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I am writing a short love story. There is a moment when the man and woman he loved meets after 3 decades at his home and they strike up a conversation. They had some unsaid feelings buried deep within and it just overwhelms the man. He puts forward his feelings and pain more gradually but more aggressively. I want to make this situation very intense and as real as possible. What points should I keep in mind in order to do this?

Is it necessary to provide a detailed description of the interiors of the house and points like 'she sat on the antique looking sofa' and all?

The scene:

He smiled at her with a bit of watery eyes. But hers was as beautiful and sparkling as always and with a melted heart he said "hey"

"hi" she replied with her soft voice, climbing the stairs back to him. For the first time in 32 years he was looking again what he considered the most beautiful face.

"how are you?" She said in a heavy tone, but with a subtle smile.

"I am fine" wondering she has come back after all these yrs.

"How are you?" he asked.

"I am fine but don't you feel its bit cold out here!"

"Oh yes, I am sorry please come in" Thus she entered his home. His was a detached house with a ground and first floor. It seemed as if either he is shifting in or shifting out, suggested by the few articles kept in the drawing room. Just a small wooden center table with a sofa and two dissimilar chairs around it. And old chandelier, a flower vase in one of the corners with some dust laden artificial flower set. There were good number of windows. She remembered he used to talk of houses well ventilated and naturally lit rooms.

"You live alone here?" She said turning to him from the room's ceiling.

"Yes"

"Where is your wife and kids?"

"For your information I never got married, if that's what you have come to know." He never liked the way she would say things as if they don't mean anything to her.

"I didn't mean to irritate you."

"Yeah, i know."

"I thought you would be happy to see me" she said looking down.

"Happy to see you? Let me be honest to you, seeing you in person after 3 decades has withered me. Its as if I will crumble any moment now. Though I always imagined this day and believed I can face this situation but I am not able to. I don't know what to be. To be happy or to be sad! The pain, the agony, the moments with you I have always cherished are gushing out of me. You tell me what should I be!"

She sank her chin into her chest. He could few drops of tears falling off her face. He realized he was being too rough. "Hey, I am sorry dear. Didn't mean to hurt you. I have always been unable to hide my feelings from you. You know that, but I never mean to hurt you. Moreover you are the stronger one of us. Isn't it"

She wiped her face with her handkerchief. "You want coffee or tea" he asked.

"Neither. I just want a glass of water."

He brought her water. She sipped it slowly and thanked him keeping the glass on the table.

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3 Answers

The key thing to keep in mind with writing fiction generally is: Does it add to the story? There's nothing wrong with describing a place, but how does that set the scene for what's about to happen? How does it set the mood? If you describe a place for the sake of describing things, that really drags down the pace and kills any tension you have at that point.

So when you're describing the house, think about:

  • What kinds of things the woman would notice, given her agitated state of mind in coming to visit the man. Would she notice that the place hadn't changed, that the furnishings hadn't changed (cue descriptions here)? Would she notice the vase she gave him for his birthday, back when they were still going out, or the candlestick she threw at him when she left him? If she's thinking about well-ventilated houses, how does that relate to their relationship in the past (given that this is meant to be the focus of your scene)?
  • Elements that you can use to represent their current situation/mental state. If the man feels withered/crumbling, you could set the mood by describing dying flowers in a vase, peeling paint, broken furniture, etc. You could show the gap that's grown between them by contrasting how things looked in the past with how they are now (presumably older, dustier, tarnished, etc.)

Obviously, you wouldn't use everything, as it would be description overload. Granted, if you were going for a 'literary' piece, that's another matter. :P But generally, you'll need to pick and choose what you think would work best for the emotions and mood you want to get across, as well as the pace you want to set.

