A Clean, Well-Lighted Place
Let's review the terms of the 1/22/10 challenge, shall we?
This week's challenge is simple: I want you to visualize a setting. Not who is in the scene; not what happens there. It can be the general setting for your story or just the backdrop for a key scene; where it starts, where it passes through, or where it ends. Indoors or outdoors; real or imaginary; as broad as from horizon to horizon or as constricted as the two square feet in front of your face. Just close your eyes for a minute, and really see that setting in your mind's eye.Turning now to the entries we received—
And now I want you to describe that setting, and bring it to life for the rest of us. Keep it brief. A paragraph will do; 500 words will be too long. Help us to us see what you see.
Okay, waitaminnit: first I need to make one general comment about this week's entries before I start getting into specifics. Folks, one of these days we are going to have to have a serious talk about the use of passive voice. While I am no Strunk & White purist, and while grammar was not a part of this challenge and ultimately does not factor into our judgments, what is it about visualizing a scene that makes so many people slip so quickly and completely into passive voice? "Blue was the color, and backwards ran sentences until reeled the mind." Augh! Enough, Master Yoda!
And with that out of my system, we turn to this week's entries. Tackling them in FIFO order:
Patrick Henry: Henry had some trouble picturing the roiling of the clouds. He felt things were pretty clear to begin with, but then clouds rolled down in locks and then were vortexes, and he couldn't really zero in on the image. He said that if it's a transformation, it would be a good idea to call it such so your readers know something different is coming.
I'm going to get self-referential. The first lines of the challenge were, "I want you to visualize a setting. Not who is in the scene; not what happens there." I can visualize what you're describing fairly well (I think), but what you're describing is an action scene. You do a good job of putting the narrative "I" into something out of a Spielberg movie—man, something huge is just starting to happen up in the sky!—but all I know about where it's happening is that this guy is laying on the pavement in a hardware store parking lot, and I have no sense of anything else about it. Is this hardware store in Texas in summer or in Minnesota in winter? I'd like to know, but the information isn't there.
The Bandit: I don't know if we're going to call it the Overkill or Overachiever Award, but we're definitely going to name it after you. Of "A Drift on a Bay," Henry says that you're obviously describing a very large area, which works against you. Your descriptions of each of the elements of the land, including the metaphors, are quite good, but the land is so widespread I can't really picture it in my mind.
I'll add that I got vertigo while reading this one. You're constantly popping up to the ten-mile-high level, and then dropping down to the ground—and then whoops, we're ten miles high again! The individual bits of descriptive language are good, but you need to zoom-in once and then stay zoomed-in. If this were for a story, I'd tell you to throw out the first two paragraphs, because it really starts with the third paragraph.
As for "Winter Has Come," this one works much better, setting the scene outside before taking us inside to a very specific location. We were able to picture the tower, the motes in the beam of light and even the woman's pale skin compared to the white shroud. Good stuff.
As for "The Yard," we pictured the two fences and what grew around them quite well, but the rest of the yard isn't as thoroughly described. The white boulders and the bees are good, but we can't tell if the yard is mostly brush or grass or covered in trees. Just a bit more description and this one could have a contender.
Finally, as for "The Apartment:" this one is right on target. We can picture the place quite well. We get the feeling of a college student's apartment, or maybe a lone hacker's place, which leads us to wonder just how much of this is imagined. In any case, very nicely done!
Watkinson: You evoke the heat and desolation of the desert quite well. Henry said he had to go get a drink of water after reading your entry, while I was thinking, "Oh, what I'd give for a cold beer!" Which, considering that it's been subzero here for most of the week, is a remarkably effective feat of suggestion.
The bandit was bothered by there being trees for the eagles and crows to roost in. I've seen enough scrawny twisted half-dead trees in the desert to be unfazed by that, but was mildly concerned by their being eagles and crows. Is that an Australian thing? On this continent they'd be vultures or buzzards—or perhaps magpies, but I've never known magpies to eat carrion.
Anyway, a very effective piece.
Torainfor: We want to visit this bookstore! We like the steampunk feel of the mechanisms (especially the mice!) and can get a feel for the different rooms, but it seems like something is missing, and the umbrella business is slightly baffling. Henry says it's his personal bias kicking in, but he's always noticed that bookstores such as this one always seem to have their own distinctive smell, and seems to think an olfactory cue would really put him into the scene. As for me, I keep thinking this feels like I've just wandered into some previously unexplored corner of Oz, and I want to know more about it. Very good work, as always.
Miko: All you need are clouds scurrying past the moon and the lonely howl of a wolf to have the perfect horror story scene. It's a bit overdone, as all neo-Lovecraftian work always is, but as it is you've succeeded in describing a truly creepy scene, and you've managed to do so without trotting out any of the standard props and cliches. You get extra points for working in "sartorial splendor" and for getting both "indolently" and "insolent" into the same sentence; after some discussion, we decided the points would be added, not deducted. Henry concludes by saying, "It's definitely not the kind of place I want to visit after dark!" while I wouldn't mind doing so, but I'd probably swap out my usual Remington Golden Saber loads for Winchester Silvertips, just for extra insurance.
Arisia: A very interesting and amazingly lush description which, despite only describing the colors to be seen within the room, left both of us with clear, but different, visions. At first the title led us to believe the room was a place where a person might go to reflect and consider, but then we realized it was the reflection of the light and the colors that named the room. Good stuff!
Therefore, after due examination and discussion of the entries, it is the considered opinion of the judges that the winner this week is—
Miko, with Honorable Mention going to Arisia. So Miko and Arisia, come on down and claim your prizes!
And to everyone else: thanks for participating, and don't forget, the next Friday Challenge, "Wii for Geezers," is already in progress, and the deadline is Thursday.