A writing exercise

There are many interesting writing exercises. Here's one:

Describe a character purely by describing a room they've been in. How much information about the person can you transmit?

33 comments:

TrishaleighKC said...

I'll give it a try. I love writing exercises. I might have cheated with the last paragraph :)

The room is neat, save the cigarette smoldering in the dirty ashtray, a curtain sporting a ragged tear, and the body bleeding out on the floor. Bookshelves line all four walls, stretching from floor to ceiling. The only other furniture is a heavy,cherry desk sitting in front of the picture window at one end, an armchair made of luxurious, chocolate leather, and a matching footstool. The carpet, dark and so thick my feet sink a half-inch as I walk, is spotless. Well, except for the blood.
None of this was so, two hours ago. The room had been a disaster. Books, now neatly shelved in alphabetically order, had covered every surface, including the floor. Some were torn, their bindings ripped, others lay in pools of dried liquid. Still others were stacked in piles, ready to topple at a breeze. All were disrespected. Under the tomes, the rug stank. Every open inch had been soiled with one disgusting, unidentifiable stench after another. Papers strewn across the impressive desk, not one square inch of free space to be found. Small, perfect circles in the wood, burned in by a mug of hot liquid.
As I close the door, the room is set right and I can hear its contented sigh of thanks as I leave it thus. The curtain can’t be fixed, torn in the struggle. Stains are only covered up, destined to forever mar an otherwise placid sanctuary. Someone will clean up the blood. Lighting another smoke, I slip on my shoes and head home.

Kosmos said...

There is a subtle hint of perfume in the air, which becomes more noticeable near the large leather office chair behind the desk. A stray purple hair lies on the blotter, among the fallout of an active mind. There are random scribblings all over the blotter, evidence of long hours on hold, hoping to speak to a human. I can tell the room has only recently been vacated, as there is a cat shaped depression on the cushion at the edge of the desk, which is covered in fur and still slightly warm. A set of headphones rests to the side of the keyboard, still pumping out some glam rock selection from the seventies. There is also a collection of iced coffee cartons and coffee mugs, and an overflowing ashtray; in fact most of the desk resembles an impact crater and debris field from some immense collision of forces. An image of a chaotic imaginary universe lights up the computer screen. In contrast, the rest of the room is harmonious with pale lilac walls and a large framed map of the ancient world on the wall in front of the desk. Behind the desk are floor to ceiling bookshelves, full of books neatly arranged in alphabetical order by author name. There is of course a gap, waiting to be filled by Gary Corby.

(best I can do in a short space without taking over the blog ;) )

C. N. Nevets said...

Walking back into the room I had once shared intimately with my wife was like plunging into a cold bath. The fire had been too choosy. The bed remained unharmed, but was filled with chunks of charcoal that had fallen after they cooled. The wall of pictures that memorialized my triumphs after our divorce has been completely consumed, but the single picture I kept from our wedding stood, almost untouched on the far nightstand. Everything I had worked hard to afford, all my pieces of best of the best . . . all destroyed. The only things the fire had left were the things that reminded me of her.

Matthew Delman said...

The torn and scattered clothes are of the finest quality -- silk brocade and fine cotton from Anguo dominate. In the center, among the petticoats and dress blacker than midnight on a moonless night, are a few strands of chestnut hair shorn from the dress's owner with the same haste she must have disrobed in. The ruined dress lies among sumptuous surroundings; a large four-poster bed with sheets in pinks and blues, a breakfast table in the corner with handmade furniture, a pair of oak filigreed armoires standing to the right of the bed. And along one wall the floor-length window stands open, allowing the heavy curtains to sway in the gentle breeze.

Loretta Ross said...

Three straight-backed chairs, dragged in from the dining room, lay on their sides in the center of the carpet. The fourth, still standing, faced away from them. A lace tablecloth was tied to the top chair rail and puddled among the sofa cushions that filled the area between the chairs.

A large water stain left an off-white mark in the center of the cloth and the rough surface retained a few flowers and fragments of greenery and three small shards of an expensive porcelaine bowl. A crystal salt shaker lay on its side near the dining room doorway.

