Sunday, June 7, 2009

Search for Oblique Details!

I've been driving through the desert mountains between my home and my work with the idea of moving to Minneapolis on my mind. That means leaving behind the geography of my fantasy world, which has been inspired--in part--by the geography of Washington State.

There's the Olympic Mountains to the far west, the Strait of Juan De Fuca and the San Juan Islands, the Cascade Mountains, and then the desert basin and the desert mountains of Central Washington.

Somehow the thought of moving has made the idea of recording some of the desert geography all that much more urgent. What if I never move back?

So, I recently started bringing my camera with me.

Now, I can still hear Maass talking about oblique details and I can still picture Patrick at the conference smiling because of what we heard. That's all stuck with me, and inspired me to search for oblique details.

That's my challenge for you. Search for oblique details in your story world and report back on what you find. Post it on your blog and/or leave a comment. Let me know what you find! Show it in words, show it in photos, or leave it in a song recording, or a clip from a video game. How ever you report back, make sure to show what you see because you were exploring or observing closely.

I usually get in a hurry and take the freeway over the mountains from Ellensburg to Yakima, but I decided to start taking the canyon river road.

Here's what I typically see on the drive:

There's the river. It's blue and cuts through the desert mountains. Right now the summer sun has not backed the life out of the plant life growing on the rocky slopes. There's still a light green hue from spring blooms, and sage grows in patches.

Once in awhile I see big horn sheep in herds, sometimes I see eagles.

Round golden hills steeply sloop down to the river. There are places by the water where tall trees grow and offer shade to travelers.

Sometimes I pull over and walk the river or just take the time to feel the heat and smell the wild flowers. Right now, there's a pleasant desert-sweet sent, and birds sing as they swoop from limb to limb.

These are the things that have become typical for me to see, but just a few days ago I noticed a public access road that I had not previously seen. I put on the brakes and took what amounted to a u-turn, and I'm so glad that I did.

Near the canyon river, far below the golden hill tops, I found a place of green where red eyed tree frogs and bright colored flowers live. It struck me as a place where the people of my story world would go to do significant things.

So, here for your enjoyment, are a couple of photos from that world. I hope that you appreciate the details, and the fact that this place of green, and life, is a place surrounded by desert hills and heat that is unlike anything you would experience in Western Washington. It's a world of sage and golden mountains. The river that cuts through it creates a path of life and pockets of beauty that mean so much more because there are so few places like it in the desert mountains.


  1. Excellent post, Dave. This one brought the bacon for me...I'm going to do this this week.

    Very nice.

  2. Dave, you've done a wonderful job of describing this place in word and picture. These photos make me feel the serenity and joy I find in such spots, especially when they are unexpected -- lush green hidden within desert golds. Magicial.

  3. Dave, I live in Minneapolis. It's great here, and fantastic for writing. And Neil Gaiman is here too, so you know incredible fantasy can happen in these northern climes. Having been to the Pacific Northwest though, I readily admit it's an exceptional place and wonderful for world-building.

  4. JKB: I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

    Tricia: I'm glad you appreciate the magic of places like this. I enjoyed seeing your faery bower photos.

    Andrea: I'm glad to hear that you are so positive about Minneapolis being a good place to write. The Loft is one of the things that I am really looking forward to getting involved with. Have you done any workshops through the literary center?

    If you learn of Neil Gaiman doing a reading or a workshop out that way please let me know.

  5. I think it's a wise idea to jot down the details, especially the smells and sounds, for future reference. A writer friend of mine suggests keeping a special journal of these kind of notes about each place you visit, whether you live there or are only passing through, because it makes for easy and beautiful decriptions later.

  6. Tara: I think that keeping track of scents and sounds, as well as visuals, is a great idea. Actually, I'm going to go on a big hike in a few days and plan to do just that, now that you have suggested it. I think that I am just going to make mental notes though. And here's why ... If I tag it in my memory as important, it kind of builds up a pressure, a good presure. If I immediately take notes, it lets the idea escape to soon. And, if I go back to use it, it feels more like a flower that's been pressed into a book than the real thing. With that said, I did pick a couple of twigs and flowers to help remember the color, and the texture, and remind me of the scent. Now, even if I lose track of them in the move (which I surely will) the mere act of picking them, closely examining them, and keeping them around for awhile is like pressing save on the sensual memory banks. My hope, and experience, is that when it comes time to write, when it comes time to let all the ideas fly and flow, well the ideas--the memories--will be there fresh and ready draw from. Now, the suggestion to keep track of scents and sounds is really appreciated as I will focus in on doing that in my own way on this big hike. I think that the challenge will be to experience and remember things in ways that are not cliche: the rushing stream, the shooting star, the whistling wind. Yuke, yuke, yuke. These are all things that I love, but that way of referencing is overdone, as we all know. Sounds and scents are challenging, and noticably less prevelant in my little blog description.

  7. Sounds (and looks) like a beautiful place. I am revising one of my novels right now that's set in Colorado where I live and it's hard for me to remember that I can just step out my front door for inspiration. I love reading about specific details in books.


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