People in landscape

A few days ago I read this post by Joseph.

I grew up in the city. My childhood was filled with streets, cars, bikes, buses and metros, trains, and people. Lots of people everywhere. But, no landscape. Unless you count Mont-Royal. Architecture yes, a view – no.

When I was a young adult I traveled, and all my photos were of landscape, not of faces. I remember standing and shooting the Syrian mountains for hours. Waterfalls. Oceans, seas. Bedouin tents. Bombed buildings aside apartment buildings. Wildlife. Mountain goats (my childhood nickname from my parents – what does that say about me??). Southern shanty towns. Ok. Some of these are not the most desirable kind of landscape (and I have even probably expanded the definition of landscape) to be surrounded by, but I was in awe. I hardly ever took a photo of a person. At home, I had plenty of people, in all forms, shapes, and sizes (gotta love Montreal for that alone πŸ™‚ ). All my friends always told me I took the most boring pictures EVER!

Does my writing include pages and pages of scenery and description? No, but when editing I do come across gorgeous prose that just goes nowhere because all it did was describe a room for two paragraphs too long. Slash, slash. Painful, but necessary. I can read description though, and when reading older literature I am at times envious of the fact that the author was given permission to ramble on for pages at a time, describing detail.

When I grew up some more, faces became interesting again. She was mad, she sad, he anxious. Each face told a story, a thousand stories. One of my top priorities is to visit Angkor Wat. Ancient city, jungle, and faces. Massive faces carved out of stone staring at you from every angle. I have seen slide-shows from a family member who has returned to Petra, and I am always in awe at the presence these faces hold.

05j Cambodia Angkor Thom 40x60 Acrylic 2000a

Painting provided by courtesy of Robert Brown (acrylic).

So, faces found their way back into my photos. As Joseph pointed out, landscape without people is boring.

I was thinking about this last night, and wondered if it is perhaps my fascination with people that led me to begin writing as an adult. (As a child and pre-teen that was a whole other kind of motivation). But, then I thought, no, for me it is their stories.

How do you use description in your writing?


25 thoughts on “People in landscape

  1. This is a really interesting question (and thanks for linking to Joseph’s blog, which looks like a lot of fun to read!). You know, I think the story of you taking all those landscape photos is great because it tells us so much about your past, your experiences, how you interacted with those unpopulated places. To me, the best form of description tells us as much about the character in the scene as the place itself. But how to do this effectively, how to do it without sounding like I’m trying so darn hard… I’m still working on that part. ;-D

    1. I like the idea that description has to add to the character. I think it has to come from the character, otherwise it is out of place. Thanks, Christina! It is a continuous work in progress, isn’t it?

  2. Description is hard to write … for me, at least. I think I fear writing too much description, causing my reader to skim impatiently, and usually end up writing too little.

    In the hands of an excellent writer, long passages of description can be beautiful, but I know I’m not in that league.

    I want my reader to have a sense of what I see, but still have room to visualize the characters and scenery their way. So, for me, writing description is a balancing act.

    1. I also fear that I will have too much description, Linda. Yet, I think due to this, at times I cut too much, and things are left too stark. So, back in I go, and add colour. Balance, as you say.

  3. I tend to write short, blunt descriptions that hit the gut and move on–I guess, in a way, to provoke the reader into visualizing the image, but not tell them how to see it exactly. And, I admit, if I’m reading a description that’s too flowery, too many adjectives, I end up skimming through it.

    1. HI, Christi, and thanks for coming by. I think you made your here from Linda!
      I like the way you describe how you use description . lol. It is what I like as a reader. If I am told too much it will not agree with the picture I create in my head. Amazing to think how our words cause scenes to open up in someone mind that is not how we see it.

  4. Hi Jenni,

    I enjoy concentrating on scene setting and atmosphere, but am aware that most readers simply want to get on with the story. I suppose the best way of incorporating substantial amounts of scene setting is narrating it through the character’s viewpoint and allowing it to reveal more about the character.

    I also think that if a writer has a particular gift for creating scenic settings, then they should continue writing in this way.

    1. Yes, Lawrence I think you are right, unless it hinders one from publication. Then comes the famous dilemma of how much one feels comfortable to change in order to satisfy an editor.

