The last exercise in Chapter 9, the chapter in Steering the Craft on Indirect Narration, is about implying characteristics or setting the mood using location or place. When I think of indirect narration, this is what comes to mind – like the scene setting and music in a movie or TV show, this is how the mood is set. For some reason, I thought this would be easy – maybe because its nearing Halloween and so the “scene” around my neighborhood has been deliberately and obviously set with decorations and pumpkins – but I wound up doing this exercise twice. When I went back and read my first attempt, it didn’t really tell me anything about the character or the mood of the story. So I tried again…
First, the instructions:
“Exercise Nine, Part 3: Implication
Each part of this should involve 200-600 words of descriptive prose. In both, the voice is either involved author or detached author. No viewpoint character.
Character by indirection: Describe a character by describing any place inhabited or frequented by that character – a room, house, garden, office, studio, bed, whatever. (The character isn’t present at the time.)
The untold event: Give us a glimpse of the mood and nature of some event or deed by describing the place – room, rooftop, street, park, landscape, whatever – where it happened or is about to happen. (The event or deed doesn’t need to happen in your piece.)”
Steering the Craft, Page 111-112
Le Guin goes on to suggest using the “Pathetic fallacy” to the fullest here. I didn’t know what that was and so had to look it up in her glossary. She defines it to be: “a term used (sometimes condescendingly) to describe a passage of writing in which the landscape, weather, and other things mirror or embody human emotions.”
My character by indirection:
“The house was a strange mixture of practical acknowledgment of the realities of living in the desert and a complete denial of the implications of these acknowledgments. The façade indicated a showdown with the sun: the walls were painted a bone white with beige roof tiles to reflect heat; a xeriscaped front yard done entirely in white rock wrapped around the front, it contained only the most minimalist of cacti as plantings, it was a landscape that never needed watering; solar panels adorned the roof like folded wings; finally, a slightly rusted white-washed wrought iron gates framed everything. It was always very still and smelled like baking hot stones. Despite its deeply suburban location, three red not-quite-antique rusted tractors were parked along the curb. These never moved. Only a newer model white gas-saving Prius came and went.
It was often the Prius that passers-by noticed first, since the entire back window was emblazoned with white 2 inch high letters that read “NOT A STUPID LIBERAL.” The casual onlooker’s eye would then be draw to the mosaic of angry bumper stickers that adorned the rear of the vehicle. These included denouncements of most newspapers and news outlets as purveyors of lies, further denouncements of the current state governor and legislature as inept and lacking intelligence, and more denouncements of efforts to regulate pollution, carbon emissions, or how much water a toilet used to flush.
If one lingered near the house for much longer, they would notice that each window was also festooned with similar messages. Large, handwritten signs in all capital letters sagged away from the blanched windows, puckered and warped from the continuous exposure to the desert sun.”
My untold event:
“The sink appeared to be almost an afterthought, squeezed between a hulking deep freezer on one side and a supply shelf with sliding glass doors on the other. More supply shelves perched overhead, piled high with bags of disposable plastics for lab and medical use. The basin itself was simple and unadorned, the faucet a splotched silver “u.” Considering the myriad of things that hissed, hummed, roiled, bumped, sliced, and stirred in the laboratory, the rats saw no reason to fear this white porcelain tub cast in perpetual twilight by storage shelves.
But once a month, this sink would acquire a startling new appendage. An oval black platform, as thick as a cutting board, would be bolted over the edge of the sink with thick metal clips. From above, the device appeared to be a cross between a painter’s palette and a paper cutter. There was a single hole about the size of a mandarin orange, cut an inch from one of the edges. Though this hole one could see the drain. Held open by a safety latch and covered by a red plastic cover, a long handled blade yawned above the black platform, attached to it by a special hinge. This sink guillotine was a clever design – portable and easy to clean and sterilize. It had been arrived at as a solution to a problem that the rats of the laboratory knew nothing about as they scurried about in their cages.”
I only have one exercise left in the book – and this will line me up perfectly to launch something different for my posts in November!