“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
—Sylvia Plath

Why You Need to Focus on Description

I’ve noticed the following two problems in my own writing and in the writers I edit:

1. Too much inner monologue.

2. Not enough setting and description.

This is a problem because the more inner monologue you use, the younger your writing sounds. I don’t know why this is, but inner-monologue-heavy novels feel younger and more fit for teenagers than novels that give less access to their characters’ heads.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Hunger Games is selling millions of copies while Cormac McCarthy is winning awards and living in relative obscurity. We like our inner-monologue-rich novels. But they also feel less like art. Decide whether you want to use it accordingly.

Fair Chaim Potok the Promise

Photo by Kevin Dooley

Narrate Through Setting

Speaking of art, I was just looking through Chaim Potok’s The Promise again. I’m going to include portions the first three paragraphs here. If you’re in a rush, at least skim it looking for inner monologue and description:

The county fair was Rachel’s idea. She had a passion for the theater, James Joyce, and county fairs, and she could be quite persuasive when it came to those three passions. We would go on the Sunday in the third week of August, the closing night of the fair, when there would be a fireworks display. We would have a splendid time, she said. It was also her idea that we take her cousin Michael.

It was warm that Sunday night and the sky was clear and filled with stars. We sat in the front seat of the DeSoto and Rachel drove carefully along the dark asphalt country roads. Michael sat quietly between us, staring out of the windshield. A moment after we reached the highway he suddenly became quite talkative…. I saw Rachel smiling. She wore a yellow sleeveless summer dress and her short auburn hair blew in the warm wind that came through the open windows of the car.

We came to a crossroads, bright with the neon life of a night highway, then went around a sharp curve. Set into the darkness about an eighth of a mile away, and looking as though it had carved itself into the night, was the county fair. Michael abruptly ceased talking and leaned forward in the seat.

I like this example because it actually begins with inner monologue (or at least narration), as Chaim writes, “The county fair was Rachel’s idea.” But notice that soon after jumping into the protagonist / narrator’s thoughts, it starts describing the setting. We learn it’s a warm, Sunday night. The stars are beautiful. We’re in a DeSoto (which means this is not present day).

We also learn Rachel is beautiful and that the narrator’s probably in love with her. No Chaim doesn’t write, “I was in love with her.” That would be too easy (and too young). Instead, he describes her dress and her hair and the warm night.

Instead of reading his thoughts and feelings of love, we see through his loving eyes.

There’s lots more we could say about how Chaim uses description and setting to narrate the thoughts and emotions of the characters, but let’s stop with this: good description and setting evokes emotion and thoughts without explicitly telling the reader.

Show. Don’t Tell.

In other words, Chaim shows us the protagonist’s mood. He doesn’t tell us he’s in love. Which of course leads me to the writing proverb I have to exclaim so many times in every manuscript I edit (including my own!):

Show. Don’t tell.

Show a character in love. Don’t tell us he’s in love.

Show your character acting intelligently. Don’t tell us she’s intelligent.

Show how afraid your character is. Don’t tell us he’s afraid.

Show by using setting and description. Don’t tell by using inner monologue. You’re writing will be better and more artistic for it.

Do you use or avoid inner monologue in your writing? Why?

PRACTICE

Describe the room you’re writing in.

Use description and setting to show either ANGER or FEAR.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you’re finished, share your practice in the comments section. And if you share, please comment on a few other practices.

Thanks!

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

  • Thinking about it, you have a point with the internal monologue vs. description thing. I read two YA books lately that have an anchor into the narrator’s thoughts, and I wished there were more sensory details. More rich words that get you into the text without getting into purple prose of making the narrator feel too old.

    Say, what’s your definition of breezy prose.

    • Good thoughts here, CZ. It’s all about finding the right particular balance for your genre. Every genre needs sensory detail or the novel can feel placeless and timeless. You can narrate sensory detail from an internal monologue perspective, which might be one way to find the balance in YA. I’m not sure that getting rid of IM entirely will make the novel feel “old” necessarily though. Maybe it does. I’m not sure. But I think there’s probably a way to do it and keep it appropriate for a YA audience just like it’s possible to narrate with IM and keep it sounding mature (Julian Fellowes’ Snobs does this well, if you’re looking for an example). There are exceptions, so I’m not sure this is a hard rule. Still, it’s something to be conscious of 🙂

      I’m not sure I have a definition of breezy prose! 🙂 What’s your definition?

      • For me, “breezy prose” is the standard style in YA these days.

        It’s the kind found in The Hunger Games. It’s written in a way that it’s easy to read, accessible, and doesn’t require a high reading level to understand the story that it’s presenting.

        However, a few of my writing buddies complained that the style has an empty feel to it, as it lacks great language or description. This post reminded me of that.

        • Gotcha. Good question.

          I believe simple is better than complicated. Readable is better than unreadable. And writers who use big words just to use them are vain. Words are tools. The question is less about breezy or not breezy and more about what you’re doing with the words, what you’re trying to create with them, and who you’re trying to reach with them. I love Cormac McCarthy and Cormac uses some really big, confusing words. Some of them aren’t in the dictionary that he found out of a monk’s journal from the 18th century. The reason I wrestle with those words is because the gift he’s giving me, the soul of his story, is worth the work. It’s not about breezy or not breezy. It’s about your story. What words does it need? If it doesn’t need hard words, don’t use them. It’s just vanity. If your story does need them (or if it will tolerate their weight), then go ahead. Just realize you’re making your reader work harder.

          What do you think?

        • Gotcha. Good question.

          I believe simple is better than complicated. Readable is better than unreadable. And writers who use big words just to use them are vain. Words are tools. The question is less about breezy or not breezy and more about what you’re doing with the words, what you’re trying to create with them, and who you’re trying to reach with them. I love Cormac McCarthy and Cormac uses some really big, confusing words. Some of them aren’t in the dictionary that he found out of a monk’s journal from the 18th century. The reason I wrestle with those words is because the gift he’s giving me, the soul of his story, is worth the work. It’s not about breezy or not breezy. It’s about your story. What words does it need? If it doesn’t need hard words, don’t use them. It’s just vanity. If your story does need them (or if it will tolerate their weight), then go ahead. Just realize you’re making your reader work harder.

          What do you think?

  • Marianne Vest

    I’m not sure if this fits here exactly, but it’s what I’m writing and it has some description related to an argument.

    Kizzy and Paul walked home.
    “You’d think they’d have offered us a ride,” said Kizzy.
    “Who?” said Paul.
    “Those women,” said Kizzy.
    “They didn’t have a car,” said Paul.
    “Well they could’ve gone and gotten one,” said Kizzy.
    Paul looked at her, at his pretty little wife. She was kicking clods of dirt. Her lips pouted.
    “I wonder who the scarf belonged to,” he said.
    “I told you it was Mama’s. You don’t believe me? I was with her when she bought it. We were at the Macy’s at Tyson’s corner. It wasn’t on sale but she thought it would be just the thing to brighten up her white linen suit.”
    Paul, who was presently teaching a psychology course in perception, had the idea that their probably weren’t many clothes brighter than a fresh white linen suit, but he didn’t argue about that.
    “Could it be that someone else had one like it?” he said.
    “In this hick town Paul? I doubt it. Why don’t you just give up and concede that it’s hers?”
    Paul refrained from pointing out that Kizzy’s infinitely stylish mother had lived in that hick town for forty years, and that Kizzy herself had barely escaped being raised there.
    It looked like a storm was coming. The wind was picking up blowing the stobs about and evicting little spirals of grayish dust from the ground. Their was a scent that blew around them, an earthy/grainy scent like wind blowing through an open barn. It was an exciting, lively smell at first; but then, as it intensified, it became frightening, foreboding loneliness for some reason that Paul couldn’t put his finger on despite his understanding of psychological perception. The lively barn he’d pictured the wind blowing though had suddenly been emptied of livestock.

