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Describing Scenery

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Old 08-12-2009, 01:34 PM
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Icon3 Describing Scenery


When I write, I can see everything in my mind like I'm watching a movie. When I think about certain things, usually specific places, I want those places to be portrayed in writing exactly the way I see it in my head.

For example, sunsets are used as a form of symbolism in my story, perhaps even foreshadowing. At one point I'm trying to describe the sunset on a city by saying something along the lines of: "the amber rays protruding from the sun gleamed against the metallic sides of the buildings" instead of just "the sunset was beautiful."

However, I find it hard to describe the many sunsets without sounding repetitive. This goes for the general atmosphere from place to place. I find it hard to describe specifically what I want it to be written like.

In my story is a city that has a rather unique appearance. It's got a numerous skyscrapers that have a mix of Greek, Roman, Art Deco and futuristic architecture. This isn't specifically important to the story but I want my reader to understand that this city isn't one we would know of like Chicago, New York City or anything like that. I find it hard to write exactly what I'm thinking.

Basically, I need help describing the atmosphere and scenery. Maybe you could show me examples of your own or something. Any help is very appreciated!

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Old 08-12-2009, 03:31 PM
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Hi Feran,

I don't think you'd be able to describe ten different sunsets without sounding repetitive. Ask yourself if people really need to have more than one of these described. What benefit to the story is there by talking about multiple sunsets, unless they're more relevant than just a mechanism to insert some metaphors.

Try reading some futuristic sci-fi stories to get ideas. Something by Phillip K Dick would be good (Do Androids Dream...) or Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith has some interesting city descriptions. These writers will tend to give you glimpses of their cities as you go rather than one big, long, five-page description of what you're seeing.

Good luck
Pete
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Old 08-12-2009, 03:35 PM
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A way of sounding less repetitive is to juxtapose the multiple sunsets using your characters. If they are truly important to your story, then perhaps have the character(s) notice how one might be a different than another, and how its "curious", "ironic", or "frightening" depending on the situation. You don't necessary have to describe, in great detail, each sunset. You can simply say, rather than "....." tonight's was "....." and allude to their relevance in your story.
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Old 08-12-2009, 03:36 PM
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Pete's right. One decent description of a sunset should be sufficient. Even if the sunset is a symbol for something else, you shouldn't need to go into great detail every time. If variations in the sunset reflect variations of something else, maybe just mention how that particular sunset is different to ones that came before.

EDIT: Ah, I see Shiranui is thinking along the same lines!
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Old 08-12-2009, 03:45 PM
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Okay, I guess the sunset description could be less apparent in some cases or they could be describe differently like you guys said.

Thanks for the book recommendations, Pete! That will help me a lot. I don't own too much Sci-Fi but the ones I do own don't really describe atmospheres too well... or at all.
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Old 08-12-2009, 03:47 PM
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Are you good at drawing things or know someone who is? A good way to describe something (rather than only seeing it in your head) is to have an actual visual aide with it. Maybe get someone to draw the different things that you picture being the scene (or search for some pictures online even). It might help get some of those smaller details that can really get a place (or sunset) to stand out.
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Old 08-12-2009, 03:56 PM
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Originally Posted by Firefly View Post
Are you good at drawing things or know someone who is? A good way to describe something (rather than only seeing it in your head) is to have an actual visual aide with it. Maybe get someone to draw the different things that you picture being the scene (or search for some pictures online even). It might help get some of those smaller details that can really get a place (or sunset) to stand out.
Exactly what I was thinking.

As I said in the Inspirations thread, I generally think of most of my ideas for writing when I take long walks. If you find this helps you as well, I would suggest taking a camera with you, or possibly your cell phone so that you can more easily describe a setting that has similar qualities using a picture.