An ottoman perched atop the back of a wingback chair next to the china cabinet; two of its legs were jammed down between the chair back and the wall and had dug furrows through the floral wallpaper and into the plaster below. Small peanut-butter handprints climbed the chair and the ottoman.

The top shelf of the china cabinet was bare. Delicate ornaments lay scattered around the room. Many were broken.

The cat was still hiding under the sofa.

Amalia T. said...

This might be long...

The hearth was immense, large enough for three men to stand inside. But then, everything seemed almost comically large, standing without him in the room. She kneeled on the cold stone and stoked the wisps of fire back into a blaze, feeding it from the wood stacked neatly against the wall beside the hearthstones. Even with it built back to a furnace, she would need the rabbit-skin quilt off the bed to stay warm. The room took so long to heat, with the high ceiling and the open windows. Someday, she would ask him to put glass in them, and add shutters to the frames, but it wasn't important now when they still lived for the most part on Earth.

She shivered, and looked back at the bed, rubbing her arms. At least the fire gave some warmth, leaving the hearth to reach the quilt would plunge her back into the icy air. And the bed was so big, so lonely. They'd need a new mattress for it, too. Something custom made. A California King wouldn't be big enough. He might have been able to sleep on a feather mattress without trouble for hundreds of years, but she could see clearly the furrows they'd already made in it and there were mornings she felt buried in the thing, as if she were the filling for a burrito. Too bad he didn't have a kitchen modern enough to make burritos without catching something on fire. But at least it would be warm, when she started cooking.

The closet was closer than the bed. Why hadn't she grabbed one of the cloaks before she had gone to sleep last night? She could have left it on the foot of the bed and grabbed it this morning before she got up. Then, normally she didn't have to worry about the fire. It was usually burning bright and hot before she opened her eyes. Damn the man.

Her eyes went to the night table, with the hammer that wasn't there. Then to the bow that wasn't on the wall. She stood up, the stone chilling her toes through the thick socks he'd given her, and stumbled to the closet, pushing back the curtain. The Fur-lined cloak she wanted wasn't there, but he had left the heavy wool one. And the ugliest jacket she had ever seen. It looked like it had come straight out of the 1970's. She shoved it aside, along with the rest of the leftover clothing from centuries long past. A three piece suit in tweed from the late 1800s. A car-mechanics jumpsuit stained with grease and oil from the 1950s. A kilt and plaid that looked like it might be from as early as the 1700s. Why had he been in Scotland, then? She'd have to ask later.

She grabbed the wool cloak and wrapped it around her shoulders. She was swimming in it, but it didn't matter. This part of the room was starting to warm up, and she could feel her toes again. Shutters and glass, she decided, staring at the wide windows opposite her and watching the heat shimmer against the cold air that poured into the room. And the sooner the better.

scaryazeri said...

At first glance, a pretty normal living room. Except, on one wall, there is a notice board entirely covered with photos of Gary Corby. :)

Gary Corby said...

OMG Wow! I don't want to read them all at once, I want to get the full effect on each, so bear with me. I'll come back over the day.

Maybe I should outsource my next novel, one scene at a time.

I'll begin with Scary's.

Full points for sucking up to the blog owner, in a stalky kind of way. I presume the photos are defaced with ominous red crosses.

Gary Corby said...

Trisha, your description is gorgeous. Are you sure you don't write mysteries? Very rich! I feel a stately mansion all around this room.

I like your friend. :-)

Gary Corby said...

Another good attempt to flatter the blog owner, this time from Kosmos.

Lots of finely drawn detail and some great deductions. I really like the phrase "fallout of the active mind"!

Gary Corby said...

Nevets, that is simply brilliant.

I don't suppose you'd like to write the rest of that story, would you? I'd like to read it.

Gary Corby said...

Matt, is that from your book? It reads like it might be.

Now I want to know what happened to her.

Gary Corby said...

That's brilliant, Loretta! I thought you didn't have children?

Oh yeah...nieces.

My condolences to your living room.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Amalia, you do show signs of being related to Robert Jordan.

It reads a bit like something out of epic fantasy, yet is plainly rooted in today. Interesting juxtaposition!

Gary Corby said...