    • Marianne – love the dialogue and then the description at the end. Keep writing

      • Marianne Vest

        Thank you Suzie.

    • I really, really love the last line: The lively barn he’d pictured the wind blowing though had suddenly been emptied of livestock.

      Your post made me want to read your on-going story (if that’s possible ha ha). Great writing Marianne.

      This FITS here. 🙂

      • Marianne Vest

        JB You are certainly welcome to read my story but you are seeing the good parts here. I would be terribly embarrassed to put some of it in a public place. What I hate the most are the days I think I’m doing a great job, and then I read it the next day and it’s dreck. Writing is crazy.

    • I like your description at the end, Marianne. You’ve got a knack for it. And this sentence is great: “Paul refrained from pointing out that Kizzy’s infinitely stylish mother had lived in that hick town for forty years, and that Kizzy herself had barely escaped being raised there.”

      But maybe you could weave in the description with the dialogue rather than leaving it at the end? I just think it would make the argument more convincing as an argument, because otherwise I get the impression that Kizzy is usually whine-y and maybe a little petulant (pursed lips and kicking dirt-clods), and that the argument is more like gentle baiting by Paul just to get a rise from her. But then, maybe I’m reading it wrong.

      Now I want to know more about the significance of this scarf. 🙂

      • Mhvest

        Kizzy is always whiney and pouty. She’s a brat. Paul is usually careful about not irritating her but they have just found a body in the field (her mother’s scarf was on the body – but the body was a male), so Paul keeps putting his foot in his mouth because he’s to upset to focus on his spoiled wife. She wants him to always pay complete attention to her. You are right about me weaving the description in with the dialogue. I have a terrible time with that. It’s like I can do one or the other but if I blend them I mess them both up.

        • Then you got Kizzy across perfectly.

          I’m not sure how to go about weaving in description with dialogue either. Maybe having one of the characters making an off-hand comment or having them react physically to thecoming storm. (Just tossing out ideas here).

          • Mhvest

            Thanks Casey

        • I told you in my last comment that I would love to read your story. This line “they have just found a body in the field (her mother’s scarf was on the body – but the body was a male)” just made want to read it more. 🙂

    • I like how you use smell in your description. I think good description uses all the senses and ties them to emotions. Very nice.

    • Steph

      Your description works really well, especially given Paul’s POV. I am very impressed with the arc you sent him on in such a short scene and how you use his perception of description to do it.

  • She was crying.

    Not pretty tears, red swollen eyes, her nose full of snot, running freely as the tears.

    She sat staring out of the window, oblivious to the world going on outside. People were beginning to get up and out for the daily grind. Mr Boyson was having trouble starting his motorbike directly opposite, his cursing, slamming and banging going unheard or unseen. Martha and Martin the twins from number 23 were gabbing on at a hundred miles an hour as they swung their bags and shuffled through autumn leaves.

    Doris sniffled and wiped snot on her sleeve, grabbing her handkerchief too late for the slug like trail on her clothes but she dried her eyes. “Well this will never do,” she exclaimed to herself and put the telegram back in its envelope and into her apron pocket.

    “Clarence, I am putting on the kettle for tea. Are you coming down today, love?” She spoke up the stairs hoping her husband would hear her. She didn’t want to take a tray up today. In the kitchen she straightened the envelope and put it leaning against the salt cellar.

    She drew the black out curtains in the parlour and put the gas masks away, hung up in the cloakroom, she wished this damn war would end before anyone else’s son was killed. She sobbed again, before shaking her head and turning to brew the tea.

    • Suzie (just in case this doesn’t post as a reply to your piece)–

      I like how you described the world outside of Doris’s grief. It gave me the impression of life going on, despite her own loss. If that was your intent, it might work better towards the end of the piece.

      On the other hand, perhaps you could color their actions to reflect her grief, since you describe her as not seeing what’s going on. Maybe the twins whispering and huddling together as they walked, rather than gabbing. Although I thought that shuffling through the autumn leaves matched the mood of her loss. Am I making any sense? 🙂

      • Casey, thank you for your comments, I understand totally what you mean. I write off the cuff and see where it goes. I didn’t place it in time until using the telegram. Up to then I had handwritten copperplate text on cream vellum. Once I had the telegram I knew it was WWII, that meant the car had to go for Mr Boyson as petrol was rationed but a motorbike might be ok. The kids names had to change from Marietta and St.John (I love St.John as a 1st name), to make them more of the time. Doris bless her, was originally a Stephanie.
        The leaves were originally rich auburn autumn leaves – but you can over do it with descriptions can’t you.

    • Mhvest

      Oh that’s so sad Suzie, probably a mostly because it’s so real. The snot like slug trials line is really very very good. Slugs are such gross little beings. 32

      • I grew up in a working class Northern town/village where we all had colds constantly, clear candles dripping , or being licked, or being wiped onto sleeves. The posh kids had hankies – proper cotton or linen ones, we were given them for birthdays but lost them within days of climbing trees and playing war.
        I wanted Doris to lose all sense of decorum for those few seconds, I wanted her to feel like a child who had lost the game unfairly, and in that moment, for those few vital seconds just pout and do what she wanted before getting a grip and continuing on, “doing the right thing”

        • Yvette Carol

          I think it’s what they call ‘visceral’ description Suzie. It works!

    • That is sad, Suzie. I like how you don’t explicitly say that it’s her son who’s died but leave us putting the pieces together. Your line about her slug-like snot made me shiver!

      • thanks Beck, sometimes I get this so wrong – you know leave out that bit to tease the reader – but turns out to be the most vital bit of the whole piece.

    • Steph

      This is very powerful, Suzie. Your description definitely serves as a build up to that final punch at the end.

      • thanks Steph, wasn’t sure how to get the vintage in without saying 194# and then also how to incorporate her son’s death into it. I was focusing on two things – the inanimate nature of her husband when not out of bed and the “Brits making the best of it” during the second world war.

    • Jmfthird

      I like the emotional wallop this delivers in the end as the reason for her weeping is revealed. Excellent use of authentic detail, the gas-masks, the neighbors. But isn’t that a run-on use of a comma in the next-to-last sentence, of which there was a Writepractice discussion just a few days ago?

      • possibly.
        that really is all I can say to you regarding grammar.
        I don’t do sick and I don’t do grammar.
        I try really hard not to vomit – I really hate it.
        I try really hard to allow words form and cling together naturally without considering how many sentences are in a paragraph, whether a paragraph is appropriate, if I use a ; instead or a , or lots of choppy wee sentences. Samuel Beckett used my kind of grammar. I tend to glance at grammar articles rather than read them – my bad. I think sometimes I do the fifteen mins, but mostly I cast aside or do 15 mins of something else – rebel!
        I love to spell correctly – I know I get it wrong – MS spellchecker tells me, but when I get the green wiggly with fragment consider revising – bah humbug MS!!!

