One of my most favorite word pictures in the whole wide world is Matilda Goodnight’s Bedroom of Love in Jennifer Crusie’s book, Faking It.
There’s a lot of faking, and falsehood, and playing with reality in Faking It, but in the end, everything comes down to love. Loving your partner, and loving your work and just loving your life. Near the end, our hero Tilda paints a jungle into her white bedrooom.
I can do this, she thought and looked around the all white room. I just need to remember. She picked up her largest chunk of charcoal and drew the outlines of leaves in big slashes on her walls, channeling Scarlet, keeping her arm free and fluid. When she had walls full of outlines, she started to paint in the colors, making them round and full and warm, leaves you wanted to touch. That was what Scarlet had done, she’d made paintings you wanted to move into. She’d been young and happy and in love and she’d painted it all into . . . .
There are several things I’d like to note about this wild description of free artistry. First, it’s a near-the-top layer. Jenny had been sketching in the outlines and applying basecoats from nearly the beginning. We know Tilda is a professional artist, so these aren’t blobs. We’ve seen her Adam-and-Eve bed a few times, also decorated with leaves, and also about love. We’ve seen her crazy furniture, full of color. So we’ve been thinking about what Tilda’s art looks like all along.
Second, leaves are green. But you don’t see a single mention of “green” in the whole paragraph. We do see green in the ultimate description, through the eyes of Davy, the man she loves. Green isn’t what matters to Tilda in this scene.
Third, we do see a lot of non-visual terms describing something visual. The colors (and the leaves) are round (but not circular), and full, and warm. There’s a lot of touch and gravidity in this visual description that brings a visceral reaction to the reader.
Fourth, there are not a lot of $10 technical words in this description. It’s a simple description, not coming from Tilda’s brain but from her heart. The brain likes grandiose descriptions; I feel that the heart is coming from a much younger, much simpler place.
Near the end of the book, we see the room through her lover’s eyes.
The walls weren’t white anymore.
Huge green leaves grew around the bed, wild lush leaves, tapering off into charcoal sketches as they rounded the corners of the room, clearly a jungle-in-progress. Outlines of sly little animals peeped out of the bushes, laughing snakes and seductive flamingos and Steve, looking fairly calm, drawn near the floor in front of a large banana leaf. On the wall behind the bed, van Gogh-like sunflowers grew up in wild bursts of color like mutant suns, looming over Tilda’s headboard, which was now covered in more green leaves that wreathed on word in the center, written in huge Gothic letters, burnished in gold leaf:
“So, sunflowers,” Davy said, looking down into the crazy blue eyes of his one true love.
Sigh. That’s description worth waiting for.