Thursday, September 6, 2012

Visual Influences and the Failure of Words

Every writer has their weak points.  Visual descriptions is definitely one of mine, I'll own that.  I can muddle my way through describing people and clothing all right.  In those cases, it's mostly a matter of feeling unnatural to me, the process of writing those descriptions.  I know how do to it, I'm just not happy with the results a lot of the time.

But the one that really fails me?  Architecture.  Here because I lack the instinctive vocabulary.  Yes, I can look things up, research, etc., but when it comes down to it, I don't know, on a gut level, how to describe buildings. skylines, etc.

Let's take the City of Maradaine, for example.  I know, deep in my subconscious, what it looks like.  Had I drawing skills, I could show it that way.  But I don't.  All I have is words, and the words fail me in this instance. 

Now, I could just cheat it.  A few buzzwords to give the sense of Dickensian London (or worse, Renaissance Faire town)-- but that's not really right.  Closer comparison come to looking at old neighborhoods of cities like Boston, Montreal or Mexico City.  Look at these, trying to see past the cars and powerlines to the bones of what's there. 

There's still a certain use of keywords to get my points across: "cobblestone" is a big one.  "Brick" is another. 

So that's an area that I still need to work on.  Build up that vocabulary.  Strengthen those writing muscles.

 And then I'll be able to paint a clear picture of the city, without resorting to adding a bunch of pictures....


Michael Caton said...

There are certain specialized arenas where language that's too exact is alienating, because it's not shared by most of the audience. Every time Updike starts talking about gardening I have no idea what the hell he's talking about, because I don't know what a peonasanthemumchid is. I bet that's true of most readers. Because most readers aren't going to know the fine points of architecture (what's the chance, if even you as an author don't?) I really think it's better just giving the cultural impression, and maybe a few physical points in basic color and geometry terms. And it's easier! My $0.02.

Marshall Ryan Maresca said...

Good point. Though sometimes its the more mundane stuff. I'm thinking, "Is that a gable? Is 'gable' the word I want, or will that make me look stupid?" Plus there are architecture words that are really culturally loaded. "Minaret", for example.