    • Good use of senses and what a powerful story – nice touches of details like the gas masks, the motorbike, salt cellar. The description of the sobbing and snot is important for it shows how much the MC is hurting. Leaves me wanting to know more of the story.

      • Hey Heather
        what a lovely comment – thank you
        not sure there is more to the story – might use Doris again 😉

  • Here’s my practice (the first thing I did actually the moment I woke up). Read and enjoy 🙂

    ***

    It was dark and the only light came from the glow of the computer monitor. JB was seated and the sound of fingers tapping on the keyboards filled the lightless room mixed with the soft humming of his old CPU. With each beat of the keyboard, the sounds grew heavy until JB was no longer typing but beating his clenched fists on the varnished wooden table. Pain shot from his fists to his head telling him to stop but he didn’t. He needed the pain. He pushed the table hard and his swivel chair rolled away until it hit the other end of the square room. He sat cross-legged on top of the chair as his eyes stared at the computer screen and the opened word processor and the garbage words written on it.

    This wouldn’t do! Wouldn’t do at all! He shouted in his head (for it wouldn’t be good to wake the others).

    JB stood up and breathed in and breathed out. He then found himself pacing the room—from end to end, up the walls and to the ceiling and back down the floor. This wouldn’t do.

    He walked to the open window and stared at the sky looking for some inspiration, some answers. He saw no clouds, no stars, and no moon. Strange, he thought. JB’s eyes grew wide as his vision moved from the sky and down to the ground. There, he saw, stood rows upon rows of streetlamps. Each lamp was different—one had a hunchback pole, while the other one stood straight and proud, one had a thick, fat pole, while the one after it was so thin you’d have to wonder how it was able to support the weight of the lamp. This isn’t my town. Where am I? JB’s heartbeat quickened. He slowly walked away from the window. He turned around and ran to the door, opened it, and got outside.

    Darkness. Utter and complete darkness embraced JB the moment he got out of his room. The darkness was so thick that JB couldn’t even see his hands in front of him. He turned around but the door was gone, in place of it JB felt a wall with a rough and uneven surface. What’s happening here? JB turned around and started walking with his hands stretched out before him. Minutes passed, hours, days probably, and JB finally reached the end of the corridor. His hands were feeling something smooth and hard—a door made of plastic. He searched for the knob and twisted it open. JB quickly got inside.

    He was met with a familiar sound—the soft humming of his old CPU. He didn’t notice it but his palms were sweaty and his hair was matted to his face with sweat. He wanted to shout but he didn’t (for it wouldn’t be good to wake the others). Instead, JB breathed in and breathed out and he calmed himself. He grabbed his swivel chair and sat down in front of the computer desk. I know what to do, he said smiling wide. He deleted every word on the page and his fingers started typing on the keyboard:
    “It was dark and the only light came from the glow of the computer monitor.”

    • Marianne Vest

      What a horrible way to wake up. I like the way it goes back to the beginning. I thought we were going to be in the apocalypse then in some sic fi world, then maybe a dream. You leave it open that’s good. It’s almost Alice in Wonderlandy.

      • Thanks. I actually had no idea what I’ll write about so I just allowed myself to let loose and type whatever came to mind.

    • Yvette Carol

      Dude, what is your name?!! I mean, c’mon, even in a piece about yourself you can’t give us a John or a Jude?? And apart from that, like your post 🙂

  • Kinelta

    I need more practice with description and setting, so this post is perfect timing.

    Jared stood at the stove, the onions and peppers hissing and spitting in the hot oil. He glanced over at the sink filled with the dirty dishes from last night’s dinner, looking for the slotted spoon to stir the vegetables. An inch of greasy water stood in the bottom of the sink. The spoon stuck out from a pan half-filled with congealed spaghetti sauce. He rinsed the spoon under water that had gone cold until it looked clean enough to cook with.

    The newborn baby began to cry from the bedroom, and the shower was still running. He peeled off the layer of plastic from the styrofoam meat tray and dumped the beef strips into the pan. He turned up the heat and stirred the meat as the baby’s cry grew frantic. He cursed as the metal spoon scraped the bottom of the pan, leaving a gouge in the teflon. The charred smell of tortillas began to seep out from the oven.

    The shower turned off then. A moment later his wife, wrapped in a towel, her hair dripping over her shoulders, came out into the kitchen with the baby wimpering and rooting for her breast.

    “Didn’t you hear the baby?” she asked.

    Jared pulled the tortillas from the oven, frowning over the blackened bread.

    “I think I’ll make rice instead.”

    • I don’t know why this posted with my user name.

    • Marianne Vest

      Casey

      It sounds like you are really familiar with cooking while taking care of babies. I like your description of the dirty sink. Red spaghetti sauce stuff floating on cold gray water. There is probably nothing more unappealing except for mildew. Loved it!

  • Nice description of the frustrations of writing at the beginning of your piece. I especially like how you transition from the realm of imagination, and back into the room with “the soft humming of his old CPU” and a writing breakthrough.

    You use the pronoun JB too many time when you don’t need it. I noticed this a lot in the second to last paragraph.

    • JB, this is in response to your piece. It seems that I’m having problems with getting comments to post as they should. 🙂

    • Thanks Casey. I didn’t notice that. Thanks for pointing that out! 🙂

  • I love description and really dislike inner monologue! I think that comes from mostly reading, and preferring, classic literature and poetry to anything modern. On of my favorite things in the world to read is a really good Longfellow poem. If I could write a novel that whispered of Longfellow I would be ecstatic. Actually, I often worry that my novel is too heavy on description.

    ***

    Virginia had noticed a strange glow in the top window of the abandoned house across the street before. When she had mentioned it to her husband he said it was probably the light of the moon reflecting off of the window pain. She had agreed and brushed aside the occurrence. However, this evening that couldn’t be the case.

    As she sat in front of the open window of her bedroom, writing a letter to her sister, she had happened to look up and catch sight of the orange glow. The moon was a silver sliver hiding away behind velvet clouds. Skeletal maples in the yard of the old house opposite waved their bare branches, pricking the dark sky with their upthrust limbs.

    Tonight it wasn’t a reflection she was seeing. A light was illuminating an upstairs window in the supposedly abandoned house. Staring into the murkiness she shivered wishing Jim was home. The face of the rundown brick house was marred with dead vines creeping up it’s front like a scar. Even in the daytime a sense of dread cast it’s shadow over the neglected plot.

    The breath froze in Virginia’s throat, and blood whooshed in her ears, a silent shape had passed in front of the window. Heart pounding, she shakily lifted her cell phone from her desk and dropped it into the pocket of her robe. Stealthily she made her way downstairs to check the locks on the doors and windows.

    Times up…

    • Mhvest

      You need to put disclaimers on your pieces if they are going to be that scary Beck. Now I’m afraid to go down to the basement to sleep. That was very scary, and it wasn’t even in first person.

      • Mhvest

        That is a compliment by the way. It just gave me the creeps which is what you want to be able to do.

        • Haha, thanks, I think! Actually I kind of scared myself! So you won’t be afraid of the dark I’ll finish it.

          After securing the doors Virginia climbed the stars once more. Peering through her window at the somber house across the street something began to happen. Not only was there a glow in the upstairs window, there was a shimmer. She could just make out the shapes of little wings fluttering. It was fairies. They had taken up residence in the cozy brick house and were having a party. She chuckled at her wild imagination that had runaway and frightened her before. It was nothing but your ordinary, friendly fairies!