Alright (or all right) everyone, I am awed. Not just by your collective writing, but that you put such obvious care and attention into my off the cuff idea.

Was this interesting? If so, I'll do more some time.

Amalia T. said...

I definitely enjoyed it! Thanks, Gary!

Loretta Ross said...

I had fun too! Thanks for the challenge.

And don't worry -- the living room was entirely imaginary. When it comes to childish naughtiness, I like to think of myself as more an instigator than a victim. http://www.lorettasueross.com/spinsterauntie.htm

;)

Gary Corby said...

Glad you liked it Amalia.

Loretta, what you describe there sounds like some scenes I've participated in.

Matthew Delman said...

Gary --

It's the aftermath of a scene that actually is in the book, where Moriah has to escape from the villain's cronies before they overrun her estate. The dress is her mourning gown, which she had to cut off with a hunting knife because it would've taken too long to get out of normally.

The room itself is her bedroom, and the window was her escape route.

I agree with you about C.N.'s scene. I want to read more about that character.

And yes, more of these writing exercises please! :)

C. N. Nevets said...

It was definitely a fun challenge, Gary, and I may just go ahead and write that story. It's niggling at the back of my mind now anyway...

Kosmos said...

I really enjoyed that exercise and would likely participate in future ones too.

I'd love to know more about Amalia's world. Very interesting :)

T. Anne said...

Hmm.. been in or own? I think I'll try to work out both as I work on my character analysis later today. Thanks for the interesting exercise. Now if you can only jump start my plot!

Stephanie Thornton said...

This was a great exercise- I'm up to my eyeballs in revisions so my brain isn't in writing mode, but the comments are fun to read.

I like Amalia's and I have a feeling I know who she was writing about. :)

Amalia T. said...

Stephanie: almost certainly :)

Kosmos: Thanks! I'm curious about that stray purple hair of yours :)

I think my favorite was Trisha's. There's something appealing about destroying someone who abuses books...

Gary Corby said...

Yes, I wondered about that purple hair too. Nice touch.

Fundamentally guys, you're all full of awesome, and the most interesting thing is how you produced such diverse results.

I have a few exercises of the do-this-with-half-your-brain-tied-behind-your-back variety. I'll toss in a few more from time to time.

Thanks!

Carrie said...

Raindrops oozed over the filmly glass like blood, seeking a little starburst where his head glanced off. Below that, a jade tasseled rug, presumably from Asia or someplace far more mysterious than Breckenridge, Colorado.

The fire'd long since died, leaving only the charred human remains to stink up the air. We never found the rest of him in the hearth-ashes, so the floorboards were torn up; a deep cherrywood, might have been expensive at one point in time, now it cracked like old branches, petrified into place by years of use. The walls still bore the yellowed tar residue—we discovered this once the detective knocked the framed landscape painting with a careless shoulder. Forensics was fast—expedient even—and dusted every flat surface for prints.

The deep oak sheen of the massive Davenport dominating the eastern wall seemed to mock us; a witness to something shocking and brutal, but even the blackened swirls could not tell the future. Man or woman, we all wondered. The victim's neighbors had never seen the inside and never, ever a missus, as they said. Not even as much as a beloved pet had ever crossed the threshold into the sandstone-tiled foyer of this stately (albeit old) cabin sequestered in the woods.

Phew. I need a Helen. ;)

Gary Corby said...

Nice atmosphere to that one! Knew I could trust you to come up with something slightly macabre, Carrie. I suspect the Davenport; it was the only thing with access to the room.

It interests me so many descriptions have involved bodies. Is it because I write mysteries, or because you like mysteries?

Carrie said...

Not quite Gary. It's just the easiest. You can also do a child's room. I haven't really had experience with many mysteries, but read Encyclopedia Brown profusely as a kid.

Gary Corby said...

A room with a body might be the easiest to get and hold the reader's attention, but it isn't necessarily the easiest to describe.

In general you need to describe things in the order the POV character sees them, which usually means the body comes first. This can actually overwhelm any subtle details, especially if there are bits of entrail decorating the furniture. It'll work for you if there's a clue to be displayed but hidden. (Hint: look for the clues beside the thing grabbing attention) But it'll work against you for atmosphere.

