by Joan Kayse
Just the facts. Wouldn't that make for a short and incredibly boring story? Boy meets girl. Girl saves boy from crucifixion. Boy saves girl from mad villian. They lived HEA.
What? That isn't just the facts? What about a crucifixion, you ask? Well, you're right. I dropped a kernel of description in there and it might have gotten your attention.
Many times on these blogs or loops we writers talk about point of view (POV), conflict, plot, etc. But there is another aspect that is often maligned. And that is the use of description.
Now, I'm not talking about a ton of backstory that drags the plot down. Or distracting purple prose that jerks the reader out of the moment.
Description in its best form enhances the experience of the character, sharpens the impact of the POV and...in the case of historicals....weaves a sense of time and place into the very fabric of the story.
Here's an example from my manuscript THE PATRICIAN'S FORTUNE:
They reached the bottom of the affluent Palatine neighborhood and turned toward the center of the city. Damon set a quick pace, navigating the twisting thoroughfares with ease. He knew this city like a man knows a lover. A boiling cauldron of arrogance, greed, and excess, Rome was the focal point of the civilized world, though Damon was certain a majority of the Empire’s conquered regions would hotly argue the point.
The crowds began to thicken as they continued down the Via Sacra and approached the two enormous pillars marking the entrance to the city center. Damon eyed the carved statues of Rome’s legendary founders, Romulus and Remus, circling their circumference. There were dozens of similar statues scattered around Rome, adorning public buildings, heralding a general’s successful campaign, an emperor’s benevolence, but this one had always been his favorite.
The famous twins faced each other, swords tightly clutched, expressions reflecting the stoicism of a conquering race, prepared to defend the nation they’d founded. Romulus’ free hand rested on the head of the legendary she-wolf who had suckled the abandoned infants. An omen the ill fated Remus, murdered by the brother who named an Empire, should have heeded. Take care who you trust. A lesson Damon had learned good and well. With Kaj flanking him, Damon stepped through the stone arch into the Forum.
The market was well designed. A large open area provided ample room for pedestrians and shoppers to go about their business. Weavers, jewelers, bakers, oil merchants, and pottery makers vied with tavernas and wine shops for their share of the citizens’ coin.
Street philosophers chalked their thoughts on the sides of buildings, some accompanied by unflattering drawings. Candidates for political offices spouted grand promises from stone block perches while those who had already been elected bustled about the business of government. Temples dedicated to one god or another stood wall to wall with brothels where, Damon mused, you were more likely to get your prayers answered than kneeling at an altar.
The city pulsed with life and Damon reveled in it. This was where he’d first experienced life after Jared had granted him his freedom. He closed his eyes for a moment, savored the sounds of bartering and badgering, inhaled the scent of spices and perfumes and—he cocked one eye open and looked at the painting of a pork hind gracing the side of a building—the butcher’s shop.
In this passage, I tried to show the power of the Empire as reflected by daily life in the epicenter of Rome itself....and my hero's connection and response to it.
Can you remember a description someone gave you about something? A trip or a gift or an event? Something that made you wish you had been there?