          • Steph

            Haha, oh good, now we can have sweet dreams :-). I really liked your description of the trees across the street, too!

          • Marianne

            Thank you Beck

          • Diane Turner

            Ah, nice finish. I felt the fear in the first part, due to your wonderful description, especially of the trees and the vines surrounding the abandoned house. But love, love, love the fairies.

    • love the dead vines like a scar – gorgeous.
      Velvet clouds, skeletal maples – so beautifully descriptive.
      Lovely lovely piece

      • Thank you Suzie! I always try to picture a scene or person in my mind and then describe it.

    • Yvette Carol

      Holy cow Beck! Talk about build atmosphere! The description made it eerie and terrifying

  • Steph

    Rex shielded his brow from the rain with his hand. The straight line winds had shattered the sheet of glass that had been Lake of the Woods only an hour earlier into a spray of shrapnel that now threatened to tear his boat to pieces. The cloud that carried the storm had fallen over them like a hangman’s hood. He couldn’t see a damn thing beyond the gray, hunched shape of Mags Magnussen on the bench in front of him.

    “Tell me what’s coming, man,” he shouted at Mags’ back. But the north wind ripped the words from his mouth.

    He kept one hand strong on the tiller and punched Mags in the shoulder to get his attention. Mags swung around.

    “I can’t hear you,” he mouthed back, shaking his head and cupping an ear with his hand.

    But Rex didn’t need his question answered any longer. For when Mags had turned, he had opened up a vantage through which Rex could make out two waves pulling together ahead of him. They would compound into a dreaded single peak.

    “Rogue!” he screamed.

    Their only hope was to take the rogue wave at an angle. He pushed the tiller of the outboard motor hard behind him to bank right. The momentum threw Mags to the side and Rex kicked him forward with his boot; they needed the weight up front.

    He cranked on the tiller until his triceps shook. He could feel the vibration of the propeller slicing the nape of the wave as they careened to the east. Mags finally scrambled into the point of the bow, and then the wave came down with a swift, sharp blow.

    • The first paragraph is just so evocative of storms brewing suddenly. Beautiful description. Mags has been here before? The list of characters?

      • Steph

        Yes, they have both been there before. Rex is the protagonist, Mags a sidekick. This is a snippet from my WIP, probably 3/4 the way into the story. Thanks for reading through it – I know it can be hard to read something without a clue as to what is going on in it!

    • Mhvest

      That is a great description Steph. The storm and river are bad but what gets me is that he can’t see, and then when he can he sees the horrible wave. It’s enough to make one never want to go out on a boat again.

    • Diane Turner

      Really liked the description of the gathering storm. Loved the line: But the north wind ripped the words from his mouth. You’ve written fear into it nicely. Excellent.

    • Their struggle is raw and touches all of humanity’s fear of being bested by nature. I like seeing people pitted against nature this way. You definitely drew their intense emotions out!

  • alba 17

    Hmm, I didn’t really think this was supposed to be fiction, but it looks like other people wrote “their room” into stories…I’m confused… Anyway… I just wrote a description. It was supposed to be angry, but in 15 min. it was hard to really come up with the right words.

    There’s a jumble of toys on the floor, spread out over a multi-colored rug like droppings from a giant beast. Tiny slips of paper, a pile of pint-size cats and dogs, a dollhouse splayed open with random leavings, a broken car, a black dog abandoned on its side. One small area, two shelves only, is filled with tidy stacks of coloring books, drawing pads.

    You can barely walk and it’s hard to avoid maiming yourself on ninja-like hard plastic unnameables lurking in the mess. A box of crayons and pencils is turned over, its contents spewed out in a colorful vomit. Everywhere things are at odd angles, in disordered piles, the garish plastic with which we feed the sucking, needy maw of the very young. It hurts your eyes.

    A doll lies face down on the rug, her fake blonde hair like a small rodent; a pile of miniature orange corpses, unmoving, victims of an unknown holocaust; stuffed animals with lifeless grimaces masquerading as smiles, limbs akimbo. It’s Pompeii all over again.

    • Bnnylc

      I think this is awesome! Even though all you are describing is the room itself, I envisioned the unseen angry chaos of children playing in it before you came into it, maybe fighting with each other over the toys which are now scattered all over, leaving behind the mess that probably makes you a bit angry to see it.

    • Mhvest

      This is great! And all of us who have children have witnessed this kind of chaos. I guess it shows frustration which is a form of anger and fear if you’re barefooted and need to get across the room quickly. I like the doll’s hair being like a rodent and the crayons that have been spewed out like vomit. You are really good at figure of speech.

    • Diane Turner

      This is wonderful! Ah, the “joy” of raising little ones. I love the descriptions you use of the doll carcasses and especially the blonde rodent. I’m still chuckling over that one. Nice work.

    • pastordt

      Great description here – so familiar to anyone who’s ever housed small ones. And the frustration of it all just seeps right through. Well done.

  • Devinsmoss

    I open my eyes to the scraping noise across my window. Peeking across the room, I see the blinds pulled over the source. I sigh at the spark of frustration inside me. Someone needs to trim that tree. It won’t be me though. I’m much too busy laying my head on my pillow, trying to fall back asleep.

    The scraping must mean it’s windy outside. One glance at the sky tells me it’s going to rain eventually. The frustration tugs a bit. This time of year is supposed to be sunny and warm.

    I finally decide to get up, forcing myself to ignore the scraping, determined to wait it out. Sitting down at the computer, I see the ugly, yet neatly-stacked piles of books pushed to the edge of my desk. They look nice to me, organized. It bothers me that not everybody can see that.

    My seat is comfortable, but hard. The padding has been worn down over years of use. Every now and then I can feel the top of a screw jutting into my butt as I work. The frustration tugs again.

    The computer provides a constant glow as I sit against it, my fingers tapping across the crumb-scattered keyboard as I create. It’s a glow I’ve become accustomed to, and I quickly rush to jiggle the mouse whenever the screen dims. Somehow I feel less productive if that screen goes dark.

    Behind me I hear someone roll over. The frustration builds as I hear her waking up, knowing my window of productivity has closed. Saturday morning has started. Time to clean.

    • Bnnylc

      Nice, I can feel the stress mounting as I read this! And I like how you threw in the word “butt”, it kind of reinforces the feeling of frustration.

  • Hjmichael

    I’m going to get this book right now and read it…loved this passage.

    • It’s well worth the read. He’s one of my favorites. I’ve read nearly all of his books.

  • Adriana Willey

    this was incredibly helpful for “young” writers like me. thank you.

  • Bnnylc

    Ok, so this is my first time doing this… so be easy in delivering your honesty about my work!

    Rich colors whose stagnant beauty are lifted by the breeze alighting in from the brightly sunlit outdoors, colors meant to warm, to soothe, to evoke the comforts of home after coming in from a hectic day. Sounds of laughter and other people’s joy drifts into an alcove tucked away, meant for seclusion but instead driving home the loneliness that has for so many months been festering in what is called home.

    There is no recompense for sadness made black by anger, or wrath at the inevitable despair of forced solitude, and the fiercer the fire of angst burns the darker the funereal cloud of hopelessness looms. Yet such sounds of unshared happiness continue to barge in from the outside world, sounds unwelcome in this safe, comforting place but yet providing flashes of false hope like lightning surging though the darkest storm. There is happiness in the world, but how can it spawn hope when one looks upon its warmth while standing out in the chill dampness of rejection?

