Writing Practice: Place Descriptions

So for this week’s post I thought I’d try something a little different.

As you may recall from my introductory post, part of the reason I started this blog was to help keep my writing skills sharp.  And while I very much enjoy writing essays about video games and other things I find fascinating, I do need to practice my craft in other ways.  I have primarily done this through writing and revising short stories, but I thought I’d take some time with this blog to practice something I feel I need to get better at: place descriptions.

I’ve been writing things for a long time, be they school papers, little movie scripts to shoot with friends, or actual stories.  But one thing I’ve never felt incredibly comfortable with was my place descriptions.  They’re incredibly important when setting a scene in a story, but I always find myself struggling somewhat with the correct words to capture the image I have in my head.  I can describe people fairly well, but places I still never feel quite comfortable with.  So here’s my plan.

I am going to take four different places, both from the real world and from video games, and try to paint an image of them for you.  At the end of the post, after the four descriptions, I will tell you what place I was describing, what it’s from, and what I was trying to get across with my description of the place.  Feel free to comment on what succeeded and what didn’t, and offer any advice you may have.  I am always looking to hone my craft and become better.

So with that being said, let’s begin.

Place Description One

The bright white light glimmers off the rippling surface of the lake.  The air is alive with noise.  Seagulls honk and call out, flying to and fro in search of things unknown.  They fly in formation, forming a V-shape as they slide through the warm summer air over the sparkling lake.  Below them, people mill about on the lake walk.  Some are heading to a destination, others are simply enjoying the view and the feel of the lake wind as it whips past their heads, sending their hair lashing about their head.  Tall, brick buildings of different shades line the sides of the streets.  Cars slowly meander their way down the road, wheels spinning round and round as they pull the cars forward on the black asphalt.  Nearby, the sounds of the freeway are heard, cars zipping by on their way further north.

Suddenly, a foghorn noise slices through the air.  Up ahead, past the rows of brick buildings, a large blue bridge stands.  Two pillars of interlocking blue metal connect the two humps that form the center of the bridge, one down below allowing cars passage over the river, and one above.  And then, the metallic beast wakes up.  Engineering kicks into action as the lower part of the bridge begins to slide up along the pillar, with a ding-ding-ding of the warning bell.  Another metallic beast slides through the water, this one of red, white, and black.  Some of the people milling about stop in their tracks to watch the sight.  Most are familiar with it, but some perhaps are seeing it with their own eyes for the first time.  The large sea-faring beast slides directly under the bridge, emerging on the other side and continuing on its scheduled path.  The lower hump slides back down, locking back into place a minute later.

The whole scene takes maybe five minutes.  The performance concludes, and the audience leaves, returning to their original actions.  Rays of sun stream down on the beach, illuminating the entire scene with a warm golden glaze.

Place Description Two

It’s dark.  There is no hint of wind.  A lonely brick building stands above the tracks, looking old and worn.  On another side of the tracks lays the station, long since abandoned.  A row of lights illuminates the concrete platform, but one of them is flickering and not functioning properly.  The low rumbling of the generator can be heard, struggling a little bit due to being inactive for a very long time.  The station door is boarded up with pieces of sheet metal, covered with spots of thick orange-red rust, the signs of age.  A faded blue sign above the station door reads “Public Telephone”, Another sign further along the platform, partially in shadow, is some kind of advertisement.  “The Condiment to Compliment,” the cheesy slogan reads.  The sign sits on the bottom of the station wall and to the right of another door, this one completely sealed up.  Further along is a set of wooden double doors that read “Buffet”.  This one too is boarded up with the same orange-red stained sheet metal, and the window is caked with grime and dirt.  An air of oppressiveness can be felt.  No one is here, and yet something lingers…

On the other side of the platform is a strange yellow device, mounted on something that looks almost like a camera tripod.  Something that looks like a tiny telescope sits on top of it.  A blinking green light turns on and off every few seconds, and the back of the device has buttons labeled with “+x” and “-x”, “+y” and “-y”, along with the power button and a reset button.  To the left of the buttons is a screen that lights up when the device is turned on.  This side of the platform has a stone staircase leading up to the building of faded brick, and another rickety door.  A faded white fence lines this side of the platform, with a hole in it that leads off into the woods.  A sign nailed to the plank above the fence reads “Dowerton”.

