One of the classes I took at BYU gave us writing exercises that were fun and helpful to do. I thought it would be nice to share those exercises with you all so that you can learn from them too.
Exercise – Description of Place
Using passages from stories you’ve read as models, write three fictional scenes of a page each describing a real place you know well. But write the descriptions from the following points of view:
- An objective description of the scene with emphasis on accuracy of detail and emotional detachment.
- A first person description of the same place as a viewed by a character with distinct traits and some identifiable motivation for surveying the scene.
- A third person description of the same place, focusing on the character’s strong emotional response to it.
Note that scenes 2 and 3 require that you create a character to view the place described. You are not the viewer in either scene.
You can write a 2-page commentary on the scenes, indicating what models you followed and how your reading of the models influenced your own original scene.
-Identify scenes by their appropriate numbers.
-Position commentary as an introduction.
-Double spacing is recommended.
If you’d like to see an example, I’ve got mine from class. I didn’t do the commentary right since I split it up (I don’t think it really matters). Please note I wrote this over a year ago. I’ve improved since then.
Here it is:
Commentary for A
The models I chose to pull from the most on this assignment was Gilman’s The Yellow Walpaper and Faulkner’s Barn Burning. While they both have character viewpoints affecting the story, the main character/narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper uses fairly objective descriptions between her opinionated comments. She focuses on using exact details and some associations to create an image for the reader, her descriptions were very visual. For example the quote, “It is quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village. It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people.” This was the closest to objective description the models had, so I used that influence while working on part A of the assignment. I tried to be specific and mostly visual in my description of the beach and backyard, mixing in a few metaphors to create associations as well.
- Objective Description
There’s a spacious back yard full of fescue grass on a lot wedged pie-shape between two others. A tall metal pole stands off center in the yard, holding up the large purple martin house with a little painted roof to match the house to which the yard belonged. Starlings squabble with the purple martins for ownership of the house, an annual battle. A wall made of retaining stones, off-pink cement blocks ninety to one hundred pounds each—all hand-placed, create the border between lawn and beach. It is a foot high on the north end, and while it stayed level on the top, the drop on the south end was about three feet. A fortress against the weeds entrenched in the rough sand making their way for the lawn.
The yard was gently sloped down and in towards the notch at the north end of the wall, shepherding whatever rain that fell away from the house and into the dry creek bed which lay on a black rubber sheet on the beach. The edges of the black rubber were buried in the sand, although it still showed, and it cradled a collection of stones. Different stones ranging in size from a child’s fist to stones that took two hands for a grown man to lift.
The beach belonged to a lake. A man-made lake dug to use the sand that now made the beach. It wasn’t one of your sparkling blue lakes you could see the bottom of. It was a Kansas sand-pit lake, one that had been filled and stocked long enough ago it could contain seven-foot catfish out in the main body. This part was just a small cove, shaped like a sock puppet. Where it connected to the main body buoys floated peacefully, warning boaters of lurking cement and rebar. A person could swim in this lake, and on a late August evening the grey-tan water would be warmer than a bathtub.
Commentary for B
In part B, my biggest influence was again The Yellow Wallpaper. The key thing about the descriptions in The Yellow Wallpaper I noticed was how the main character fixated on one aspect of the environment. She focuses on the yellow wallpaper, obsessing over it, analyzing it again and again, and spending a large amount of time talking about it. While I didn’t have the space to obsess over a certain detail as greatly as The Yellow Wallpaper did, I tried to pick a certain detail to focus on. Namely the rocks. By focusing on the rocks I was able to convey more about how the character was feeling after finding out her boyfriend was cheating on her. The rocks stand as a metaphor for how she feels the state of her heart, the same way the yellow wallpaper was a metaphor for the state of the main character’s mind in The Yellow Wallpaper. Also, just as in the other story, the rocks offer a form of expression for my character. By throwing the rocks she expresses her anger, the same way the main character in The Yellow Wallpaper expresses her insanity by tearing down the paper. It says a lot about the character to have her focus almost entirely on the rocks when there’s a fun beach with soothing water to enjoy.