      1. Some editors prefer a less-is-more approach with more emphasis on dialogue. Personally, I like creating atmosphere and immediacy through viewpoint and scene setting.

  5. Heh, I posted to Joseph’s post that inspired yours, then forgot to say that I liked your thoughts on the descriptions of places and scenery in literature.

    I don’t believe there has to be a person (or monster) in the landscape to make it interesting, rather it’s the pov from which the landscape is viewed that makes it interesting. I like close 3rd person POV–thus any scenic descriptions would show as much about the head of character as they do about the physical terrain. Some characters observe their surroundings in meticulous details–scientifically, romantically, whatever–others duck their head against the rain and run for the taxi. πŸ˜‰

    I love description that gives clues about who a character is or that enhances the plot by echoing present events or foreshadowing future ones. When details are given from outside the MC’s pov and feel like an info dump—the author really researched an area and wants to show how much they know about its vegetation, say—I skim.

    1. Hi Ev, glad to hear you made your way over to Joseph’s.
      “t’s the pov from which the landscape is viewed that makes it interesting” – how true! I had not thought of it in those terms.

  6. I always tend to put too much description of scenery in my first drafts and then have to cut it down for the final versions of my stories. I can’t bear to delete a beautiful description that I worked on for hours so I usually copy and paste it into a new document. I may never use those descriptions again but I take comfort from knowing that creating them was good writing practice.

  7. Helen and Jennifer,

    I do that too! And not just descriptions–sometimes I have to lose whole scenes that I don’t really want to lose, so they get their own file . . .

  8. Writing short stories for many years has certainly influenced the way I write. I don’t tend to write long descriptive scenes. I can remember as a child always skimming over those paragraphs. Sometimes a few well placed sentenced/words can set the tone. I would tend to describe a persons inner landscape in more detail because when I’m writing that usually the place I’m headed. I haven’t figured out why. It’s just the way it is. At least for the moment.

    1. HI Laura, and sorry for the delay in my response.
      I was actually the opposite as a child, Laura. When I read description I remember slowing down, and sometimes re-reading. As a writer, I tend to agree that a short descriptions are best.

  9. When I’m reading I like to be reminded of the scenery the characters are in, what their houses look like and what they’re wearing. I find even writers of fast-paced thrillers take the trouble to do this. As a writer, I find it very hard to do. It takes me much longer to write a sentence or two of description than a page or two of dialogue. In fact I always go back and put the descriptions in later, because otherwise I’d write nothing in my allotted hour.

    I’m reading a book at the moment that is disappointingly short on description. I bought it because it was set in Cologne but it could be anywhere.

    Hi Christina, yes, my blog is a lot of fun to read! :-))) Sometimes it’s fun to write too, certainly more fun than writing to lawyers, which is how I spent my day today. 😦

    1. Reading your comment, Joseph, I am imagining myself writing, and I do believe I over write description in my first draft. Quite a bit, actually. Gratefully, there can be many more drafts.

      Recently, on Book TV, an author stated that the first draft is the greatest gift a writer can receive. It allows one to explore without limits.

  10. It depends on what you’re writing. Literary is more forgiving of long, beautiful descriptions than commercial.

    As a reader, I tend to skim right over it.

    The Hours has many, many versus of descriptive prose and would be a good tool for anyone who wants to study the art of it. I didn’t care for the book because I found it to be too much, but it would be the first book I pick up to brush up on the skill–which I need to do.

    1. HI Tricia – nice to see you!!

      I have noticed that more literary novels are being released with less description. Off the top of my head, I think of The Gargoyle and Through Black Spruce. I think the trend is less. I think our fast paced lifestyle demands it.

      1. Not it really matters, but just to set the record straight, I actually recall that the Gargoyle has quite a bit of description, towards the end – dante’s inferno. Funnily enough, that’s my least favorite part of the book.

  11. I’m bad at description too. It just doesn’t occur to me to put in any, just a “marker” of sorts to let people know that something is there. I’ll describe the steam off a horses back when it is hard at work, but fail to mention what color the horse itself is. I said it was there and it was working, that ought to be a good enough picture right? Riiiight?

    Yeah I know. Back to work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s