When asked to describe ‘Lord of the Rings’, my mother replies with a series of sound effects: cling clang!, trudge tromp trudge, clang! cling, cling!. As she is a landscape and still life painter and not enamored of fiction (much less fantasy– she prefers very historical fiction, biographies, theology), I will forgive her for that.
One thing I remember from reading the Hobbit is that the trial through Murkwood forest took absolutely forever. For Bilbo, for the dwarves, especially the poor saps that had to carry Bombur, and for me. The chapter and descriptions were so long that one really did start to despair and get hungry before they finally are attacked by spiders. Like the company’s view, no end seemed to be in sight.
My real dad (biological father, lives across the state) once commented that Tolkien could take three pages just to describe the wind. When mentioned to a Tolkien fan, she immediately shot back ‘Yes, but he does a damned good job of it.’ Which makes me wonder. How does Tolkien do that?
Logistics and travel has always been a weakness in my work. I can’t stand traveling. My philosophy tends to be ‘If nothing is going to happen, then fast forward and get to the interesting bits,’. This can be good and can be bad, depending on how it’s used. I know that in my 0-draft for NaNoWriMo I skimped on descriptions and most of the scenery. It bored me, and I knew what things looked like, so like exposition, I’d write it when it was needed. This was something that my test reader commented on, along with, ‘it feels like it should be twice as long’ and ‘some parts are awesome, some parts need work’.
The reason my meter’s slowed down is because I’m working on a Wyrren chapter. The end is particularly climactic, but to get there… well, there are logistics. I have a character walking around in a series of dark tunnels with a company, and since she has a speech disability she’s not inclined to conversation. It’s gotten me thinking about how to detail this without just going to a summery or an internal dialog. So far I’ve mostly struggled through, sentence by agonizing sentence, partly with what descriptions available– the way an armed company makes people scatter like frightened birds, the sound of a waterfall in the distance, and the request to change paths so that she can see the water.
Are there any tricks to this? Does the richness of the prose make travel interesting? The characteristics of the places passed by? The thoughts and emotions these details evoke? What would Tolkien do? Is anyone any good at making these transitions interesting?