    No, joy comes from hope within, like the warm reds and creams of the rug illuminated at night by the soft glow of the lamps, a light so unlike that harsh daylight sky which exposes every flaw. As day wanes into evening, loneliness is dispelled by the purring of cats whose love bursts forth unconditionally. Soft blankets and deep cushions envelop what has been bruised by the outside world and the chatter from the fiction on TV is like salve upon the wounds inflicted by reality.

    • Mhvest

      I definitely get a feeling of loneliness from this, and then the refuge of the room with the rugs, lamps and purring cats. I think you could use more of the concrete details like the “reds and creams of the rug illuminated at night by the soft glow of the lamps”. That brings to my mind coming home when it’s cold outside. Details are easier for most people to relate to than more abstract descriptions of loneliness. I hope you will submit more.

    • I loved some of the phrases you used – other people’s joy – wonderful way to set apart the MC as one who is not sharing in that joy. The image of sadness made black by anger is powerful. I have been in the place where the MC is – wondering if there would ever be an end to despair, pain, loneliness and depression. I have mirrored the no joy comes from hope within. You did an awesome job letting the reader feel the feelings the MC is feeling.

  • Jmfthird

    The glass sliding door is open onto the deck of the second-floor apartment, my box-fan in the aperture, set on its highest speed to whisk the hot and heavy air through my living space at as high a velocity as possible. The phone call from the office said they should have the air conditioning repaired by 7 p.m., and indeed I can see the repairmen’s activities out my living-room window. Not once late with my rent, not once in two years heading for three. To add to the merriment, the swimming pool, less than thirty yards away, is prodigiously peopled with screaming, laughing, profanity-spewing teenagers and children, ecstatic over the end of school and the summer’s first opportunity to act the fool.

    Keep abortion LEGAL.

    Desperate times call for desperate measures. I hunt for and find “Duke Ellington: The Early Years Volume Two”, and put it in the CD player, not giving much of a good goddamn whether I get in dutch with management this fine afternoon. I open every window in the place. I find a stale pack of Winstons in the nightstand drawer, and resume the habit I abandoned three months ago. I sit back and let Ben Webster’s saxophone flood over me, those cascading quicksilver notes washing some of the tension out of me.

    Where’s that bottle of Turkey?

    • Mhvest

      I like this description of a hot summer in an apartment in the city. I don’t really get a lot of volatile anger from this but more of a slow frustrated irritated kind of anger. I like the way he gets back at the noisy children.

  • Just B

    She’d always hated the dark. Ever since she was a child, completely convinced there were monsters in the closet and a hungry wolf that lived under her bed and only ate little girls, Anne had tried to avoid the dark whenever possible. She remembered every creaky floorboard and every twisted tree limb that looked to her like bony fingers clawing at her bedroom window on stormy nights. She’d asked her mother to take away the clown music box her grandma had given her for her 8th birthday because she could feel its squinty eyes under those arching black brows glaring at her in the blackness, and was certain it only wore that garish grin on its face because it had plans for her the minute her parents turned out the light. Even though they assured her over and over that she was safe and sound and nothing was going to get her, Anne went to bed many a night, covers clutched tightly under her chin, sweating profusely under the blankets but afraid to throw them off for then she’d be completely vulnerable and utterly doomed.

    Anne could feel the hairs standing up on the back of her neck now, just as she remembered feeling them then. It didn’t take long for her to regret walking to her car in the parking garage alone, brushing off Alan’s offer to walk along with her. They’d had to work late tonight, big project due in just one week and their presentation was only half completed. Exhausted and drained, both physically and mentally, she’d finally said good night about 10:30 and stuffing her homework into her brown leather briefcase, she’d grabbed her coat and headed for the elevator. “Are you sure I can’t walk you?” Alan had called after her. “If you can wait another ten minutes while I finish up?” Anne turned away from the elevator, still on its way up from the Lobby to the 14th floor, and answered, “I’m wiped out, and my brain is mush. I gotta get home and get some sleep. But thanks anyway.” She waved her briefcase at him, said good night and stepped in for the downward descent.

    A minute later the elevator came to a stop at the Garage Level and the doors slid open. Anne leaned forward ever so, glancing right, then left before cautiously stepping out. Her car was parked in her assigned space, #14, right up against the concrete wall about 80 yards from where she stood. The garage was completely deserted. This late at night, the security lights mounted on the walls cast an eerie blue glow over everything and the yellow lines painted on the concrete looked almost neon under the glare. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, or a body, thought Anne, standing there all alone. Besides her black Lexus, there were only a couple cars left in the lot, one of which she assumed was Alan’s. In this big empty garage as far as Anne was concerned, hers might as well have been parked a mile away instead of just a few stalls down.

    The raised hairs on her neck were practically poking through her collar, and her palms were sweating. Her fingers tightened around the handle of her briefcase. This would make a decent weapon, she was thinking, swing it, hit them where it hurts, and down they go. The brief image of a chalk outline of a body flashed into her head. Don’t be ridiculous, she admonished herself, you’ve been watching too many episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims. Just get to your car and all will be fine. She shook her head as if to shake off her palpable uneasiness and headed towards her stall. Her shoes clacked loudly, echoing off the concrete floor, clack, clack, then clack-clack, clack-clack, as she walked a little faster. Thank goodness she’d pulled her keys from her purse while on the ride down. Her hand shook as she fingered them to find the key to the ignition. Just as she reached her car and inserted the key into the lock, she heard something behind her, a loud hollow sound, a thwack or a thud. Frantically, she turned the key and the driver’s side door unlocked. She pulled open the door at the same time she felt a hand touch her right shoulder. Her briefcase dropped to the floor as she screamed.

    • Diane Turner

      This is really good! The description is vivid and so visual. And I felt the fear, oh my, did I. Excellent writing.

    • Nice starting with the image of the child afraid of the dark and then moving to the sense of fear rising, wondering if it is real or not – then finding the hand touching her. Excellent description of the parking garage. Twice mentioning hairs rising on back of neck might want to switch one of them out to a different image. I could feel the MC’s fear and the terror of the dark. Well done.

    • Just B

      Thank you for reading my fifteen minutes. We can all write fear, to some degree, from somewhere. I appreciate your comments and suggestions.

  • Guest

    I have to say, I’m pretty offended by this post. You say there’s nothing wrong with books that have inner-monologue (and, according to you, this includes a lot of YA), but obviously there is something wrong with it if it isn’t considered “art.” But, getting away from the suggestion of “YA isn’t art” for just a moment, I take a lot offense whenever anyone claims that something created, written, painted, “isn’t art.” It’s a pretentious response, and something so subjective that it’s impossible to say one thing is art and another isn’t. What is your criteria for deciding that one thing is art? Couldn’t someone just as easily come here and make a case that pieces with too much description and not enough inner-monologue “isn’t art”?

    Honestly, you could have said “show, don’t tell” and left it at that, but then you had to go and imply that YA isn’t art with the same ageist BS so many people believe.

