Monday, February 28, 2011

TIPS: The Story Behind a Place

In 2010, I started looking around me. I'd never done it before, not really, not in my entire life. I'd gone to university and kept my mind on daydreams and chores and reading books. I've bussed to many locations and not really seen them. For some reason, perhaps because I catch the bus at the same time twice daily now that I work, or perhaps for some intangible reason of personal development, I actually opened my eyes and started looking.

I noticed so many things. How the cockatoos toss their heads in flight at dusk, screeching and squawking. How a car alarm sounds when surrounded (or perhaps causing) bird song and how in Australia it's sometimes hard to pick out the alarm at all. How beautiful the birds look and how insane they sound. The stages of bark on the trees. First they're all barked up, then it starts sloughing off leaving green beneath, then it starts toughening up again over summer - leaving me lots of crunchy bark pieces to jump on. How some bits of pavement are concrete, others as asphalt (often covered in loose gravel) and others are beaten dirt. How often you can see glass from old smashed windows, perhaps from decades ago, glittering like gems in the dirt by the side of the road.

Then there's the buildings. Chipped paint, gleaming paint, patterns of fresh and older paint. Corrugated iron roof tops - new or freshly painted, faded or rusted. Sagging verandahs. Shiny iron lace. Trees, plants, a dozen types of fencing.

I look around me and I see, hear, and smell all the places around me and I wish, truly wish, I could capture this experience and put it onto paper. The trouble is, of course, a plethora of details won't help me capture that experience so I guess it's all in the telling details. Each description of a place should be an anecdote. A story. A tale. It should imply much even if it says little.

Have you told any anecdotes in your descriptions lately?


  1. Sometimes I do, but then, I tend to be rather thin on description in my story - even though I am very observant in real life.


  2. It's generally not the quantity of description but the quality that matters. I've seen authors use a single point to bring a location to life.