I’m writing on Wednesdays at the moment about working to develop my second novel Adept. One of the things I tend to leave out in a hurried first draft is description.
I went to see the film Allegiant this week, the third film in the Divergent series. I have just finished reading the second book and started the third, and was eager to see how the film would differ from the book (don’t worry, no spoilers!).
Divergent is set in a post-apocalyptic world, in a city enclosed by a wall. The people are told that it’s not safe outside the wall. We find out during the series that the city is Chicago. In the centre, the city is sleek and modern. But the further out you go, the more neglected and derelict it becomes. The descriptions in the books are very good, and it’s easy to picture derelict skyscrapers, streets and houses alike.
The great thing I found when watching Allegiant was that I recognised the buildings and the cityscapes. The film makers had brought the descriptions in the books alive, and I felt like this was not a new place, but one I already knew.
I have been challenged in my writing to give my readers a sense of the surroundings as well as what is going on. For a long time I had no idea about the internal layout of the Kestrel space ship, and didn’t bother to visualise the different planetary locations either, unless it was necessary to the plot. Watching the film really brought it home to me that without descriptions, the reader can’t get truly immersed in what’s happening.
How about this from chapter 1?
Reuel came over with a container of water. ‘I found this by the cell door, sir. It looks all right.’ He bent to give Parks a drink and spoke in a low voice. ‘I cannot find any cameras or microphones, but it is wise to be careful. The walls are solid. We might even be underground. There is nothing here but those mattresses along the wall.’
There were four of them, two either side, but to call them mattresses was a compliment. They were thin and lumpy, the dirt giving no hint of their original colour. They matched the stone walls and floor of the room, equally dirty. The ceiling was metal sheeting, with a fluorescent light in a cage in the centre. There were no windows. Surprisingly, it wasn’t cold, which supported Reuel’s idea that they might be underground.
‘It’s a shame,’ Parks said quietly, ‘because I thought we were doing quite well up to then.‘