Batter up! Who's next?
Blackberry Gap was a wide spot in the road on State Highway 90N. As northern California towns went, it was pretty normal. The highway formed the central street and was intersected at right angles by three cross-streets. The middle intersection formed the central corner, with four red brick structures facing each other in all four directions. Constructed of red brick with windows and doors picked out in white brickwork, those buildings had formed the core of the town in its hey-day. Now they were flanked on all sides by more modern developments, gas stations, a strip mall and eventually, farm land. Several cars passed up and down the street, and a few parked head-in along the sidewalks in the same way farmers had parked horse-drawn wagons when the town was young.
Okay. This is a pretty big block of description without much to break it up. The closest we get to action comes from the line, "Several cars passed up and down the street." Everything else is static. No dialogue, no clear point of view character -- actually, no characters.
We've talked about ways to make description dynamic and to integrate it with the text. We're not going to talk about that again here. Instead, we're going to take a different angle altogether and talk about why you might want a passage like this, one that breaks the basic guidelines, but does it with clean prose.
So here's your assignment. Read that passage very slowly. Read it aloud, if that will help you slow down. Really listen to the tone and voice. And tell me in the comments when a stripped passage like this would be effective. What type of character would evaluate a setting like this? Under what circumstances in the text would this type of description feel that it's advancing the plot? (In other words, can you envision a scene and character in which this block of description would read as appropriate in both pace and content?)
I can think of two right off the top of my head. Here's one to get us started. The character is a location scout for a film production company. He's tired. He's determined. And he'll know it when he sees it, but for right now, this town is a Plan B type location. So it would make sense that he catalogs all these details in his head in this somewhat emotionless, viewpointless way. His viewpoint really isn't all that important, anyway. What would matter is how the camera would see this town.
What else? There are more. The point is that sometimes it makes sense to abandon the ordinary guidelines, and being able to recognize those exceptions is part of the writer's art.