Hello all and welcome back. Today I made up my own little exercise to do. Hell, for all I know, I really didn’t, but I didn’t find it on the internet or anything like that, so I’m taking credit. We’ll get to the details in a minute, but first I want to tell you why I chose this today.
For those who are not aware, my favorite author is Terry Pratchett. I first started reading his works at the end of my time in college, and I’ve been gobbling it up ever since. Obviously, I was saddened to hear of his recent passing. I never got to meet him, but he was always inspired me. He actually inspired one of the first short stories I ever wrote. An impressive feat, since I wrote that story about four years before I read one of his books.
See, I kinda lied. I’d read his work before, I just didn’t know it was him until much later (I was a kid and kinda stupid). The very first story I read by Terry Pratchett was actually a short story, part of an anthology (which you can find here) of works dedicated to celebrating JRR Tolkien without just ripping him off. The Pratchett’s story was fairly typical fare for him, a whimsical little story about a certain aged barbarian going on a quest. Of course, the quest is a farce, in every sense of the word, and hilarity ensued. And, of course, Pratchett’s brilliance was amply present. The slightly tongue in cheek story is actually about two men (one of whom is a troll), who want to recapture the wonder and prestige and, yes, the fantastic that had somehow seeped out of their lives, and the world in general. It’s actually a bittersweet story about growing up (both of the men are old), about learning how the world is, and deciding whether or not to fight against it and make it better. I remember being dumbfounded. I’d never ready a humorous fantasy story before. I’d never even heard of Discworld. I didn’t know about The Dresden Files or the Chronicles of Xanth yet. And yet, here it was, a fun story, “genre fiction”, making me stop and think and feel things. And years later, remember.
So, flash forward. I’m just out of college and I start one of Terry Pratchett’s later Discworld books, Unseen Academicals. Let’s just get this out of the way right now, it’s not the best book in the series, nor is it my favorite overall. But it is good. I won’t go into the plot here, but what I will do is describe one of the passages. Maybe one of my favorite passages in all of fiction.
It starts like this (I’m paraphrasing): “But let us take a moment to think about characters from the point of view of their beds…” What happens next is nothing short of brilliance. In about a page and a half Pratchett describes all of the main characters in the book, well, just like he said he would. One character has a huge bed, and is obviously fond of spending time in it. It’s almost more than a bed. It has compartments for alcohol and a hook to hang a handbow from (in case he sees a bird he’d like to shoot fly past the window). Another character has a small bed, a place to spend the night. It would probably be rickety, but it is supported by stacks and stacks of sappy romance novels. She keeps them under the bed because she’d be mortified if anyone ever saw them. And the last character he describes is seven years old before he realizes that some people have special furniture for sleeping.
And bam, he hits you right in the feels.
But all of the descriptions, most no more than a few sentences, do that to one degree or another. You get information, such as social standing or income level, a beginning of characterization (you know which characters like to lay around and which ones view sleep as “that thing that happens in between work”), and a drop of emotional content. And it’s JUST. SO. CREATIVE. I mean, describing people with beds? Who does that. Terry Pratchett, that’s who. And that’s why he’s the best.
So, yeah, then there’s me. I figure why should I bother having idols if I don’t try a little emulation every once in a while. In that spirit I have undertaken today’s exercise: describing people through objects.
Okay, but first, look at me. Hey. Internet. Internet! Look at me. I know I just did some gushing about Terry Pratchett and how wonderful he was. But I am not him, and I didn’t have a whole novel’s worth of interesting, complex, and well thought out characters in mind when I did this, so, even if my attempt sucks, trust me, it’s a cool idea.
Anyway, as always, I’d love some criticism. I had a little idea of maybe making a list of people who could live in each house, just a brief description, and then seeing if you could match them to the paragraphs, but I decided against it. Rather, if you would like to give me feedback, I’d like to know what your impressions are about the characters who belong to these doors. Ages, genders, number per door, possible occupations/lifestyles of those behind them. I might redo this exercise later, with different objects. I’d love some ideas for that. Other objects. Other styles (I almost made the doors anthropomorphic, with actual thoughts and feelings, would that be interesting to see next time?) Of course, feel free to leave any comment you’d like, or just enjoy it silently.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy.
A Cul-de-sac: From the Point of View of it’s Doors
by E W Morrow
Word Count: 543
The Kimbal’s door is wide, wider than any of the other doors, and the ground slopes up gently from the driveway to meet the threshold. The knob is large and easy to handle. It’s hinges are well oiled and used to being opened at regular, rigidly scheduled intervals. Just like the lawn it looks out over is cut at regular intervals: last Thursday of every month, just after payday, but before the growth get’s tall enough to cover the sign at the corner, right by the cul-de-sac s entrance.
The Goldberg door is rarely seen during the warmer months. True, when the weather is bad or the hour late it is closed, though rarely bolted, but most days it is open wide to let the fresh air blow through the screen, over the hardwood floors and around the antique furniture within. Even when closed the door is always open. There is always a welcome sign hung on the door, a rotating cast of them, usually holiday themed, and always with that rustic, hand-made look.
The Stevenson’s door is the busiest door on the block, swinging this way and that at all hours of the day. It creaks a little, and the screen door is a little loose from always banging shut, but it has held up well over the years. More than any door in the circle it has collected things over the years. Dings. Scuffs. Finger prints. Even a tuft of hair along the bottom from where the big black family cat rubs against it as he saunters.
The Cavaldi door is bright, a brilliant yellow that flares beside the house’s robin’s egg sides. It, too, is often decorated, but unlike the homey, old fashioned decorations of the Goldberg door, these are wacky things cobbled together from found objects. Even the walk up to the door is flanked by an odd collection of art, usually metal and glass, and always seems to be changing. But only visitors use the door these days. The owner uses the garage mostly, and the door sees fewer pieces of new art than it used to.
The Leatherman door is a bit mysterious. It sits back in a deep, covered porch, and is nearly impossible to see from some angles because blocked and is blocked by a broad trunked maple tree that squats next to the crab grass. Unlike the other doors this one is almost never opened in daylight. And it is never, ever decorated.
The last house has two doors. They look identical, dull blue with little brass nobs and peep holes in the center, but they aren’t. The Reach’s door is ever so slightly heavier than it’s counterpart, and just a little bit thicker. This door has had a lot of owners over the years. Many coats of paint. It feels cramped in it’s frame, and it remembers a time when it was the only door, back before the remodel.
The last door, as was said, is a dull blue thing, with a little brass nob. It hangs slightly crooked in it’s frame and scrapes when you open it. There is a mailbox beside it, also slightly crooked, and in the little plastic rectangle on it’s face there sits a card without a name.