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Condemned.

I can’t say what I expected when we came around the corner, but my expectation must’ve contained the idea of life. Life being noted with lights in the windows, a car in the drive, and food in the kitchen. What is life when there are no people to see? You know it when you see it.

My grandmother’s house had no real life at all. Her house stands on a corner so you can see the front yard and the back. The other day when my father drove by we saw the yard was overrun with wild plants some a few feet tall. Tree branches were down every which way. One through a window. Most windows were broken, huge shards of glass missing. Rocks and trash piled all round. The driveway was cracked and littered with debris. Weeds grew up walls. A sign from the city had been pushed into the ground facing passersby. I couldn’t read the sign from the car, but I assume it said condemned.

I danced in her backyard. Most pictures are of the driveway or away from the house. But there are glimpses inside that even include my parents.

I don’t know who is responsible for the house now. My grandmother sold it years ago. But it was the one house I knew where nothing crazy happened. No one yelled. It was where as a child I curled up with the dog and went to sleep.

In my fiction, I write about houses. Some houses are safe havens. Others… not so much. When I write about a place, a room, the details bother me. How many details capture a room? Do you need to know the color of the walls or if the decor is colonial or modern? Does it help to know the front door faces the setting sun and sometimes the sun cuts through the window in the front door at just the right angle as to hit you in the eye? My grandmother had two arrangements for her house. In the winter the furniture went one way. And in summer the furniture was moved to another design. She didn’t want to the sun to bother her when she sat in her favorite chair to read.

How much detail does a story need? How much do you describe a place? How much do you think about how a place feels? Any famous rooms in fiction you could name? When is the place not important at all?

12 thoughts on “Condemned.

  1. Great questions. How much is enough? Too much? Too sparse?

    I’ve been lambasted recently for things like this. Too many adjectives. My verbs not tame enough. I lost my balance, my instinct for finding that perfect equilibrium on the wire.

    Let me know what you find out. I’m interested and only slightly desperate.

  2. I think those details matter if it matters to the character. The character may love their home, love the color on the walls, or hate it and want to change it. You’d have to get in the character’s head to know how much they cared about those things, but once you did, you’d know how much detail to use.

    Sometimes, those details about the spaces can give you a real clue to the characters. In real life, I’ve picked up a lot about people by what I see when I visit their homes. People exude themselves. 🙂

  3. A room that springs to mind for me is the Red Room in the early parts of Jane Eyre, which was ghastly – a room of anger, guilt, and illness and death. Bronte’s description of that room was incredible, though. And entirely appropriate for what was happening with Jane at that time.

    • A room has come to me! In the novel The Truth about Unicorns there is an abandoned house in the woods and it is built in an odd shape and the each room is painted a different season. But the paintings are so full, lush, and overdone, they horrify the protagonist. Perhaps we remember the upsetting rooms best.

  4. The balance probably has something to do with what you want the reader to take away from the scene. Do you want the objects in your room to stay with the reader? Do you want the atmosphere to stick? Or is the room just a place where the characters can interact? And like Fal said, what matters to the character? Is he looking for evidence? Remembering his grandma? Things can matter a lot in those instances. You can get to know non-pov characters by the way they keep their house.

    I thought in Labyrinth house you did an excellent job of capturing the setting of each scene. A good balance. There’s probably a lot more leeway than you think.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Thanks, Sherri. I was never sure if I was getting the details right. I always felt I missed something. But maybe that is normal. Now with my grandmother’s house in ruins, I’m sure I forgot or overlooked something key about the place.

  5. Great have you back. (Although the mini-dispatches via Twitter/FB were great.)

    Setting; well, like everything else, “it depends.” I sort of think Falc is in the right ballpark; if a place is important to a character, I want to know about it. I think I do have a higher threshold of tolerance for description than many readers seem to, though — as long as the description is well-written enough, I appreciate the heightened sense of… of participation that the setting gives me. I prefer a bit too many details to too few.

    Famous rooms, hmm. Drawing a blank here. Only ones I’m coming up with right now were in the LotR trilogy — but I think that’s because of the films: Bilbo’s house, etc.

    • Good to be back!

      And oh film does get in the way! Even book covers. Who knows what I’d imagine (or remember imagining) if someone didn’t put their own vision in my head.

  6. Whoops! My bad! I meant to say welcome back, glad you made it safe and sound, and I hope you had a nice vacation and visit with your family.

    (Thanks for the reminder JES!)

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