    • Joe is an excellent teacher, generous with his time, growing and learning in his own way with the rest of us. This is his site. When you visit a writer’s site expect to hear their particular opinion on any given topic; that’s the point of a blog. Joe’s tone in this post was no more derogatory or negative than any of his other posts, because he is always warm and open. There is no need to be offended by a post that wasn’t directed at you or meant to offend. Perhaps you are struggling with your writing or having a bad day. Why not join us in using this sight as it was intended to be used, as a tool, meant to encourage and equip. If you approach these posts with a positive attitude I have no doubt you will find your writing journey enriched!

    • Mhvest

      I agree with your remark that the definition of art is subjective, but I think there are usually guidelines that one learns to follow when they are learning any artistic discipline. There are definitely exceptions to any and all rules. Show don’t tell is generally a good rule, though because showing rather than telling engages the reader. I know that there are exceptions to every rule but here we are just practicing and learning a craft. Like Beck says this is Joe’s blog and we read it because we are interested in what he says. This is a good group and we are more committed to practice than anything else. There are young adult writers here, mystery writers, a poet or two or three and we all are respectful of each other. Joe is an honest person trying to write just like everyone else, but he is also trying to help a whole lot of people at the expense of his own time.

      • Yvette Carol

        That was nicely put Marianne! I felt indignation too

    • You have some really good points. My goal wasn’t to get into the what is, what isn’t art discussion in this post. Clearly this post wasn’t a very good vehicle for that. I like what Jeff Goins said recently about the difference between art and entertainment:

      http://goinswriter.com/art-and-entertainment/

      What I’d rather this post be about, though, is to say most inner monologue (not YA) isn’t good art. It’s not even particularly entertaining. Some of it can be done well, though. There’s definitely exceptions to every rule. But the rule is, avoid inner monologue.

      • Yvette Carol

        Joe I’ll have to remember that, esp. considering my protagonist does a lot of thinking in my books!!!!

        • It’s ok, Yvette. You just have to figure out how to be the exception 🙂 Check out Virginia Woolf for good art with a lot of thinking. Julianne Fellowes’ Snobs is a fun example, too.

  • Diane Turner

    I jolted awake and sat up, my ears pricked. The red numbers on the clock glowed 3:09. What was that noise? It must have been what had awakened me. The wind maybe? No. A faint scratchy sound coming from the back end of the house. Next to me, my 5-year old daughter slept on peacefully. There it was again, and louder. It was coming from the living room. Did I lock the slider? thundered in my head. I must have… I eased from the bed and, on tip toes, pulled down the .38 from the closet shelf, and held it clumsily with both hands. Someone was working on the screen door of the slider, I was sure of it. I pulled the bedroom door closed before inching down the long hallway. My heart would surely burst out from beneath my breastbone. I gripped the cold metal of the gun with shaky, sweaty fingers. The walls of the narrow hall seemed to close in on me, feeding my rising terror. With both hands, I raised the gun and pointed it at the closed drapes. I had to protect my child. The scraping sound was coming from just outside the slider. I stood, frozen, a few feet from it. In the flash of a second, my anger flared at Doug for choosing to work the night shift, leaving us alone at night and for insisting I have a gun I didn’t know how to use. And with that anger I stormed forward, gun wobbling in one hand, whipped back the drapes, and roared, “Okay, I have gun!”

    Outside, an aluminum lawn chair grazed up against the screen with every breath of a breeze.
    It was lucky. It was almost a dead lawn chair.

    • That was excellent Diane! I could feel her fear mounting. It made me so nervous I jumped to the end and then went back to read it all the way through! My brother did a similar thing when his son was an infant. Only he almost attacked a utility light hanging on the other side of a full clothes line with a baseball bat!

      • Diane Turner

        I’m giggling over the utility light. The fear in these situations is so real. Needless to say, I disposed of the gun right after that episode.
        Thanks so much for your kind words and for reading the piece.

        • pastordt

          Good job with the suspense – but I, too, was expecting a racoon or a neighborhood cat. The lawn chair was a great touch!

    • Mhvest

      Ha! I thought it was going to be a raccoon.

      • Diane Turner

        Lawn chair, raccoon, ah, could have been either one. Thanks for reading the piece.

    • I did not expect the last image – glad she didn’t shoot. Good showing of the terror, and the motivation to protect the child. I think that maybe it is not necessary to mention the rising terror for it is shown with the shaky sweaty fingers, the gun, the sounds. I liked the suspense as she pulled back the curtain to find the offending lawn chair.

      • Diane Turner

        In reading through it again, I agree with you. The walls closing in was enough. Thanks for your help and for reading the piece.

    • Yvette Carol

      Ha ha! Go mama warrior 🙂

  • pastordt

    A faint smell of woodsmoke drifts and lingers whenever a door or window is opened, bringing reminders of wintertime chill. Now the fireplace holds only a thin layer of ash, no flames dancing their warmth into the room. Today, the leaves on the gingko tree just outside are bright green, waving in the wind, singing a quiet song of spring. A small, octagonal clerestory window mirrors these changing seasons, providing a small, confined glimpse at the outside world.

    A window seat between fireplace and tree is seldom used, covered now with books and notepaper. It’s the bed that gets the most use these days, providing space for sleeping, working, wondering, waiting. Everything in this space breathes relaxation, an irony of sorts for the primary occupant.

    She is surrounded by the colors of island life, the sounds of slack-key guitar, quilts, photos, baskets, fabrics – all of it designed to evoke the slower pace of vacation living. And some days, that works quite well. She is momentarily lulled into thinking she is there, listening to the ceiling fans whirring, feeling the warm, tropical breeze across her skin. She can almost see the waves breaking, far across the yard, through the larger windows that face east, toward the morning sun. These are the momentary gifts that remind her there is more to life than what she sees within these four walls: a walker just to the left of the bed, a tray of medicine bottles to the right, a variety of oddly shaped pillows and support structures – these are the things that confine her, that define her as she watches the seasons go by.

    • Mhvest

      That’s so good. I love the details the ginkgo tree, the octagonal clerestory, the ash in the fireplace. I can picture all of it. It seems to very still, waiting for something better.

      • pastordt

        Thank you, Marianne. This is the room where I work – I love it – but couldn’t come up with anything angry or fearful about it. So the sickroom sort of went in between those two emotions. And yes, there is always a feeling of waiting for something when I’m here. And hopefully that something is continually getting better…

        • Mhvest

          I like the way you conveyed the emotion in a subtle way. If I hadn’t known the prompt I would have just had that feeling but not known why exactly. That is good writing I think when it’s subtle enough to make the reader feel it but not know why.

    • I love the image of flames dancing their warmth. Also it is good that you used more than one sense in describing the scene – the smell, the sight, touch (breeze on skin),
      Interesting how the window narrows the view of the changing seasons – frames the experience – wonder if that is how the MC views their world, through a similar frame of ideas, etc. I also like how the outside scene moves the feelings of more to her life – and then to find out that the MC is in a sick bed with a walker – well portrayed – her world is limited by the sickness just as her view of the outside is limited by the window. Well done.

      • pastordt

        Thanks, Heather. This was a really interesting prompt for me.

  • I am awful and describing the setting as well as the characters. People always tell me they don’t know what my characters look like… I can never find a clever way to say, “She has brown hair and blue eyes.” It just always sounds bad. Katie

    Here’s my room:

    The rays of sun from the transom windows shine directly down on her computer as she types feverishly in the patio chair inside the house. A displaced kitchen chair serves as her footstool. Beside it is a coffee table with a glass chess set, an abandoned cup of coffee, and an iphone in a black otterbox. It’s not hers, but this minute it is her internet.

