Saturday, May 10, 2014

Character Descriptions, Action, and Running Out of Gas

Noteworthy Writing Prompt #11
"Write a story about a crumpled up gas receipt for $50.00".

I've been longing to breath some life into my characters. I don't want them all to sound the same, and I worry that they lack depth, not emotionally moving the readers to respond in compassion or hatred. So, I've been working on trying to improve my character descriptions. 
From what I've been reading this week, it's important to share a physical description with a form of action. For example, if your character has blue eyes, instead of saying, "she had blue eyes", you could say with action, "her blue eyed stare sent shivers down his back."

"An 'active' description gives the reader a motion picture to look at. An 'inactive' one gives only a still-life painting." 
Marc McCutcheon from the book "Building Believable Characters

So, try your hand at 'active' descriptions this week. I Look forward to hearing from you!

This slightly shy green eyed novice writer wishes you a joyful week of energetic descriptive writing (Okay, maybe that was a bit over the top).


Out of Gas
By Anuschka de la Court

Miriam was tired, hungry and cold. She had just worked a 14-hour shift in the Emergency and all she wanted right now was food and bed. She wasn’t sure if she would make it up the 10 steps to her bedroom.
“I should have shut these six hours ago.” She rubbed her burning sea green eyes, kicked off her shoes, and headed into the kitchen to make a sandwich. The sofa looked inviting as she passed it heading to the back of the house, and the food. Her stomach rumbled as she stumbled over her son’s size 10 sneakers left in the darkness of the hall way. She kicked them to the side, almost hitting the cat who was weaving figure eights through her legs trying to catch her attention.
“Ah.” Her thin boney shoulders slumped as she groaned not wanting to deal with the house duties just yet.
“That job will start tomorrow,” she thought about shutting her eyes for just a moment, ”I mean today… after sleep.” It was 4am and she knew she would only get about 5 hours of sleep that morning before she would put on her chef’s hat, cleaning hat, laundry hat, taxi driver hat and who knows what other ones her ‘day off’ would bring. She knew her so called ‘day offs’ were just as chaotic as the emergency room at the hospital, but at least she didn't have to deal with death at home, on her day off. 
It was hard getting used to watching life leave someone, young or old, it was the one thing about her job that she could never get used to. She wouldn’t allow herself to get hardened to the reality of death. It was there, and she would weep. This kept her human.
As she entered the kitchen and turned on the light she stepped on a rolled up paper ball and leaned down to pick it up. It looked like something her son might have made for the cat to play with. Every now and then he would wrap up catnip into a paper ball, but this time it wasn’t a cat’s toy, it was a gas receipt for fifty dollars.
“I just filled up the tank yesterday?” she knew her son needed the car, so she filled up the tank before he drove her to work yesterday.
“KELOWNA!” the receipt was from a city that was a six-hour drive away from where they lived and with yesterdays date, “What the… oh… he is going to get it!” The fire of anger and adrenaline rushed through her and she was fully awake now. Her 17-year-old son needed the car to drive a friend home, but he didn’t mention where.  He had given the impression that it was local drive, not half way across the province. She sat down on a stool beside the breakfast bar and sighed deeply.
“Kelowna.” She murmured and then thoughts came flooding in from the last holiday together, as a family, when they drove to Edmonton to visit relatives two years ago.
They stopped at Okanogan Mountain Provincial Park along the way and rented a boat for four days. The small 17-foot length zodiac fit the family of four plus the dog, camping gear, coolers, stove, and sleeping bags. It took them to Commando Bay. The ride was a little cramped, but those four days were amazing. One of the best holidays... filled with adventures, swimming, hiking, campfires and time together away from the demands of the city, mortgages, work and school. She needed a holiday like that right now, but it would never be like that again. An overwhelming sadness creeped in and her eyes burned with tears while a deep black hole of loneliness opened up and sent shooting pains of grief into her chest.
"No." she shook her head and fought back the darkness of mourning, the murkiness of depression. One of them was missing...dead... and they would never get that time back. It was why she threw herself into her work, so she wouldn’t have to miss him.
“Maybe that’s why he went there?” tears flowed freely down her cheeks, as her anger was replaced with understanding. She knew why her son went to Kelowna and peace replaced her fury. Peter had had a hard time with the exhausting demands of school and the unexpected death of his father; this past year had taken its toll on him.  He had needed to get away from swirls of chaos of life’s demands. It could have consumed him, had he not taken that moment to walk away from it, to recharge his soul’s battery. Heck! Wasn’t it something she needed to do?
“Smart kid.” She wiped the tears off on the sleeve of her nurses uniform. She knew what she needed to do, “I’ll call work tomorrow and ask for some time off.” She needed to take the kids on an adventure and make some new memories; it would have been what her husband would have wanted.

Thanks to:
- Rene my muse
- Marc McCutcheon and his Writer's Digest book 'Building Believable Characters'.
- For use of the crumpled paper image

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