Prompt: Light and Dark Across Seasons

The prompt this week is about light and shadow. An artist uses light and shadow to create pattern, shape, and texture. Light dictates changes in the seasons. A writer can do the same thing with descriptions that include light and shadow.

The prompt was inspired by this excerpt from Dean Koontz, “Innocence:”

This weather-sculpted stone was also a familiar warren, because I had explored its limited interior architecture as far as it would accommodate me. The tunnel was low and tight and curved to the right, and I crawled through the blinding dark, frightened not just of the hunter but of what might currently be in residence in the chamber at the end of that passageway. In the past, when I’d gone exploring there, I had done so with a flashlight, but I didn’t have one this time.

The warren offered a home for various species if they wanted it, including rattlesnakes. In the cool of early October, snakes would be lethargic, perhaps not too dangerous, but although Nature’s creatures had spared me all these years, a weasel or a badger or some other formidable animal would be frightened and would feel cornered when I came rushing in upon it.

Leading with my face, I was vulnerable, and I shut my eyes tight to protect them from a sudden swipe of claws.

The passageway brought me around a corner and into the cave, roughly six feet in diameter and between four and five feet high. Nothing attacked, and I opened my eyes. A silver dollar of sunlight lay in one corner of the room, having fallen through one of the flutes, and a larger and more irregular pattern of light, about the size of my hand, formed under another flute. The day lacked wind, and quiet pooled in that subterranean lair—and there proved to be no tenant other than me.

I intended to remain there until I felt certain that the hunter had hiked far away. The air smelled vaguely of lime and moldering leaves that had blown in through the larger hole in the ceiling. If I had suffered from claustrophobia, I could not have tolerated such confinement.

At that moment, I couldn’t have predicted that before much longer I would have no choice but to find my way out of the mountains or that by night and by arduous travel, surviving multiple attempts on my life, I would journey to a great city, or that I would live secretly for many years deep beneath its teeming streets, in storm drains and subway tunnels and in all the strange byways that exist below a metropolis, or that one winter, while visiting the vast central library after midnight, when it should have been deserted, I would meet a girl in lamplight near Charles Dickens and my world would change, and her world, and yours.

After a few minutes, as I crouched there in the dark between the narrow shafts of light, I heard noises. I thought the badger of my imagination might have become flesh and might be approaching now through the passageway that I had followed. The long claws of a badger’s forefeet make it a dangerous adversary. But then I realized that the sounds came from above, carried to me with the sunshine. Boots on stone, a clank of something, a rattle. A man coughed and cleared his throat and sounded very near.

If he hadn’t merely glimpsed me, if he had seen me in some detail, either he would have been searching for me aggressively or he would have decided to depart from a forest so queer that it could harbor something like me. Instead he seemed to have settled down for a brief rest, suggesting that he had not gotten a clear look at me. What I might be, how I could be brought into the world through the agency of a man and woman, I didn’t know and thought that I would never know. Much of the world is beautiful, and much more is at least fair to the eye, and what might be ugly is nevertheless of the same texture as everything else and clearly belongs in the tapestry. In fact, on the closest consideration, an ugly spider is in its way an intricate work of art worthy of respect or even admiration, and the vulture has its glossy black feathers, and the poisonous snake its sequined scales.

The prompt was to write a scene that focuses on the use of light and dark, and to also consider seasonal lights impact on a scene.


Writer’s Toolbox: Describe and Critique Art

Mona Lisa - Leonard Da Vinci - Wikipedia.Your characters head for the local museum or art gallery. Their eyes are filled with wondrous sights. Colors, patterns, shapes, textures, renewing their spirit, giving them the beauty they crave in their life. Or boring them to tears as they’ve just been dragged to another thing-they-don’t-wish-they-had-to-do-in-order-to-save-a-realtionship-or-get-sex.

Either way, it helps to have words to describe and critique that art.

Describing artwork is one of the fascinating uses of language, in any language. How does the writer capture a painted expression, a twisted sculpture, an abstract painting? Could you describe the Mona Lisa with the right words to make the magic of Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrait explain why it continues to attract millions of visitors eager for a glimpse of the woman’s face with a lack of expression?

Interior with Girl Drawing - Pablo Picasso.Artwork is encountered in most books in some way, a photograph of a suspect, a painting on a wall, a quilt, lacework, or arts and crafts item that tells us more about the character, place, or solves a mystery. How do you describe it to not only let the reader see see it, but also choose words that match the tone, scene, time, and owner?

In general, use the following tips for presenting a work of art, though how you choose to describe it and use it in your writing is your personal, creative decision.

  1. Identify the artwork type and medium (canvas, photograph, painting, sculpture, drawing, etc.).
  2. Identify the artist (if possible or relevant).
  3. If a well-known piece, name it.
  4. Describe the objects in or subject matter of the artwork (field, flowers, sunset, ocean, person, portrait, sky, furniture).
  5. Describe the colors, lines, patterns, shapes, and textures.
  6. Describe the first impression of the artwork, what your character or your reader would see at first glance.
  7. Where is the light source? Is the source from the sky, electric, natural light, artificial light, and light direction (top, under, side, backlit (behind)).
  8. What are the sensory qualities, the mood and visual effect, of the work?
  9. Why is it placed in this this particular spot?
  10. Why did the owner buy it?
  11. If the artwork has sentimental value, what is it? How does that help with the character development and backstory?
  12. If the artwork has financial value, what is it and why is that important to your story and character? Did they buy it only for investment? Or to support an artist they found interesting? Or maybe a relative trying to be an artist? Or is it part of their nest egg, saving for the future, betting on the artist? Would they sell it? When? Why?
  13. How does it fit into the rest of the room, building, or scene? Would the character seeing this, if they didn’t own it, think it fits perfectly there or not?
  14. What does this artwork tell the reader about the character or place?
  15. Many people interpret and respond to artwork differently, some with contrasting viewpoints. How would your characters respond? The same, differently? Would they each have a different reaction to the artwork? Does that add to the conflict?
  16. If important to the story, interpret the artwork from the perspective of the artist. Why did they create this? What was their inspiration, motivation, and goals to do so? This might reflect back on the personalities and backstory of your characters.

To help you learn more about learning how to describe arts and arts and crafts, we’ve put together some resources.

Here is a YouTube video for writers on how to describe art.

The following will help you describe artwork and critiquing it to help you flesh out the experience of your characters.