    Behind her to the far left is the breakfast cooking of egg casserole. It will probably be ready for consumption before her fifteen minutes of writing expire. They are discussing fashion in the kitchen. The chef looks like an inverse pumpkin with her olive shorts and pale orange tank top. The chef’s assistant declares herself a purple pumpkin with her purple and orange tank top and bright orange shorts. She chuckles.

    Behind her on the right is a massive construction project. The directions say it will take two hours. Step one: drink heavily. Provided the electrician and the carpenter don’t make any fatal errors, the heaps of wood in varying sizes and cuts, will “shortly” become a rolling kitchen cabinet. The screws are sorted by shape and length. As are the wood pieces. Three are clearly cabinet doors, one the top. The rest make sides, the bottom, and shelves. She’s grateful she’s not part of this massive Sunday morning construction project.

    The scene in front of her is her favorite. It’s everyone’s favorite. It’s the scene that makes one smile upon waking up, as if one forgot over night the beautiful mountains. Trees frame the view of the lake with no houses on it and the dam preventing water from over flowing. The best way to get down the few miles to the lake would be a zipline. The forest ranger would frown on that. Even from this distance, it is very inviting and serene. The water is silent this morning, the wind still, and the sun hot. The morning perfect.

    If only the pumpkins in the kitchen could conclude their construction project. Right on cue, the breakfast bell is rung.

    • Mhvest

      I think that was good description Katie. I could picture every bit of it except where the chef and his assistant came from. To tell the truth I really didn’t care where they came from when I pictured their outfits.

      I’ve had the same remarks about people wanting to know what characters look like. In my online classes. I know what you mean. I have a writing partner now and she suggested that I give the characters some odd detail of appearance like a droopy eyelid or a beauty mark. That does seem to help.

    • Some of your descriptions made me smile – the chef and the assistant. I think these descriptions interwoven with some dialogue and action would definitely round out a scene. I like the idea of a hipline to the lake. I can relate to step one of the massive construction project – sometimes that’s the only way to make sense of the instructions 🙂 There are many things in your description that readers could relate to.

    • Yvette Carol

      Nice. Wow, the place you live is so scenic!!

  • alice

    I have a question. Isn’t this all inner monologue. We see everything through the MC’s eyes, the fair, the talkative Michael, what Rachel wears? I think I’m confused.

    • Mhvest

      This is how I understand it but I may very well be wrong. I hope someone with an education in writing will correct this if I am saying something wrong.

      In the passage above we have a first person narrator who is telling a story that includes only a short part about how the girl feels. He mentions her “passion for the theater”. The other is description but it is told in the first person.

      Interior monologues are longer (monologue is by definition long – I think I’m not going to look all this up). And interior monologues reveal how the character feels or thinks about something.

      In first person this might be an example

      When I first saw her, I knew I loved her. She was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen and I could look nowhere else. As we spent more time together those emotions cooled but I never learned how to live without her. Then when I was thirty, she left me. I was alone in a way that no one should be alone.

      Or

      When we entered the dark hall, I felt the hair stand up on my neck. We moved forward in the darkness and I thought, let’s get out of here, but I was afraid to turn back. My feet felt like they were suctioned cupped to the floor, neither able to propel me forward nor backward. I’ve never been that frightened before and hope to never be again.

      In second person

      When he met Martha he felt his heart beat in his throat. He knew she was what he’d been looking for all his life. They married in church with two hundred guests in attendance. They had children whom he adored. Then when he was thirty, she divorced him. He could not bear the loneliness alone so he looked for another one like Martha, but there were none to be found.

      or

      The minute they entered the graveyard Mary knew coming with the others had been a mistake. She felt sweat forming on her forehead despite the cold air outside. She wanted to turn back but was afraid to pass the old mausoleum at the entrance by herself. She hurried to keep up even as she wanted to turn back.

      I think there is a fine line between first person narration, interior monologues, and stream of consciousness, and often they are are mixed with description. I guess good writing can use any of these and it’s the way they are combined and the tastes of the reader that make for really good reading.

      • I agree with all of that, Marianne. Well said.

  • I began practicing this in my latest chapter of a fanfiction on fanfiction.net and its very elementary, my effort, but i think its much better to say “the room seemed to suffocate her” instead of saying “she was about to cry” 🙂

  • thank you for this, so very much!!!!!!!!! 😀 😀

  • From my memoir Tell Me What He Did – healing from abuse – as a seventeen year old in St. Louis I had my first contact with a neo-pagan group called Church of All Worlds (Based on Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land). While I am no longer a pagan, this group is dear to my heart for it is their love and concern for me that caused me to give up my suicide plans and choose to live. These were my first impressions of the group:

    We arrive at Tim’s house. It looks like a normal house on the outside. There are lots of cars parked on the street. When we open the front door, I’m surprised. It sounds like a party is going on. It doesn’t look anything like church. Butterfly says, “Here, put your coat on the pile over there, grab something to drink and find a place to settle.” When she closes the door I see a sign on the inside of the door that says: Did you remember to dress?

    What does that mean?

    Butterfly says, “I have to go to a short meeting in the other room. When we finish, I’ll bring Tim out to meet you.”

    “Thanks.” I grab some iced tea and look around the crowded living room for a safe place to sit. I see a space next to a couple of guys sitting on pillows on the floor, playing chess.

    “Mind if I sit here?”

    “No problem.”

    The table where the guys are playing chess also holds bowls of chips, dip, and popcorn. I watch the chess game and sneak glances at others in the room. Besides tea and soda, some people are drinking beer and I see bottles of wine on some of the tables. The flickering light of candles adds a soft glow. I smell frankincense, and finally spot the censer sitting on a huge speaker. The incense fills the room with a sweet, smoky smell giving it an otherworldly appearance. Light bulbs in the ceiling fixture are covered with oriental-type umbrellas that cast a reddish glow around the room.

    This house is so cool. When I get my own place, I’m going to decorate it like this. I make a mental note of every thing I see so I can tell my friends later. I think they would love this place.

    Someone holds up a bottle and says, “The wine of choice for pagans, Pagan Pink Ripple.”

    The group laughs.

    “The chess-playing guy moves his bishop and says, “Check.” He looks at me and smiles, “Hi, my name is Sam and this is John.” He points to his opponent.

    “Shirley,” I extend my hand. “This is my first time here. I’m just trying to figure things out.”

    “Don’t worry, we don’t bite.”

    Sam and John start another game. At the next coffee table, two people are playing some sort of game with black and white stones on a board that looks like graph paper.

    Someone sees me looking at the game and says, “It’s called, Go.”

    “Never heard of it.”

    “We can teach you how to play if you want, it’s a game of logic.”

    “I’d love to, but maybe later.”

    People do seem friendly. I glance around the room. The walls are black with painted images of planets, suns, cartoon type goddess figures, and symbols. Black lights make the images glow. Curtains made from Indian bedspreads and mattresses on the floor give the room a Bohemian flair. Mobiles of planets and suns hang from the ceiling and spin whenever someone gets up and walks around. The record player blares one of my favorites, Buffy St. Marie’s God is Alive, Magic is Afoot.

