In Perspective: December 2018/January 2019 Writing Challenge
All About Writing’s latest writing challenge offers the winner a literary assessment on 5000 words of writing worth R 2750.
Describe a seaside holiday house, from the perspective of a child who has arrived here to spend what he or she hopes will be an idyllic summer. Use all your senses. Don’t forget to use specific details, which are always more powerful than generalities and do not allow yourself any generic descriptors (beautiful, lovely, great, awesome).
Now describe the same house twenty years later, from the perspective of the same person – now adult. He or she experienced a traumatic event in the house during that childhood summer. Don’t describe or explain the event to us. You don’t even need to mention it. Simply show us what he or she notices about the house now.
Your scene should be no more than 250 words long. Paste your entry into the body of an email and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline midnight 31 January 2019
Description is never neutral
Nothing in the world is ever truly objective. It always comes from someone with a certain world view, who is in a particular mood when they are viewing it. What a wonderful tool to use. It’s a perfect way of “showing” rather than telling.
Instead of explaining to the reader how your character feels (or you, for that matter, if you’re writing memoir or journalism), you can use the way they view their surroundings to show us something of their state of mind.
What would a person notice when they are happy, or frightened or miserable? As a visitor, you might notice the wheat-like smells of dry grass, filled with birdsong. If you’re the farmer, desperately hoping for rain, the field will seem bleached by sunlight, the sky an unforgiving blue.
This enables us to “show” attitudes and states of mind, as well as how your character develops and changes during a story. It’s not realistic to have them explain these attitudes and changes. Who among us is insightful enough to explain these things coherently? Better to allow us to gain an impression from their view of the world, and interpret that for ourselves. Here’s a protagonist of mine, drawn from The Imagined Child. Odette had a romantic view of a small town, but now that she’s moved there, she has been battered by several disappointments. These have changed her mood and her view of the town.
She had always loved the market square on a Saturday, especially at month-end. Donkey carts waited for transport customers; women spread blankets and sat with legs stretched out, selling socks or fruit, their babies crawling between them.
Now though, it was out of kilter, like a favourite song played slightly off-key.The yell of conversations across its breadth sounded raucous and forced. Braziers of shin and samp gave off the sizzle of fat, faintly rancid. A whip-like breeze had mounted a quiet offensive. A film of dust crept up bare legs and babies became earth-coloured as the grassless square. Children rubbed grit from their eyes and wailed.