Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tastes of My Descriptions

I have been re-reading James Scott Bell's Revision and Self-Editing, and especially reading over the chapters on description. I am trying to expand my descriptive powers in Puddleby Lane, giving myself license to be poetic. :) In writing The Seasonings, I had assumed that paragraphs of description was not good writing, but some of my readers kindly pointed out that they felt like the story was happening in a void. British East India could be a vivid backdrop for a story, but I wasn't describing anything. So I had to do a lot of rewriting in that way.All that to say, I thought I'd share some of the descriptive spots in Puddleby Lane. Tell me what you think! :)

"She loved their neighborhood. The quiet, tree-lined streets and roomy houses felt so…secure. There might be wars and famines and strife anywhere else, but it never reached Beaumont Street. Even the normal city sounds hushed at the red stop sign on the corner. Cora and Tucker often walked to that stop sign and listened to the murmur of life coming from downtown. It was a hum, almost like that of a beehive when you approached it. But turn your back to Main Street and step round the corner and all was immediately as silent as a Sunday afternoon. Like my life, Cora thought. Adventures happening everywhere else but tip-toeing around me so I hardly know they’ve passed."

"Maggie’s white hands fluttered over her immaculate coiffure, smoothing the dark wings of hair until they shone like the polished cherry-wood of the armoire."

"It was such a quaint little room, Cora thought. This room didn’t belong to the rest of the house, almost as if it was an afterthought. One would never notice it upon entering the house. They would first have to find the shabby little staircase beside the Hoosier cabinet in the kitchen, then make their way up the three crooked turns. At the landing they would see the green door with the porcelain knob speckled with tiny strawberries and could enter Cora’s garret."

"A wistful smile hovered over Cora’s lips as she fingered the feather pen. Of course she knew writing with a pencil would be far more practical—she could erase mistakes. But there was something stimulating in the scratching of the pen’s nib. It liberated her fancy and the words flowed freer. A pencil humped along like a bored snail but an ink-pen skimmed the surface of the paper like a gull winging above the ocean waves."

"Old pain nipped at Cora’s heart as she mentally listed the events sculpting her life thus far. The first one that came to mind was, of course, The Accident—she always thought of it that way, in capital letters. Cora closed her eyes and hugged herself. She wanted nothing more than to be able to forget that dreadful day forever. Why couldn’t the memories erase themselves? The minute details imprinted on her mind—Grandmother Lesley’s cold eyes, the texture of the blanket Cora had hidden herself under, the smothering heat the day of the funereal—why couldn’t she forget them?"

"Cora heard no more. She only saw Maggie sink into the armchair and cover her eyes with one hand. Underneath her fingers, still red from the dishwater, Maggie’s face was as white as the lace on her collar.

'Maggie, Maggie, what’s wrong? Don’t look like that!' Cora put Dot down on the carpet and shook Maggie’s shoulders gently.

Her sister laughed and sobbed hysterically. 'Cora—oh Cora! Frank just invested every penny we owe in the stock markets last week. We’re ruined. Absolutely ruined.'

Ruined. The word tolled in Cora’s swirling mind like a death knell. Ruined. Ruined. Cora crumpled to the floor beside Maggie and took her sister’s free hand in both of her own. 'Shhh…There, there, Maggie. It can’t be as bad as it sounds.'

Could it? Cora tried to steady her thoughts. Tried to grab a straw of reality in the garish nightmare around her. Something normal and tangible. She fingered the hem of Maggie’s apron and averted her eyes, unable to look at Maggie’s frightened face. But neither could she bear to be ignorant of the worst. Cora forced herself to smile and stroke Maggie’s cheek, keeping her eyes on Maggie’s. She must be strong—it was frightening to see her sister falling to pieces like this. 'It’ll be all right, Maggie. Somehow we’ll be okay.'"

"Whistling a popular tune, Cora ran across the street and was soon submerged in the full swing of downtown. True, the line at the soup kitchen was longer than usual, and the stores were not nearly as crowded as before, but things were not so staggeringly altered as they had been that dreadful Tuesday. In fact, Cora thought, one could ignore the changes perfectly, if one wished"

"Cora turned to view every angle of her garret one last time. She threw the window open and let the cold air nip her cheeks as she took the view in with hungry eyes. Then, closing the window, Cora walked the perimeter of the room, running one hand along the faded willow-green paper. Here was the corner where her hump-back trunk had held honored court with the squeakiest floorboard. There was the door and another corner, with the little squares on the old rug that were still bright where the bed-posts had harbored them from curious rays of sunlight. Another stretch of papered wall with holes where tacks for hanging pictures had been and the corner her desk had butted up against. Then at last the third corner with slanted roof, the alcove for her dressing stand, and the round window hard by.

The places were all there, minus the furniture. But already, Cora thought, the house was forgetting them. 'Don’t love someone else better than you did me,' she whispered. Her words hung in the silence of the room like a puff of breath on frosty air. Cora turned, stepped out the green door, and forcing herself to not look backward, took the three crooked corners of the stairway down to the kitchen."

