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How to describe the environment and scenery well

With the object, wandering with the heart

By Liston FlowersPublished 8 months ago 9 min read

First of all, to clarify the concept, by "environment" I mean the space represented in the novel, mainly the physical space narrated by the narrator or seen by the characters. "Landscape" is a part of "environment". The reason why "landscape" is separated from "environment" is that it has its own uniqueness. Any landscape is an environment, but not all environments are landscapes. For example, a protagonist in a garbage dump would not perceive his surroundings as scenery. But in some cases, the environment becomes a landscape because of the viewer's narrative perspective. For example, the protagonist is a street artist who transforms the garbage dump he is in according to a Picasso abstract painting and arranges it in a well-arranged and layered manner. At this time, his view of the garbage dump environment changes, and the garbage dump becomes both environment and landscape. In a word, the condition for an environment to become a landscape depends on whether it has appreciation value, artistic value and aesthetic value.

For young writers, the description of environment and scenery is easy to be neglected. It seems that we can rarely read the amazing description of environment from a genre novel. I'm afraid this is because, with the rise of modern city life, everyone's usual space experience is more and more similar. Most city dwellers ride the same buses every day, pass the same tall buildings and browse the same shop squares. Urbanization brings about the homogeneity of spatial experience, which makes it more and more difficult to write characteristics of environmental description. However, in the past, the differences between cities and villages, between big cities and small cities, between the east and the west, and between Han and ethnic minorities were great. Different regional groups were faced with strong spatial experiences with local characteristics. This kind of locality is reflected in Mo Yan's rural scene of Gaomi in Shandong Province, Zhang Ailing and Wang Anyi's scenery of Shanghai lane, Lao She's weather of Beiping quadrangle, and Alai's snowy scenery of Tibet.

At the same time, the proportion of environment and scenery in contemporary genre novels seems to be getting lower and lower. Most readers and creators increasingly prefer fast-paced novels, a typical example of which is online novels. We rarely see a large section of landscape description in online novels, and many authors tend to brush it off. This is because readers are often eager to grasp more plot development information in the updated thousands of words when they read daily updates, while landscape descriptions tend to slow down the pace and make plot-oriented readers lose patience. Does this mean that the context is not important? That's not true. A successful description of the environment will not only not slow down the pace, but also better bring the reader into the plot of the novel, triggering the reader's resonance.

Then, how to write a good description of the environment and scenery in the novel?

The first is to deeply observe and recall the unique spatial details in our lives from different perspectives, and to defamiliarization them through rhetorical means. The so-called defamiliarization is expressed in a way that is very different from our daily experience. For example, "Row upon row of overpasses hover over the city like a giant spider web".

When we switch perspectives and look at the city, we find that there are many unique Spaces that may not have been discovered yet. What happens to the environment we observe if we focus on the perspective of a bird? We will find that the tall buildings which used to occupy the center of our sight become color blocks of different colors, the original height difference is no longer obvious, the traffic flow becomes black line, and the eagle which used to be small as a kite in the sky becomes a giant around you at this time.

Similarly, if we focus on the perspective of a traffic policeman, an excavator worker or a cargo ship captain, we will see different Spaces. When we sit next to a bridge and observe it, we will find that the bridge body in the morning, noon, evening and late night presents different faces in the change of light and shadow, and the change of light and shadow often creates different atmosphere and mood of the characters. Foggy Bridges feel oppressive and mysterious, while sunny ones feel open and warm. If we go under the bridge, we will find that there may be a hole under the bridge, where some beggars lie in distress. For them, the wet hole may be a warm place to live, or a proof of their identity, which implies shame and despair.

A good example of environmental description is Wang Anyi's Song of Everlasting Regret, which begins with a classic description of a Shanghai alley:

When you look at Shanghai from a high point, the alleyways of Shanghai are a spectacular sight. It's the same thing as the background of the city. Streets and buildings protruding above it are points and lines, AND IT IS A TYPE OF brush strokes called TEXturing IN Chinese painting, filling in the BLANKS. When it's dark and the lights are on, the dots and lines are lit, and behind the light, there are large areas of darkness, which are the alleyways of Shanghai. The darkness looked almost billow, almost pushing the lines of light along. It has a volume, and the dots and lines are floating on the surface, to divide that volume, to punctuate things in the text, to break lines and sentences. The darkness is like an abyss, thrown down a mountain, also quietly sank to the bottom. It is like hiding a lot of rocks in the dark, not careful will turn over the boat. The darkness holds the light of Shanghai for decades at a time. The light of Paris in the East is spread out under that darkness.