    One guy with long, curly brown hair gets up, “I need to take a leak.” He’s naked! Oh my God, that’s what the sign means. Will I have to get naked? I glance around the room and see that some are naked, some are wearing robes that look like priests cassocks, and some are wearing jeans and shirts. I guess there really is no dress code.

    I feel a tap on my shoulder and glance up. It’s Butterfly, who has taken off her clothes. Somehow I didn’t think she would be one of the naked ones. “Shirley, here’s Tim.”

    I stand up to shake his hand. Tim says, “Why don’t we go to a room where it’s quieter so we can talk.”

    I follow him and Butterfly into a bedroom. Tim looks exactly like my dream guy. Long brown hair and a beard, his eyes look like he can see deep into your soul. Fortunately he is wearing white, hooded long robe. Almost like a Ku Klux Klan type of robe, except there are no eyeholes, the hood is just a hood. He seems gentle, kind of reminds me of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings.

    The bedroom has mirrors on the ceiling, lots of cloth draped over things, and a mattress on the floor. There are about fifteen people sitting and talking in the room. Some are naked; some are not. We find a quiet corner and sit. Butterfly seems so unashamed that she is naked. Another thin guy with dark hair joins us. “Hi, I’m Solon.”

    “Shirley.” I say as we shake hands.

    Tim asks, “So what do you think.”

    “Wasn’t quite what I expected. I really don’t know what to think yet.”

    • This is great description, Heather. Thank you for taking me somewhere where I’ve never been and helping me experience it first hand.
      Katie

    • Diane Turner

      This is great description, and I like that you used most of the senses, not just visual. Really nice piece of work. Pagan Pink Ripple! Ha! Ha!

    • Yvette Carol

      Sometimes the description gets a little too much, like the long brown curly hair. However, mostly you evoke a really solid sense of place and it’s almost like being there 🙂

  • Abby Walsh

    Guilty as charged. I’ve sliped into a lot of inner monologue, but as a teenaged writer that seems to be common in many of the books I read, as you mentioned. However, description is something I want to get better at as a whole- showing tends to leave a deeper mark than just simply telling. A well turned “told” phrase strikes harder when the entire novel isn’t written in “told” phrases.

  • Yvette Carol

    One of the boys pulls down a blanket, thickly patch-worked, and though faded in places it still showed a wondrous array of many colours.

    I lean forward to throw another log on the fire, which crackles up in orange and yellow sparks, bringing them all back to the present. “Now all of you, tuck the blanket around yourselves, snuggle up. I’ll have Nana Jeen bring us a hot chocolate. How does that sound?”

    “Yes please Papa!”

    “With marshmallows?”

    Then I snap my fingers and a shiny black messenger beetle flies down from the stationary fan overhead. “Ask Mother to bring us six hot chocolates with marshmallows, please.”

    The beetle flies off through one of the many beetle-sized apertures near the low wooden ceiling.

    I slide back into my chair, put my arms around the baby and give him a squeeze. We sit in silence and watch the flames, while the rain begins, sending the occasional hiss of cold droplets onto the fire, and he grabs for the ends of my handlebar moustache.

    • Yvette Carol

      Oops, it wasn’t until I saw it here that I noticed I started with a mistake in tense. I find the present tense really tricky. It should read ‘… it still shows a wondrous array of many colours’ (N.Z. spelling)

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  • I’ve really been trying to work on this lately. It is so easy to simply tell the audience what you want them to know. To be concise and the expense of detail (especially environmental).

    Ironically, my favorite novels (Lord of the Rings comes to mind) truly show instead of tell. I have a lot of practice to do.

    • I know. I reread an old draft of a short story recently that I had worked painstakingly to show not tell and was surprised that I still found lots of telling.

      • I try to remind myself to paint a picture rather than draw a scene. Trouble is, you can always paint more environmental detail! Truth be told, in what I think would be going radically in the direction of showing, I would still be doing more telling.

        I wonder if the inner monologue shift has happened as we have been consuming increasing amounts of video. So much of what I see in movies/tv anymore is heavy on inner monologue… i.e, Dexter. It could be retraining the way we relate to characters, and be congruent with the rise of self/shrinking of the world (via social media) over environment.

        • I do the same thing! It’s so funny.

          Agreed, painting a picture is a good idea. The way I learned to do it was by writing about the moment. Nature changes over time, the light changes, the animals change, the weather changes, and you just narrate the change while talking about other stuff at the same time.

  • Blakeston

    Sparse and yet cluttered, with whitewashed walls adorned with paintings, shelves and photographs depicting grinning children. A table stands in the center, weighed down by a splurge of books, paper and manila.

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  • Helen Rhodes

    He arrived at the small cottage around noon. The crusty door knob was heavy when he lifted it. It boomed against the blackened door announcing his arrival. Years of encrusted plant life creeked away as Arabella revealed herself in the doorway. She smiled gently, recognising his pale face, and gestured the way in. He followed dreamily. The small cottage looked much the same on the inside as out. Dark corners watched him while he accepted the chair Arabella offered. She watched him sit whilst taking in his surroundings, like a child at a new school. She smiled. “I’ll make some tea,” she said. Glen nodded. He watched her glide to her stove, the fire burning. Warmth amongst the cold. A spider watched from the candle on the wall. She placed a cup on the soot grey wood table next to him. He glanced at it, then noticed it was bubbling. The steam rose frantically. How could a kettle get so hot as to keep its contents bubbling even by the time it reached the table, Glen thought. Arabella brought a stool over from the stove and sat next to him. The cup kept on bubbling and belching. Too hot to drink. Glen turned his attention towards the woman once again. Why he didn’t think anything of this bubbling brew he can’t remember, even now. If only he’d thought then and risen and left. If only.

  • She walked into the room, finding herself bombarded with smells and textures that had faded into her distant memory. The musty smell of leather coming from the saddle   over there on the wall brought her past rushing back to the forefront of her mind. 

    The golden glint of the browband on the bridle caught her eye, and then she spotted her horse’s name engraved in the brass name plate which was still hanging over the bridle rack. In fancy calligraphy, the embossed letters spelled out his name: “King”.

    Then she saw it again, for the first time in years. In the far corner was the framed picture of her riding King for the first time. The scene came rushing back to her as if it had happened yesterday….

    She was leaning forward, grabbing for whatever mane her fingers could grasp. She felt the horse round his back into a ball of energy, about to explode any second. She couldn’t tell which way he was going to go. She held her breath while she did everything in her power to calm her body, anticipating the moment of explosion that was surely coming. 
    Then they were both in the air, front end high, gravity pulling on her backward with all its might. Time slowed as they hovered mid-air in a seemingly weightless bubble. King’s front legs flailed wildly as he went even higher, feeling absolutely vertical, momentarily teetering on the edge of no return.

    She had been here before. The next moment might end in searing pain, whiplashed neck and a long stay in hospital flat on her back, unmovable and incapacitated.

    Not. This. Time.

    With renewed motivation, she fought against that insistent gravity, climbing up toward the horse’s head and grabbing now with both arms around his neck. Looking down, she found one spot and planted her gaze on that speck of sand. 

    “Down there!” It was all she could think.  Still holding tightly to the neck, she leaned in the direction of the sand – sideways and down, and in another blink, she felt a light thud as King’s feet hit the sand. He snorted.

    She slid off his side, knees weak and wobbly. She looked around but could not see anything in particular. With an audible gasp, she sucked in a lungful of air and gratefully felt the flat ground as it supported her weight underfoot.