In addition to providing a more substantial image of a location, having a picture requires you to think in words rather than images because you are attempting to describe what you are looking at, instead of the other way around.
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Old 08-12-2009, 04:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Firefly View Post
A good way to describe something (rather than only seeing it in your head) is to have an actual visual aide with it.
Good idea, I'll draw my city in a little bit (I'll post it here too )

Originally Posted by Shiranui View Post
If you find this helps you as well, I would suggest taking a camera with you, or possibly your cell phone so that you can more easily describe a setting that has similar qualities.
I try to do this if it I can relate it to my story. Most of my settings are very different from this world and often remind me of things I've seen in movies or video games. For example, this is an atmospheric/graphical mod for the game Morrowind. This picture perfectly describes one of the settings in my story.
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Old 08-12-2009, 04:13 PM
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Did you want help with a description for this location?
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Old 08-12-2009, 04:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Shiranui View Post
Did you want help with a description for this location?
Sure! Let's use the picture as an example. It's clear that the picture appears to be in some sort of swampy marshland with exotic plants and a noticeable green aura. How much of this should I describe? What should I leave out? etc, etc...
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Old 08-12-2009, 04:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Feran View Post
Sure! Let's use the picture as an example. It's clear that the picture appears to be in some sort of swampy marshland with exotic plants and a noticeable green aura. How much of this should I describe? What should I leave out? etc, etc...
Well, I don't want to construct the sentence for you, but I can help. First, describe the entire location. Don't worry about how long it is, or what details are unnecessary. Once you have written a lengthy description, consider what objects your characters might interact with - you want to have more emphasis on these aspects, for obvious reasons.

In contrast to what you emphasize, eliminate any superfluous objects, unless it compromises the efficiency of the description. For instance, note that the area has a "green aura", but you could do without telling the reader about each exotic plant.

Ideally, you want to describe the setting with the majority of your focus on objects that can and will be interacted with. Any other descriptions should be used to compliment these aspects, and to help convey a clearer idea of the location, not an exact illustration; its best to allow some room for the readers imagination to contribute to the setting.
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Old 08-12-2009, 11:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Feran View Post
Thanks for the book recommendations, Pete! That will help me a lot. I don't own too much Sci-Fi but the ones I do own don't really describe atmospheres too well... or at all.
Pleasure mate. They may not be the best examples, but they were the first things that popped into my mind and certainly helpful.

Cheers,
Pete
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Old 08-14-2009, 06:42 AM
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Hi Feran!
One thing you can do is describe the sunset's effect, rather than the sunset itself. For instance, in the picture you showed, would a sunset make the sharp blades of grass cut the ground with their shadows or would it touch each tip of grass with gold but melt the bottoms into shade? Same sunset, same setting, whole different mood. Or in your city, which sounds very interesting, you could hint at the complex mix of architectures by saying what the setting sun does to different buildings. Do the long shadows of columns look like prison bars? Do the mirrored buildings flame in red and bronze?

Another thing you can do is call on other senses. We see sunsets, but we also feel the change in temperature. A cold sunset has a different feel than a warm one. A sunset that looks like a fire in the west may only mock a cold character, who knows the night ahead will be long and he'll have no fire of his own. Then there's sound: the approach of night means frogs and crickets in some places, night birds or carnivores in others.

And consider the feelings people bring to sunsets. In Vegas, the sun setting means people revving up in anticipation of the night. The fun's about to start. In a small town, the sun setting means time for dinner, bed, etc. Teens and adults have different emotions at a setting sun. Criminals and honest men... different anticipations for the night.

Good luck!
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Old 08-14-2009, 07:03 AM
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Hey Feran,
I wonder if you might try taking the "sight" aspect out of your sunset descriptions . . . I know whenever I'm really struck trying to define something, it's generally because I am using the senses I am most familiar with. Try using a few others?

You can't really taste a sunset, but you can smell it—especially in a city. Change in temperature as the sun dips makes the heat off the buildings smell different . . . you can hear a sunset in the shift of birdsong, human activity, evening sounds, etc . . .

—Just a thought!
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Old 08-19-2009, 10:23 AM
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To me, most scenery is better left described in passing and I try not to dwell too much on it. From time to time there might be a little bit of a long description (one that sticks out in my mind actually has to do with skyscrapers) but when it comes right down to it I don't think scenery needs that much attention.

Of course when you have a fantasy novel set in a different kind of world, it might serve a function. But if its your average, run of the mill modern city, why bog the story down describing it too much, or if its your run of the mill sunset, why describe something that inevitably happens every day.
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Old 08-27-2009, 06:09 AM
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Describing scenery is such a cliche that I avoid doing it. When I come across scenery description in a book I usually skip over it. The big exception is "Sometimes A Great Notion," which has great scenery descriptions.
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