This section is a good example of a change of perspective. It describes the lane from a high point of view. At the same time, Wang Anyi noticed the changes of light and shadow in the lane. Here, the "dark like an abyss" in the lane, "dark like a reef that will upset the boat if you are not careful", has actually symbolized the depressed fate and tragic outcome of the protagonist Wang Qiyao in the future. Not only that, Wang Anyi also connected the lane with Chinese painting aesthetics, giving artistic value to the points and lines of the lane. There is also the "choppy" dark, turning the "dark" environment into the "sea" scenery, subtly defamiliarization treatment, breaking our daily light and shadow feelings for lane.

Here's another passage:

Shanghai lane is sexy, there is a skin like. It has the cool and warm tentacles, is perceptible, there are some selfish. Grease-stained rear kitchen window. It's for cleaning women to talk about things a mile away; The back door by the window was for the young lady to go to school with her schoolbag and have a tryst with her husband; Although the front gate is not often opened, when it is opened, it is for a big event. It is specially for distinguished guests to walk around, and the notices of weddings and funerals are posted. It is always a little bit of uncontrollable excitement, jumping, a little bit of chattering. There were whispers on the terraces and balconies and at the Windows, and night knocks on the door. Or to stand at a high point and find a good Angle: the clothes hanging on the bamboo poles in the lane are scattered and scattered, with a taste of personal love; The impatiens, the jewels, and the green Onions planted in the POTS are also the nature of the affair; The empty pigeonhole on the roof is an empty heart; Broken and disorganized tiles are also symbols of the heart and body. The gully like bottom, some cement shop, some stone eggs spell. Cement shop in the end some of the heart between the lung, stone egg road is the palm of the hand back is the feeling of meat. The first is loud and clear, and the second is eaten and muffled in the stomach; What BEFORE KIND SAYS IS POLITE, AFTER KIND IS THE WORDS OF THE BOTTOM OF THE HEART, TWO KINDS ARE NOT OFFICIAL FACE ARTICLE, IT IS UNAVOIDABLE TO SAY EVERYDAY IN THE HOUSEHOLD.

In this section, the scenery of the lane is personified by Wang Anyi's rhetoric, as if with the allure of women. It not only symbolizes the most important character style of the whole novel -- a kind of lane lady's amorous feelings, but also the "back door by the window", "balsamina, treasure flower and green onion and garlic" all imply the emotional atmosphere of the protagonists in the novel, a kind of love style which is secret, mysterious and stylish. The footsteps in the lane symbolized the daily social characteristics of Shanghai residents, who like to whisper in the dark and listen to gossip. A few short paragraphs not only create a comprehensive and complete emotional atmosphere of the novel, but also vividly depict the universality of daily communication among Shanghai citizens.

Above we introduced the general environment and landscape description of the narrative function and creative principles. If we focus on a special type of fiction -- mystery novels, the environment description will assume an important function of inference clues. Japanese mystery writer Shoji Shimada, for example, bases the entire novel's criminal subterfuge and reasoning process on the fact that the crime scene is tilted. Another example is the murder in the secret room, which often appears in mystery novels. After the detective enters the secret room, there will always be a long section of detailed description of the environment, such as the diary on the table, the blood of the body on the floor, the location of the wound, and whether the vent is open. In addition, suspense novels often create a strange and scary atmosphere through the description of scenery.

In short, a crack in the urban space often contain the secret of the city, at the same time, the environment and the scenery description and can play different kinds of narrative features, such as build atmosphere with dark light manufacturing, suspenseful atmosphere, performance figures emotions - with a brilliant sun, foil cheerful mood symbols destiny - like deep alley undertow of the tragic fate of the heroine finally, Lay down the style of the novel -- use the footsteps in the lane to lay down the communicative style of Shanghai citizens and provide reasoning clues -- like the secret room details in the detective novel become the key to solving the case and so on. The rudimental form of a story can even emerge from a unique space, if we are imaginative enough. If we try our best to combine these narrative functions with environmental description through different perspectives and different defamiliarization techniques when describing the environment, our environmental description can be elevated to a higher level for the whole story.

The imagination question in this lesson is:

Choose an environment that you are very familiar with, and now change your perspective to that of someone else who will be in the scene. Write down how he feels about the environment. How is it different from how you feel?

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