Keeping the party train rolling with another anonymous example. To set this up, a man and a woman have just arrived at this house. The woman is sleeping in the front passenger seat. The man first studies her, but then, when he remembers that she has rejected his advances, he turns away and stares through the truck's front window.
The stone farmhouse with its sunburned thatched roof looked the same. The lamppost light spilled yellow beams across a yard overgrown with weeds enclosed within a rusty fence. Battered shutters, that long ago lost their white sheen, hung at precarious angles on the bare windows. Tall, gnarled oaks hovered over the house. A few branches seemed determined to push their way under the roof.
The place seemed derelict. Exactly the way it was supposed to. His gaze slanted over to the washed-out red barn. The building still leaned a little too heavily on its right.
I suspect some of you out there read this and expect me to talk about the passage being overwritten. By current standards, it is overwritten, and in edits we'd tighten it -- for example, we don't need lamppost, light, and beams in three out of five words, and we probably should have only one sentence about the trees. And I think there would be some value in taking a passage like this and showing you all how to reduce it in edits so that the subtextual emotion and vivid imagery is preserved.
But we've been using this series to focus on the good -- well-used techniques for manipulating setting details to achieve certain effects. In keeping with that, we'll look at this one for tone and mood because this author does a great job using setting details to echo or reinforce the pov character's emotional state. It's subtextual, and it's effective.
Before we get into that, I do want to point out that the author is using techniques we've discussed in other posts in this series. The verbs are strong and vivid. There's a sense that things have changed ("long ago lost their white sheen") or will change ("hung at precarious angles" / "branches seemed determined to push").
Let's look at some details.
Tense because she rejected him. (Trust me, it's in the material that precedes the description.)
Defects (overgrown yard, rusty fence, broken shutters)
Symbolism. But a very subtle kind of symbolism. We can assume there's some defect in him that led to her rejection. (It's probably one of those romance defects such as emotional detachment or inability to trust.) He doesn't see defects when he looks at her sleeping on the front seat. But when he looks elsewhere, he sees the defects, and this mirrors the way she looks at him -- or, at least, at this stage of the game, it's what he imagines she does when she looks at him.
A Bit Unsettled
Things that give him a sense of stability. See "looked the same" in the first sentence, "Exactly the way it was supposed to" in the second paragraph, and "The building still leaned" at the end.
Contrast. By having the character witness things that contrast with his current mood, we show that he is reaching for a new state of mind. This reaching might be subconsciously done, but he's doing it nonetheless.
So here's my big question. Bat this one around in the comments, kids, and see what you think. Ultimately, do you think he wants to change? Or do you think he wants her to see him as he is -- defects and all -- and recognize that he's "exactly the way it was supposed to" be?
I don't know that we have enough material to be able to answer this question definitively. The answers might lie in other scenes. But just based on what we know, which way do you think this one goes?
ETA another question: Look at those tree branches. What's the symbolism in what they're doing? I think that's pretty cool, personally.