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Thanks Lexi for your valuable suggestions. I have put in the idea of well ventilated house to show she still remembers what he liked. And about the articles in the room. The conversation includes them in the later parts to show that he is not materialistic and is content with whatever he has. He has an NGO (which I have had introduced in the starting parts of the story), that works for underprivileged children and even the house is used occasionally for them. I wanted to implicitly show the spiritual side of the male character... –  sk1 Nov 13 '12 at 7:54
    
...The characters here had a lovely relation and had to separate due to family pressure as they were from different religion, so the articles or anything from the room is hard to relate from the past. Would you please suggest me further on this. For the second point; I am not able to understand how can the dying flowers or peeling paints etc relate to the man's withering feeling? That would be exactly opposite of what he has been doing, keeping himself out of any negative/sad/devastated kind of feelings. Moreover I am trying to show the gap through their actions & emotions. Pls suggest frthr –  sk1 Nov 13 '12 at 8:05
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All I was saying is that you should only describe what is necessary to set the mood and give us an insight into the characters. If the answer is nothing (which really, it shouldn't be) then either come up with a new setting or keep it out so that the scene stays tight and tense. –  Lexi Nov 15 '12 at 5:09
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If you want to use the setting, then think about how different places give off different feelings. A sunny, well-lit room with bright colours will have a different feel to a dank basement with dripping pipes and a tiny barred window. Think about the emotions you want to convey and give us just enough description of the place to convey it. –  Lexi Nov 15 '12 at 5:17
    
I am getting your point Lexi. The settings are for the readers to connect with the character and not with me. That's right. I shall come up with better and less subtle setting. Thanks. –  sk1 Nov 15 '12 at 15:54
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Lexi gave a good run-down of what is needed, let me add a few tricks.

  • Reuse the location. It was formerly introduced in detail when that was needed for another scene. That way a one-line mention will suffice.

  • Make the location a radiant extension of the scene. It isn't curtains and a window, it's a golden glow framing her shape and veils flowing by her face.

  • Use a generic setting that needs just three words of introduction and make the lovers so infatuated they cease to see it. But do non introduce non-generic elements of the setting later, unless being jarring is your purpose.

  • Make the location an arena of non-verbal game, make the elements appear in a physical play. Chasing playfully, hiding, a romantic walk.

  • Make the description impressive, not descriptive: how it feels, not how it looks. Make it an extension of personality of the one who lives there, not merely a location.

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Can you please explain point number three further with an example. –  sk1 Nov 16 '12 at 17:19
    
@sk1: If they meet at McDonalds, you can easily assume everyone knows how a McDonalds restaurant looks like, no need to describe it. Same if they go by a car on a motorway, or sit in a cinema. The reader can easily imagine a generic car, a generic motorway, a generic cinema. But if you then suddenly halfway through the scene have the guy walk down the ladder from the car, because you forgot to mention the car was a Monster Truck from moment one, that is some bad, bad writing. As for "infatuated": usual stuff happens around, they don't pay attention to it, the reader doesn't have to either. –  SF. Nov 17 '12 at 16:14
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Yes, you very definitely should use descriptions, whether of the location, what they're wearing or any other thing that will bring us there; make the scene vivid for the reader. That is, you should give the telling detail: that one, or those few items that tell us who these people are.

I might recommend that you read Nick Cave's short novel "The Death of Bunny Munro" as he is one writer who is very good at this sort of thing.

Also, I would try to lose words like beautiful because they're verdicts rather than descriptions, and so, for me, should be the prerogative of the reader. I would lose them, even if they are verdicts made by a character. Try replacing it with an emotional or physiological response. And, let's face it: at fifty-something people aren't necessarily beautiful anymore; all that was once firm and supple is beginning to sag, bloat, flop and wrinkle. And the face that could launch a thousand ships might only just inspire a dinghy. If she is still beautiful, and some are, describe her briefly so that we can tell.

But love is about other things, isn't it? I think you need to work on their emotional conflict, or his conflict, and it has to be conflict, you got that right. No one carries a torch for 32 years without some unresolved issues. And even then it's kind of pathetic and sad, and you should work out whether he should be aware of that. People have had full lives shorter than that. Work, career, family, sex, passion, follies, tragedies... You don't necessarily need to tell us, but you should work out for yourself what they did with their lives if they are to come off the page. And try to write like you were acting, like you were these people: what would their idiom be? Would she say; "it's a bit cold out here"? Or would she use nippy or freezing? what would her response be if he says he never married? "Well, what did you do then?" Something like that.

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