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Creating Rooms and Areas (cont'd)

Writing Room Descriptions:

Your rooms are your rooms: The MUCK Manual makes no claim to be an authoritative source on the `right' way to write room descriptions. At the same time, a few basic techniques — some of which would be presented in any creative writing course, and some arising from the specific nature of this very specific genre — may prove helpful as you work to make your building memorable and enjoyable.

Favor the Specific over the General

As does a narrative essay or work of fiction, a room desc strives to evoke a sharp sense of place... to give the reader the information necessary to vividly imagine the scene and to vicariously experience it, as though she were there. Specific information serves this purpose much more effectively than general information. It is much easier to visualize `a white picket fence clambered with Morning Glory' than it is to visualize `a fence'... and this is true even if we don't know exactly what a Morning Glory looks like. When faced with a choice (and writing is in its essence a continuous stream of choices), always give the specific instance first consideration over the general case. Put the `top-heavy dahlia, just beginning to lose its petals' into your desc, rather than the `flower'. Furnish the conference room with `wobbley chairs with stainless steel legs and orange naugahide seats, that look like they were stolen out of dorm rooms', rather than `seats' or `chairs'. Let your too-slick cardshark smoke a `Romeo y Julietta Bellicoso' or `Montecristo No. 2' rather than simply `a cigar'.

Appeal to Multiple Senses

Many builders rely too heavily on the sense of sight. Use this to your advantage: make your own rooms stand out, favorably, in contrast, by appealing to multiple senses. Do include visual description — show your reader the tropical water's seductive shadings of blue and green and the fractured dance of sunlight on its surface — but complement these with the tawdry and insistent call of the seagulls, the weighty smell of seaweed, the congenial contest between warm sunlight and a chill seabreeze, and the wholesome tang of salt when an unexpected burst of spray gifts the lips.

Use Active Verbs

The much-maligned passive voice (using some form of `to be' as the verb of a sentence) has valuable uses in all forms of writing, and one should regard prose purists who insist that is inherently inferior with grave suspicion. Nonetheless. In place descriptions, active verbs do help bring energy and verve to the writing, especially when the subject matter itself is passive or static. Consider the following:

        The gentle surf polishes the tiny bits of jade, amethyst, and sapphire that dot the expanse of dark obsidian sand, extending forever out under the clear bluegreen water of the Dragon Sea. Transparent, crystalline crabs dance over the sands, plucking a particularly scintillating grain now and then for the tiny hoards upon their backs. Sweeping back towards the northern woods, the warm black sand borders square patches of cool grass, following the checkered pattern of a harlequin's breast. The sand stretches to the west and east, past a low outcropping of obsidian to the southeast, where the entrance to a little cove is visible. Various homes can be seen interspersed with the trees to the north. Hanging low in the southern sky, you can make out the silhouette of the Floating Island. A directory of the local homes is posted on a tree.

(Cymoryl's Shimmer Beach, on FurryMUCK)

The surf `polishes' the stones. The crabs `dance' and `pluck'. The shoreline `sweeps' this way, and `stretches' that way. There is little doubt that this desc would have been much less effective had Cymoryl relied on the passive voice.

Use Contrast

When trying to convey a specific tone or feeling, guard against sounding the same note throughout the description. Instead, use contrast to focus the reader's awareness of the desired tone or feeling. Consider: if we want to convey a sense of snug warmth, we could write a description saturated with details such as warm blankets, coals in the fireplace, thick walls, and so forth. But the reader might be better able to experience the desired effect if we instead provide several contrasting details — cold drafts lurking about the baseboards, and a still, star-lit night outside, with ice-flowers of frost forming on the window — and then provide close narration of being bundled in ample quilts, with only our noses peeking out.

Consider Providing a `Focus'

Most of the guidelines offered so far would apply to narrative writing at least as strongly as they do to desc writing. But in some ways the demands of the two forms are very different. One of these differences has to do with `pace' or `rhythm'. In narrative, you usually want to create a sense of flow and continuity. MUCK rooms, however, exist `by themselves' to a greater extent than paragraphs or scenes from a narrative. Rooms are discrete `pieces', that need to be judged on their own merits, with relatively little consideration to what went before or comes after (something you cannot control in the same way that a narrative writer can).

Sometimes, we take special care to convey a room's relationship to other nearby places (we describe the path leading down to the stream, the hill just above this field, the ridge leading on to the plateau) and we describe a number of aspects of the room itself (the flowers speckling through the field's grass, the surrounding trees, the sky), and the result is... unaccountably bland. Quite often, this can be traced to a failure to give the reader something to focus on. Everything present is there because of its relationship to something else, and there is no single visual or logical point that gives the room an identity of its own. So... if a room description just doesn't seem to work, try providing a single, specific, dominant feature, preferably near the beginning or end of the description, rather than buried in the middle. The field room in our parenthetical examples here might be saved by inclusion of a focal feature such as a fire pit in its center, or a lone, towering pine, or a monolith of some sort.

Consider Using `Catelogues'

The writers of ancient epics had a nifty trick: they evoked very specific constellations of connotation and emotion simply by listing things. Lots of things. Homer did not have resources such as a wide screen or a symphony orchestra to convey the pagentry and thrill of the Achean forces setting out for Troy. He had words, and one way he used them was the `epic catelogue': instead of saying that a thousand ships set forth, he listed them... and who was on them... and who their parents were... and what they took with them. The cummulative effect builds and builds, and by its close the audience has not only a great deal of information but also, in effect, `a recipe for a feeling'. These ships, these men, these weapons... and in such numbers. When the audience has this in mind, it cannot help but experience a unique and vivid effect.

When writing a room desc, you must work on a much smaller canvas, but the technique can be adapted. Try evoking a place or a world by simply listing salient figures and objects within it. Consider the following:

        Olevin Causeway
The Causeway connects Sidney-Down-Over and the Ambly Island Spaceport, but is a world unto itself. Street merchants working from ramshackle stalls extol light sabres and life insurance, armorlite and absynthe, chronometers and Chrysellian fire oil. Strolling vendors insistently offer vibrablades, nebutol, and ice cream. Prophets and prostitutes hawk their wares, the former with greater passion, the latter with greater conviction. A crowd of drunken spacers skip Stellars on the heaving waters. A slumming heiress keeps ennui at bay for one more night, and the eyes of a starving child ask a question with no answer.

Homer it is not, but the list does convey the jaded, carnevalesque atmosphere of the Causeway in a small amount of screen space.

Consider Directly Addressing the Reader

Most accomplished builders avoid directly addressing the reader, because doing so forces an intrusive editorial presence upon the reader. This is a good rule to follow. But, like all the guidelines here, you might want to consider breaking the rule occassionally. Just be aware when you are doing so. Some readers consider the following desc too intrusive; others consider it highly effective.

        Bedroom Loft
Yes, the ceiling is a bit low, the angles a trifle confining. But was there ever a better place to lie in a loved one's arms? Can you see the sailing moon outside the dormer window? Can you smell the faint but bracing scent, of cedar and lavendar, of musk and the night and something from your childhood? Turn down this faded quilt... Slip between these cool sheets... Unfold into this repose, and in it create yourself anew.

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