Every Wednesday, I post a writing prompt here. You write about it, if it tickles your creativity bone, and then come share what you wrote on Facebook to get some feedback and see what the other Ninjas have come up with. My goal with these prompts will to be to make them something that can move your current work-in-progress forward.
My dad and I started a little two-person book club when he was here visiting two weekends ago. Our plan is to work out way through 50 great books at a pace of five per year.
We’re starting with Virginia Woolf’s book To the Lighthouse. We picked the book for the descriptive writing. Woolf loves super long sentences (really, paragraph-long sentences), and has a stream-of-consciousness style of writing that makes her book fairly difficult to read. There is almost no story–this is a purely literary character study. Some books I get lost in. Some books I gulp down. This one I have to take in sips. But that’s okay. The whole point is to read books that stretch us.
Woolf’s descriptive writing, though, my goodness. It’s incredible. Here’s one of my favorite examples:
- The vast flapping sheet flattened itself out, and each shove of the brush revealed fresh legs, hoops, horses, glistening reds and blues, beautifully smooth, until half the wall was covered with the advertisement of a circus: a hundred horsemen, twenty performing seals, lions, tigers . . . craning forwards, for she was short-sighted, she read it out . . . “will visit this town,” she read.
In one (very long) sentence, Woolf manages to invoke the excitement of the circus and tell us something about the point-of-view character. I can hear the seals and taste the peanuts and imagine seeing Mrs. Ramsay leaning forward, squinting a little because she doesn’t have her glasses.
For this week’s hump day post, I’d love for you to write a paragraph, or maybe a page, using deeply descriptive writing. Use all of your senses. Don’t worry about it moving the story forward for now. Just try to put the reader there.
My work-in-progress is a Robin Hood retelling set in modern Las Vegas. The main setting for the beginning of the story is the Nottingham Casino. For my exercise, I decided to work on a description of the Nott. Rob, my protagonist, starts out the story coming home to the Nott after his father’s death. Here’s a description from his point of view, when he walks into the casino.
After two years away, walking into the Nott was like diving into a pool of familiar. It was a cannonball dive into everything he didn’t even realize he was missing. The casino smelled of beer and cigarettes and people–a combination that should have been off-putting, but wasn’t. His father had gone to great lengths to preserve the mid-century carpeting on the main floor, an unusual gesture in Las Vegas where it was more common to implode an old casino on itself to make room for newer and bigger and more. Just more.
Rob walked between the rows of glittering, beeping, money-eating machines, stepping from medallion to medallion on the old carpet like they were stepping stones without even realizing he was doing it. It was easy now, easier even than it had been just a couple of years ago. When they were small, he and Mattie leaped from one to the next. Now they were spaced as far apart as his stride. They still kept him from drowning. They would keep him afloat until he found her.
With nearly every step, someone stopped him. They touched him; a hand on his shoulder, a hand on his arm, one woman who had worked as a cocktail waitress all of Rob’s life touched his face. They told him how sorry they were. They expressed their condolences–that was the right term. Every touch transferred a few ounces of their grief to him until, by the time he reached the ballroom where the real mourning was taking place, he was staggering under the weight.
“There you are, Robert.”
He turned toward his name, steeling himself for another touch. Another Jack was so loved, he’ll be missed, I’m so sorry. “I need Mattie.”
“Was your flight late? I expected you at least an hour ago.”
Rob tried to focus on his father’s business partner. Philip Mark was older than his father was–had been–by at least twenty years. His hair was pure white, his face looked like it had been baked under the desert sun. “Have you seen Mattie?”
Are you writing this week’s prompt? Leave a comment and let me know! Come on over to the Ninja Writers Facebook group and share your work. Get some feedback, leave some feedback–get involved in the community. I can’t wait to read what you come up with! Also, if you’d like to get a PDF of this post and every Hump Day Writing Prompt, head here and sign up for the Ninja Writers Binder Club. Every month I send out a newsletter that includes those links. Help spread the Ninja Writer word! Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Send a link to it to one writer friend.