This one comes to us from a writer who would like to remain anonymous.
He grunted before leading her into his study. The walls were covered in maroon flocked wallpaper. A big antique desk dominated the room. The air smelled of leather and old books, with just a hint of tobacco. She hadn’t stepped into Aldous’ study for many years. The giant Remington typewriter he’d always used was still on the desk, but shoved to one side and shrouded in a plastic cover. The heavy velvet curtains were half-drawn, allowing only a pale wintery light to dilute the gloom. Saffron rubbed her upper arms, chilled by the atmosphere, a mood of faded glory, of golden triumphs tarnished by loss and the passing years.
Okay, so let's start with the assumption that this is a poignant moment for her. There are signals of emotional importance, especially toward the end of the paragraph. If this significance has been set up before the paragraph begins, then it makes sense to slow down the pace here and let the character observe the room, detail by detail.
So the pace might be appropriate, but then again, maybe not. She's with a man and the interaction between them is entirely suspended once they're inside the study. So the question then becomes, is there a way to slow down the pace here to allow her to absorb the atmosphere, and yet not have him temporarily drop out of the scene?
Yes, and the solution lies in the way the details are presented. Let's take a look at the first descriptive sentence:
The walls were covered in maroon flocked wallpaper.
The sharp-eyed among you will notice right away that this is in passive voice. "To cover" is a good, vivid verb, but without a subject to take the action of covering something, the verb loses some of its vigor. But does it follow, then, that the best way to fix this sentence is by switching it from passive to active? Hmm.
He had covered the walls in maroon flocked wallpaper.
Because of conventions associated with literary time, we have to shift that verb into the past perfect. After all, he's not papering the walls in this very scene. It's already been done sometime before she entered the room. The problem now is that story chronology has been interrupted to take us out of the scene moment and into some other, less poignant moment. So this isn't a great solution. We want to stick with the present scene moment.
How do we do that? How do we make it both active and present? Well, we have characters. Let's use them. Show the characters interacting with the setting. Some examples:
He lounged against the maroon-flocked walls.
He flicked the lightswitch and his fingers brushed over a patch where the flocking had been rubbed from the maroon wallpaper.
She froze inside the doorway and clutched the maroon-flocked walls for support.
These aren't equal sentences, of course. The first suggests a casualness, the second hints at obsessiveness, the third contains a strong shock response. We could keep going, I'm sure, until we hit on a sentence that conveyed the right degree of action with the right emotional connotation. It's out there. It's just a matter of finding it, and that might take a bit of mucking around with words. Which is pretty darn fun, so aren't we lucky to be able to do it?
The second sentence is much like the first -- dominated is a strong verb, but the sentence itself is static. But what if this is a scene in which the woman begins to feel dominated by the man? Then the desk becomes something of an emotional stand-in. If surrounded by material that shows the power balances (or imbalances), then this could become symbolically significant description. But as it stands, it's a good sentence that could be made better.
Now it's your turn. Pick a descriptive detail in that passage and tell me one example of how a character might interact with it in the present scene moment. Then tell me if there's an emotion being suggested by the action. You don't have to use the characters in this sample paragraph. This is just an exercise.
Thank you, anon, for sharing your work with us. You're off to a good start! With just a bit of revision, it will be even better.