- First Person
How dare he not be here! I can’t believe him! I storm down the cut lined with fruit trees to the back yard. No one is back here either. Fine then, I’ll just wait.
I sit down on the short block wall and lean on my hands. The water here in the cove lazily strolls up and waves to the beach, but out on the main body of the lake the wind stirs up whitecaps. The wind yanks and pulls at my hair, waving it like a white flag of surrender. How dare it. I would not surrender. I would leave this battle the victor. To prove it, I stand and start picking up the small stones embedded in the rough sand. I don’t care if it scratches up my manicure, I can have my nails redone later. I march down to the water’s edge and start throwing the stones out as hard as I can. When I run out I go back to look for more, kicking the sand around. Small chunks of asphalt come to the surface among the other rocks. I pick those up as well. When I throw them I yell out, “It’s Phil’s fault!” and as they splash down, no one calls out to defend him.
Stones. This little beach is full of them. Small stones, stones with fossils, stones with leeches hiding under them. Stones turned into sand, and sand turned into stones. There’s even more stones, larger stones, stones better for throwing lying in the dry creek bed. The stones are held there, protected from the settling sand by a black rubber sheet that shows at the edges. How tacky for them to not keep the rubber hidden. Tacky, just like him. They didn’t even bother to arrange the stones well, it was like some child just sat at the top of the bed and chucked them out there. Well, I can chuck stones as well. I walk up and down in the bone-dry rocks, carefully looking for just the right one. I choose the one that fits the best in my hand and wait for the sound of his car in the drive.
Commentary for C
For part C I pulled mostly from Barn Burning. In that story, the description of the world is given to the reader in more than one sense. It focuses mostly on the two senses of sight and smell, while also giving the reader a peek into the main character’s mind. By focusing on the smells it helped the reader to know the boy was hungry and doesn’t get to eat a lot. By focusing on visual detail it helped the reader know that the boy was attentive an conscious of his actions. By letting brief thoughts come through it helped the reader to know how exactly the boy was processing the information and his opinions he couldn’t say aloud. I focused on smell and visual elements in my description. Focusing on the smell showed how my character is very nature-focused and enjoyed being outside, even if it was a smell that most people might think questionable. He pays attention to tiny details of the world around him, like the toad bug footprints. This shows his curiosity and love of the world around him, which makes the death of the baby fish even more devastating at the end.
C. Third Person
The warm water of the lake sparkled as it gently lapped at the beach edge. The small boy crouched, watching the water move back and forth. He could smell the water, the fish, that strong smell of sediment and fish dung. A water smell, a living smell, a smell that thrilled him and made him long to race through open fields instead of this backyard. He eyed up the sand-colored toad bugs skittering along in the water-soaked sand, leaving miniature footprints that disappeared with the next ripple. The toad bugs were fascinating, but they made far too easy of prey. This boy was a great hunter. He knew it and puffed his chest out. Then he saw the fish.
Tiny fish, wiggle fish, barely hatched carp and bass swimming in the lake’s edge. At last the boy knew his quarry! The fry flitted faster than birds, with barely a twitch they could speed off the opposite way. Translucent, see-through, one had to track them by their black speck of an eye and their slight shadows.
The boy grinned and stood, crouching over with hands cupped and at the ready. He tip-toed after the fish, taking long, slow steps like the egrets he watched from the windows. Step, stay, step, stay, step, hold… and strike! The fry dart away and regroup, he caught nothing and resumed stalking. Back and forth along the little beach between the dock and dry creek bed he went. Stalking, striking, stalking, striking, stalking, striking and stalking again, and then success! The boy squealed with delight as he held up the waif of a fish, admiring his catch. It was so small and fast, only as mighty and clever a hunter as he could have caught such a worthy