“ 'Come on, everyone.' Frank pushed his family toward the train-car and Cora found herself swept along in a surge of boarding passengers.

She grabbed Tucker’s belt-loops and held on till the other passengers had shaken themselves into their seats like a box of cracker-jack emptied into a bowl.

Frank, Maggie, and Dot were at the other end of the car. Cora took careful steps around belongings and hampers, purses and brief-cases as she walked toward her seat. At last she stood before the bench, a couple rows in front of Maggie’s spot. Rust-speckled metal trim edged the armrests and window ledges. A stiff, red corduroy pillow braced itself in one corner as if it was accustomed to constant jolting and crushing beneath harried passengers. "

"She stepped onto the platform and stamped toward a bench. Her sturdy travelling shoes made a clunking sound as heavy as her heart. This was such a different place than she had thought it would be. Frank said their new home would be in a seaside resort town. She didn’t see any sign of the fabled Chesapeake Bay. She may never have seen an ocean, but she knew good and well you couldn’t hide such a large body of water. There, on the wall beside the ticket window, was a wilted advertisement promising good food and better lodgings at the Floppin’ Flounder."

"They turned right at a giant live-oak tree and the train station with its scarf of wax-myrtles was hidden from view. Cora ceased staring out the back of the wagon and craned her neck toward the front to see past Frank’s broad back. She rose to her knees and held Dot’s hand with one of her own. Despite the oddities already associated with the new home, Cora’s heart fluttered like a jar full of fireflies, the excitement blinking in and out like their fairy-lights.

Would Puddleby Lane fulfill any of her imaginings? Would it be a place with character or merely another beach cottage?

Ann Company turned her red-head toward Cora. 'Miss Cora, if you’ll jest look over that dune there’s the bay you were so all fire for seein’.'

Cora wobbled to her feet and clutched Frank’s shoulders to steady herself. She had to be the first to set eyes on the fabled Chesapeake Bay. Would it be everything she had always imagined?

As the wagon lurched over a rise in the sandy ground a broad expanse of sapphire blue met Cora’s eyes. Joyous, white waves crashed onto the beach and threw spray into the air like confetti at birthday party.

'Oh, oh Frank.' A single tear slid down Cora’s cheek and she wiped it away, laughing.

'What? Crying, Corie?'

Cora shook her head and filled her chest with the brisk sea air. The briney smell tickled her nose, quickening her pulse. The bay was everything she had hoped, and more. Cora fastened her eyes on the gorgeous blue water as if she was a starving child staring into a bakery window. She would never tire of the majesty crashing onto the beach in every wave, the power barely contained by the bounds of the sandy shore.

Tucker grabbed her arm. 'Gee Whiz, Cora! It’s bigger than I thought it’d be.'

'I’ll say.' What had she expected—a farm pond? But that didn’t matter now. She would gladly stay at Puddleby Lane for the rest of her life if it meant she could gaze upon this sight every day.

Ann Company looked over her shoulder, her hands holding the reins of the cart lax. 'Do y’like it, Miss Cora?'

'Like it? Why, it makes me want to laugh and cry and run and sing all at the same time.'"

"Three houses, each quainter than the one before, nestled against the red-clay bluffs. An unusually wide beach stretched from the front doors to the edge of the water, two-hundred yards away. A few sandpipers scuttled across the sand, leaving cross-stitch tracks in their wake."

"Ann Company slapped her knee. 'Air y’ready to see your house?'

“Oh, yes!” Maggie curtsied to the Captain and followed Ann Company out of the little garden, her pumps sinking deep into the sand.

Captain Boniface strode after her, his long blue-clad legs eating up the space in a very few steps. 'Frank has his hands full. Allow me to give you my arm, Miz Williams.'

Cora smiled at the old-fashioned gentility pervading the Captain’s demeanor. He placed Maggie’s arm on his own and led her along as if he mistrusted that she might not break. Cora dropped behind to the back of the line and clasped her hands in front of her, strolling along at a leisurely pace. The Captain’s navy-blue pea-coat harmonized with the hue of the sea and sky. Long shadows from the bluffs stretched their ragged hands toward the water of the bay as the sun sank behind them. Cora shivered. A fire and a nice cup of tea would be heaven."

"Frank swung the gate open and motioned for Cora to step through. She ran down the path, her eyes fastened on the door of this adorable yellow house. This was Puddleby Lane, and her new house. She already loved it, and everyone she had met in the last hour. Her boots tapped brightly as she took the porch steps two at a time. A pewter knocker, fashioned in the shape of a morning-glory vine, hung on the face of the door. Cora inserted the key in the lock and turned it. The bolt slid back without the least resistance, as if to say, 'We haven’t any secrets here at Puddleby Lane.'"


Anonymous said...

Wow, Rachel-

This Post = Absolute Awesomeness!

Your description is beautiful. Keep up the fantastic work! :D

Abigail said...

*happy sigh*

Jenna Blake Morris said...

These are awesome! Even just in these snippets of a book, a lot of your voice and style shows.

My favorite probably had to be the one where Maggie was smoothing her hair. They were all great, though. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Oh. my. word. I can just see everything. You have the gift for words. Definitely.