete Dunne.)

I read a lot of non-fiction books.  My taste here is somewhat eclectic, although most of it has to be interestingly written and geared toward non-experts for me to enjoy it.  Broad history (like Guns, Germs, and Steel or A History of the World in Six Glasses) and linguistics and grammar (Eats, Shoots & Leaves and The Unfolding of Language in particular) are two areas that I find fascinating.  I am also a science and bird geek (I have a degree in zoology and 767 birds on my life list) so books relating to those topics are also frequently in my world.  Some of my favorites are The Verb “To Bird”  and The Big Year.  I definitely don’t stick with those areas; I liked both of Malcolm Gladwell’s books that I read, and I am open to almost any subject if it fits the previous criteria. 

When it comes to fiction I am a bit more narrowly focused.  I do enjoy the occasional general fiction novel – I am quite fond of Michael Crichton and Dan Brown – or perhaps a mystery now and then, but the bulk of my fiction reading is fantasy.  My favorite authors are Mercedes Lackey, Jacqueline Carey, and Terry Goodkind.  I will also happily recommend Cecilia Dart-Thornton or Robert Jordan, if those are more suited to your tastes.  And of course, I love the Harry Potter series.  I plan to re-read them once the last of the movies is out.  (Another rule: no movies based on books I like.  I did find that I can enjoy the Harry Potter movies if I haven’t read the books lately, but that means I have to wait before I read them again.)  Much to the shame of my fantasy-reading friends, I started reading Tolkien in junior high and high school, and couldn’t finish them.  Maybe I should try again… 

What about you?  Anything you’d recommend for me?

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