Time to finish off this month’s writing exercises.
I’m sharing an excerpt from Painted Blue Eyes as an example of a setting might look “in action” – that is, how setting description can blend into the narrative. I encourage you to share your own work, and to look at what sensory info you’ve included as you worked the setting into your story.
At the start of Painted Blue Eyes, my goal was to describe a setting that many people should know fairly well – the dusty attic of an old relative’s house. I used the familiar idea of stumbling into an old attic, along with sights and the memories it triggered in the main character. Blending sensory info with the feelings triggered can be a great way to put the reader in the setting, even without long descriptions of all the senses.
What are your favorite passages that describe settings? I’d love to hear what stories you’ve read with excellent stage-setting and scene description.
Anyway, Painted Blue Eyes starts like this:
The painting filled my mind as stale air filled my lungs. I hadn’t seen her in ages – the fiery, unnamed girl who had watched my childhood mischief with her painted eyes. I couldn’t say why I felt those eyes on me again as I crept up the short ladder.
In the cramped space between ceiling and roof, I stepped around furniture older than any living relative. Rocking chairs and antique tables were hidden under filthy rags or tangled in cobwebs. I came to an ancient brown sofa, its seats bandaged many times over with duct tape. My breath stopped.
A painting sat in the center of the sofa’s worn seats. My eyes, still adjusting to the gloom, at last registered its faded colors. I let out a sigh. It was younger than the work that weighed on my mind. This one showed me as a freckle-faced 10-year-old – the first work Mom I had finished together.
In my memories, Mom sat behind me on the stool before the canvas, directing me with delicate hands. The day we finished, just as she was conducting my final brush strokes, I first saw the bruise under the sleeve of her shirt. When we worked on other paintings after that, I stole glances at small scrapes and bruises, hidden just under her sleeves or the collar of her shirt.
She never acknowledged my glances, and I never gathered the resolve to ask. How many wounds? How many scars? I wondered many times over the years, especially in the final weeks of Dad’s life.
I wondered still as I stared at my younger self, catching a tear in the corner of my eye. The memory left quickly, though, as the older image of the red-haired girl refused to be pushed aside.
I then found another frame, this one under a threadbare towel and sitting on a rickety easel next to the sofa. She’s there. Her painted eyes were waiting behind that towel.