A large, faded wooden walkway stands over the rail tracks, connecting this side of the platform with the station itself.  A far-off whistle can be heard sometimes, and the clanking of ancient wheels upon the metal tracks can be heard.  But the trains haven’t come here in decades.   The old railroad tracks head off into a tunnel of seemingly infinite blackness on both ends.  The old brick building overlooking the station hides a decades-old mystery, waiting to be unraveled.

Place Description Three

The water churns and splashes upon the shores of the island.  The wind is steady and strong, and nothing else can be seen on the horizon.  There is a dock on the island, with what appears to be the crow’s nest of an old wooden ship sticking up above the water.  A strange blue metal door slides open upon touching it, revealing a dark passageway beyond.  At the other end of the dock is a set of stairs that leads up to a strange giant gear, silent and immovable.

Above the blue metal door is a wooden path leading towards the center of the island.  On the right are two buildings, the closer of which has a door with a strange gold emblem on it.  The further one has stone pillars surrounding the entrance, and inside is some sort of library.  A large bookshelf is embedded into the wall directly opposite the entrance, and two books line the sides of the room, one red and one blue, each with a matching color page next to it.  A landscape map of the island is on the left side of the entrance coming in, and two paintings are on the back walls, one showing the bookcase concealing a passageway, and the other simply showing the main entrance.

Outside a set of black cubes sit on four skinny black metal legs.  One side of the cube has a light brown inset with a symbol on it, different on each cube.  There are eight in all, with such symbols as a snake, an eye, and an anchor.  Each cube sits in front of a small circular stone pillar.  In the middle of this courtyard is a big stone basin, with a scale model of a ship that is mostly underwater, but has the crow’s nest sticking above it.  To the left side of the library is a path leading towards a strange, retro-style golden-colored rocket ship.  Electrical wires lead from it to a strange brick building which contains a staircase that leads underground.

A row of trees lines the path from the courtyard, and the brick building sits on the right.  On the left is a small wooden cabin with a boiler and a locked metal safe inside.  Behind the cabin is a gigantic tree inset into a large, red brick foundation like a pedestal of sorts, with a wooden railing encircling half the tree trunk.  At the end of the path lies a tall gray building with a clock on it, notated in Roman numerals.  An arrow intersects with a crescent moon to form a symbol that sticks up from the roof of the building.  It is cut off by the water, and there appears to be no way to reach it.  A set of wheels, one large and one small, with a red button are sticking out of a metal box that stands at the shore before the building.  The wind and water are the only companions here.  The former flows through the tree branches, while the latter continually splashes unto the shore, the only sounds present.

Place Description Four

Large, towering trees of green surround the area.  The terrain dips and lifts, with steep hills and cliffs overlooking the beautiful blue lake, shimmering in the afternoon sun.  It’s peaceful here, as there are few people around.  Every now and then you can spot a canoe or kayak making its way through the water, the people on board making repetitive strokes with their oars as their boats slice through the calm lake.  A winding narrow road surrounded by trees leads up a steep hillside.  The road is bumpy and uneven, with rocks and sometimes fallen branches lying in the middle of the road.  Up on a small hill to the left of this uneven road stands an old wooden cabin, nestled away in the trees.  The cabin forms a triangular shape, being known as an A-frame cabin.

Inside there is a large stone fireplace standing in the center of the cabin, with a large black chimney.  On its left is the kitchen area, with an old-school refrigerator and a small counter-top with a black microwave on it.  On the other side of the counter sit little wooden stools, and beyond that is a small table with wooden chairs that have white and red cushions stitched on.  To the right of the fireplace is a couch, old and worn but still comfortable.  Above one end of the couch sits a tiny rack of books, with an old black bound book that reads “Cabin Log” on the inside.  Behind the fireplace are two bedrooms separated from the main area by curtains, and a bathroom sits to the back right with an old composting toilet.  A low hum of power reverberates through the building.

