I love the yellow barn.
That’s not a metaphor for anything; I honestly love the yellow barn. It sits on the crest of a curve, far too close to the busy road. As if someone spilled a load of rebar onto a country lane and decided, “…meh. Play it where it lies.”
It’s not an obnoxious yellow; it’s soft and comforting–just enough to contrast against the changing seasons’ reds and golds, greens and grays. The trim has antiqued and is now closer to cream than white. There’s a wind vane on the spire, and rhododendron at the corner, and vines growing along the wall that bloom in the summer, heavy with purple flowers.
I might have made that last part up. Maybe I just want there to be purple flowers.
It’s an unexpected scene that appears in the middle of an otherwise mundane drive. If I were writing this into a fiction piece, it would be something I’d spend time mentioning. I wouldn’t describe everything that came before, nor would I waste time on everything after. That would be a long list; ballfield, greenhouse, church, the panhandler at the corner, brick wall, yellow barn, water station, more houses, a road, a bike-trail, are you still reading?
Yeah–me either. Lengthy descriptions take too much work to process. You lose the reader. You risk losing the point.
Let’s go back to that list. Say our protagonist focuses on the ballfield–how he views it will tell part of his story in a way that an info dump never can. If he sees a quiet, lonely field, then maybe he’s a father missing his son. Or if he quickly assesses the amount of space between the fence and the tree line and thinks to himself, I could hit it that far— then he might be a man staring down middle-age and feelings of inadequacy.
If our protag focuses on the panhandler who always seems to be at the corner, then perhaps they’re struggling with the trauma of growing up poor or the fear that everything they worked for is a breath away from crumbling.
Maybe your protag will be caught off guard by the yellow barn. In an area seated deeply in tradition and conformity, perhaps the barn symbolizes a reticent protest to the status quo. Or perhaps it reminds her of someone who loved that color, someone she’s never fully grieved. Perhaps that barn hurts her heart a little every time she drives by, but she goes out of her way to do so—even if it’d be easier in every way not to.
Laundry lists of descriptions can be distracting. Word economy is a thing, and we don’t have all the time in the world to get the point. We paint pictures with words; we find the heart driving the story and bring it into focus. The way we describe what our characters experience in the setting is as important as what they see. Using the setting and setting description can tell more about your characters and your theme than pages of backstory and exposition ever will.
If I were writing myself as the protag to this story (*note to self–that might be an interesting future blog), then I would absolutely focus on the barn. And I would use it to tell you the kind of person I am.
The kind who hopes for yellow barns with rambling vines and purple flowers in summer.
I love the yellow barn.