Social Question

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

What kind of imagery does this evoke?

Asked by Aesthetic_Mess (7858 points ) January 18th, 2011

*I was walking in the chilly September night with my sister and mother. My hands stuffed into my warm coat pockets, and walking swiftly to warm up my legs, we walked towards the Sephora makeup store in Times Square. Times Square was lit up so brightly with the TVs, billboards, lights from theaters, and streetlights that it seemed like it was daylight at nine o’clock at night. Various reds, blues, oranges, and yellows flashed before my eyes as the TVs displayed ads for everything from clothing to coffee, and the round bulbs from theater posters winked off and on. I could feel the energy that coursed through the city’s veins as people, natives and tourists alike, walked in all directions shuffling shopping bags and clicking their shoes as they walked.
Looking up at the giant tall glass concrete buildings, I felt like a tiny ant that the people in them looked down upon. Although Times Square was a cacophony of sounds with all the car horns, conversations, and music coming from inside stores, I was still able to hear my mother and sister clearly tell me to come with them to the brightly lit makeup store from where I was standing, could smell a plethora of different fragrances. The store was filled with women; some dragging their begrudging husbands along as they searched for the perfect shade of eyeshadow or lipstick.*

What did you enjoy if anything about these paragraphs, and what could I do to improve it?

Thank you so much!

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6 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

I might suggest changing “My hands stuffed into my warm coat pockets” to I stuffed my hands into my pockets to try and keep them warm” only because pockets generally are not warm unless you have heat packs in there. Minor detail though. And maybe consider another adjective for warm up my legs. Using the same word twice in a single sentence is unimaginative and redundant IMO of course!

When the narrative enters the store I think you could tune up that “experience” as bit to heighten that transition from the outside New York cold air into the warm” hustle and bustle of a makeup store. Bring alive that feeling, that blast of sights and sound and smell she is experiencing.

Otherwise a good read!

downtide's avatar

I agree with Cruiser about re-writing that sentence and changing one instance of the word “warm” to something else. Perhaps the pockets could be “cosy” instead?

Also the sentence beginning; ” Looking up at the giant tall glass concrete buildings…” is cumbersome. Tall is redundant if you already have giant, and also the passive verb Looking can be made active, like this: “When I looked up at the giant glass and concrete buildings…”

Aside from these minor points, it’s a lovely description, really draws me into the city. Full of life and energy. I like it.

absalom's avatar

To answer your main question: It evokes well enough the imagery you’ve written into the narrative, but could still be more evocative.

Otherwise, some common advice for stuff like this is: Avoid cliches. Examples: ‘flashed before my eyes’; ‘winked off and on’; ‘coursed through […] veins’. All of these might be revised to convey something less cliche, more vivid.

The narrator’s experience is vivid, right? I’m just assuming. But if you want the prose to reflect that vividness, you’ll need to refrain from using cliches, which by nature are not vivid. They are habitual descriptions.

Some mostly unnecessary nitpicking:

clicking their shoes – The phrase suggests people are consciously ‘clicking’ their shoes, but we know that’s probably not the case. Shoes might click, or they might make the sound of clicking, but people generally don’t ‘click their shoes’ unless they are tap-dancing or clicking their heels together.

giant tall glass concrete buildings – So you’ve got four adjectives here, all of which I’m sure are applicable to the buildings. But two of them (‘giant’, ‘tall’) achieve basically the same effect, so you don’t really need both. The other two (‘glass’, ‘concrete’) sort of (depends on who you ask) contradict each other. Which is not to say we don’t understand what you mean. But you can throw an ‘and’ in there and gain a little more precision with the description. Something like colossal glass and concrete buildings might be better. (I just picked ‘colossal’ for the consonance and assonance with ‘glass’ and ‘concrete’, but you can choose whatever you want, as ‘colossal’ is itself kind of cliche.)

cacophony of sounds – Sort of redundant, as ‘cacophony’ by itself suggests sound and noise well enough.

clearly tell me – Did you clearly hear them, or did they clearly tell you? The difference is important, especially in the context of the sentence (beginning, as it does, with ‘Although…’).

could smell a plethora of different fragrances – This detail might be better off having its own sentence. Right now it’s kind of out of place at the end of the sentence about Times Square’s noisy atmosphere (also: ‘Although Times Square was noisy, I could still smell stuff’ doesn’t quite follow).

filled with women; some dragging – The semicolon isn’t necessary (or correct) here; a comma will do just fine.

You might also want to consider spending more time with the olfactory descriptions toward the end. (I’ve been in a Sephora and know how overwhelming the scents can be.)

In these paragraphs I see a good opportunity to convey how overwhelming a place likes Times Square can be to a tourist’s senses. I’m sure that’s what you were going for, but that motive is sort of undermined by the occasional cliche (which almost always precludes any chance of vivid description) and by the cursory description of the Sephora smells.

Maybe you’re not in the store yet. I can’t quite tell, e.g., if you’re viewing the women/ husbands from outside the store or if you’re already inside, so you might want to make that a little clearer. But regardless, to convey these overwhelming sensations you’ll want to balance the narrativity of the prose, having equal parts visual, audible, and olfactible descriptions when appropriate. (Olfactible stuff occurring in Sehpora, obviously, et cetera.)

Other things I notice include the occasional awkward sentence and the beginning, which reminds me (just a little) of this. Assuming these paragraphs are not the very beginning of whatever you’re writing, though, the latter point isn’t really a big deal. I can point out the awkward stuff if you want, but I’m under the impression that you can see it and fix it yourself through revision and editing and reading it out loud over and over until everything flows naturally. (Do all that.)

@Cruiser and @downtide have also given good advice. At the same time, be careful not to go too far when avoiding repetition (i.e., repetition isn’t always bad). You don’t want to end up with, say, walking swiftly to calefy my legs, as that’s silly.

Overall, it’s good to see something genuine (this feels genuine) and not pretentiously stylized. I like that you spend time with detail, as the prose really mimics the way a Times Square tourist would experience Times Square. Try to follow through with that feeling and this can be successful.

Hope this helps a little.

wundayatta's avatar

Just sort of wondered why should I care about this character? Where is this going? Give me a hint, dude.

Austinlad's avatar

I like @absalom‘s comment. Answered @Aesthetic_Mess‘s question, didn’t try to rewrite sentences, didn’t request character motivation, simply stuck to the paragraph and gave a take on what might make it better. I say “might” because it’s only one person’s opinion, but in my opinion, most of it excellent advice.

I once wrote a long short story for a class and asked for feedback from the 15 other students and teacher. I got so many conflicting (and in some cases, downright foolish) notes that I wound up keeping it pretty much the way I had written it (after some10 previous rewrites). It got published.

Bottom, line, @Aesthetic_Mess,‘s take from these comments what fits for you, but don’t take anything as gospel.

nebule's avatar

I like it. I’m not going to criticise it because I think you’ve already got some really helpful answers. I would like to say though that I agree with @wundayatta‘s question but I feel that I can answer it already….I am interested in this guy already..he’s observant and he’s out with his mum and sister, shopping… and he’s feeling all sorts of things… I like the contrasts you draw between the outside world and inside subjective point of view…and I think the ‘hands in the pocket’ nicely draws us into this right from the outset. I’d like to read more if and when you have it :-) x

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