A steep wooden set of stairs climbs up to the loft area.  Here there is a mattress lying on the ground for any visitors to sleep on.  A large black TV sits across from it, one of the final additions to this place.  A small wooden walkway with a red magnet tied unto the railing (for a little dunking game with a bucket of refrigerator magnets) leads into the loft bedroom.  Here, a large bed on a frame sits against the wall, and above it sits a gray fuse box.  From here you can look down on the large stone fireplace that sits in the center of the cabin, and you can look through the rectangular window embedded into the right side of the cabin to see the sun streaming through the trees.  The small window at the back of the loft bedroom gives you a decent view of the lake, although it is partially blocked by trees.

But none of this is here anymore.  Instead, a pile of gray ashes and melted metal stands with a stone foundation where the cabin once stood, brought down by fire.  The wind blows through the trees, and the cabin is nothing but memories.

The Places

Place number one, as some of you may have guessed, was the city of Duluth Minnesota in the summertime.  Specifically, I focused on the Canal Park area of the city, with its large buildings, lake walk, and iconic aerial lift bridge.  My goal here was to simply paint an image of a place, and of an event (a ship coming through under the bridge).  I wanted to capture the feel of Duluth in the summertime, and perhaps imprint on you why Duluth is such a popular summer vacation city.  The area is absolutely gorgeous in the summer, and is a great place to be.

Place number two is not a real place.  It is rather the outside area in the game Dark Fall: The Journal, a name some of you might remember from last week’s post along with the post on the paranormal.  For this one I wanted to capture the haunting atmosphere of the area, and give you a sense of the foreboding feeling it has.  A large part of Dark Fall had to do with the atmosphere, and I wanted to try to capture it.  It’s a very decrepit place, and it shows in the game.  It feels very isolated and cut off from normal civilization.  There’s a strange unearthly feeling to the area, and the vague sense of ghostly happenings permeates the scene (the far-off train whistle I described is actually in the game sometimes).

The abandoned train station.  (Dark Fall)

The abandoned train station. (Dark Fall)

Place number three is also not a real place, but rather it is the island from Myst, another game you might remember me talking about last week.  For this one I wanted to capture the beauty and isolation of this mysterious island.  I wanted to try to make you feel like you were standing on this strange island with nothing else in sight.  I wanted to take you there, so that you could see it in your mind as I described it (a good writer’s goal is to show, not tell).  There’s a lot of interesting detail in this island, and I tried to capture that as well.

The courtyard area with the stone basin.  (realMyst)

The courtyard area with the stone basin. (realMyst)

The final place I described actually exists in reality (or rather, did).  It’s set in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area up in Cook County, Minnesota.  But specifically, it was set inside an old cabin my family used to own.  The infamous Ham Lake Fire of 2007 was responsible for its demise.  This piece was interesting for me, because I was trying to capture the scene all from memory.  It’s been seven years since the cabin burned down, so it’s an interesting challenge to try to describe a place I haven’t seen in nearly a decade.  I wanted to take you to the cabin where I spent many of my youth vacations.  It’s isolated, and cut off from civilization, but that was a good thing for me.  Sometimes it was nice to get away from it all for a week or so.

So please, comment below how you think I did.  Feedback is always appreciated, and I know this is something I need to become better at.  So comment below, let me know what you liked or didn’t like.  If you just want to say “I love Duluth in the summertime”, then by all means.  So thanks for indulging me this week, and tune in next Wednesday for another post.  Until then, have a great week everyone.

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One thought on “Writing Practice: Place Descriptions

  1. My favorites were two and four. One was okay but not detailed enough, maybe I needed descriptions of the people, smells, more sound descriptions. Two was great, gave me a real feel for the place. Three was very confusing for me. The description jumped around and I never could picture the place. Maybe it would help to do it in order as you walk through the space? Of course I loved four! Very nice, I didn’t want it to end when it did.

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