Meghan said...

Late to the party, but I'll give it a shot!

The room was small and camped, and the faded green paint on the walls was beginning to chip. Beneath a high, narrow window was a small bed criss-crossed with leather thongs and covered by a blanket made from Megarian wool that was now worn thin from use. A cloak the color of mud hung from a peg, on top of which was an old, wide-brimmed hat that just barely blocked out the scorching rays of Helios. A shipping crate the occupant had pinched from the sandy quays of Phaleron served as a table; scrolls and maps and wax tablets leaned drunkenly against its pine planks. Jars of vinegar lined the wall opposite the bed; a bachelor had infinite uses for vinegar. It took out stains, helped a sore throat and sour stomach, and kept vermin away. His sandals—the straps crusted with layers of sea-salt, sand, dirt and dust—lay on their sides in the middle of the room, carelessly tossed off wary feet after another youthful adventure. And finally there was inconspicuous bowl hidden under the bed, where he relieved himself of food and water and too much wine.

Gary Corby said...

Thanks Meghan! A fine description of a poor man's hut somewhere outside Athens, probably to the south, probably prior to 470BC. (Which I guess from the reference to Phaleron, which was the port until Piraeus took over.)

Of course, it helps that I know you're writing a novel about Themistocles. :-)

Sqrt(D) said...

I'll give it a shot too. Although, be warned, it's going to be long.

Upon entering the room, I was assaulted by the scent of hairspray. To my left was a bed. The comforter was simple, white with pink

accents, although covered with dozens of stuffed animals. Towards the headboard, the stuffed animals covered the pillows and gave the

impression of a crowd inhabiting a hill. The wall above sported a large wooden shelf with the name "Sarah" cut cleanly into it. On

top, hundreds of Beanie Babies were stacked neatly, reaching all the way to the cieling. The cieling itself was covered with glow-in-the-dark star and moon stickers. Between the sun, the stickers, and the streetlights outside, it was never physicall dark in here.

The wall just to the right sported two double-closets. They were neatly closed, but I knew from experience that opening a door meant suffocation under an avalance of clothing, shoes, and suitcases. There are several framed pictures in the little open space on the wall; that famous World War II photo of the sailor dipping and kissing a girl, Marylin Monroe standing on a vent, a dog sitting next to an apple, a dolphin jumping out of the water, and a pair of puppies wrestling with one another.

Directly in front of me were two windows with bright purple curtains. Just in front of the far left window was large bean bag

chair that matched the curtains. The wall itself was a huge collage of photos. She was in the center of most of the photos, surrounded

by other young girls around her age and the occasional boy. A corner was dedicated to the family, with a full-group photo with the whole

extended family, our most recent family photo, and our classic brother-sister shots taken before every dance we'd ever been to. Sarah

smiled in every picture, and the people she was with did too.

In front of the wall directly to my right, just beyond the door, was a gigantic vanity. It sported two drawers on each side, a small

bench, and a mirror large enough for three to use effectively at the same time. The space on top of the vanity's surface bore the very purse I was sent to retrieve. It was otherwise clear except for a good dusting of makeup, like the mirror itself. Similarly, the carpet below had long sine lost it's off-brown colour to become a strange stained pallet of forgotten hues.

Behind the vanity and to my right hung scores of roses, pinned to the wall. A far cry from the beauty and love they were meant to represent, these roses were dried, decrepit, and devoid of life. Eerily like the relationship that produced to them, I thought to myself. The trim below was scarcely visible As bright as the lighting was, this wall cast a dark shadow over the rest of the room and indeed, its inhabitant herself. In the very center of the roses was a small, handmade sign which read: "To Sara - A Roze Ech Day to Sho My Love 4 U. Cary It and I wil. - Tony." A chill traveled it up my spine after reading this sign, and it wasn't just the poor spelling. Closer inspection gave the evidence. Each rose had been carried all day from the day it was given.

I shook my head quickly, grabbed the purse, and retreated from the cell with haste.

Gary Corby said...

That's very atmospheric, Sqrt(D)! It's easy to see you put a lot of effort into each point. Now I want to know more about Sarah and this relationship.