Another landmark of my former haunt of Sleepy Hollow, NY (pun intended), is the Hudson Valley Writer’s Center. Every Wednesday, they post on their social media pages a writing prompt. A few weeks ago, it was this:
Characterization through absence. Write a scene that describes your character, without the character being present. Describe the things that they own, the state they leave their house in when they go out, the type of things that sit in their car all day long, etc. The things we leave lying around sometimes say more about ourselves than we (or a knowledgeable narrator) can.
So I decided to do it for Maryanne, one of the main characters in The Hollow. Hopefully it helps you get to know her a bit better…
He walks slowly into her room. They’d foolishly forgotten to lock the deadbolt once again.
He looks around. Her desk is a mess. Her six-year-old Dell laptop that had gotten her through college, a first job, and now beyond is off and closed but a pile of notes from various reporter notebooks lay open next to it, the handwriting barely legible. He picks one up and studies it, then tosses it back down onto the desk, haphazardly. He’s about to turn away then realizes the danger in that small action. He quickly fixes it, positioning it exactly the way he’d found it.
Used tissues and small knickknacks–a jade bear figurine, a family of mini toy elephants, a shiny plastic camel with red roses painted across its flank–are strewn about on the desk while a few outfits that had probably been rejected in wardrobe selections of the day lay across her unmade bed in similar fashion. A duvet cover of stark white with a simple periwinkle ribbon of color unwinding down it lays in a heap towards the foot of the bed. Lounging amongst the clothes is her overweight, black and white cat, Ronald, lazily smacking his tail against them. He glances over at this strange man he’s never seen before wandering around his room and quickly decides he’s not interested.
On her night stand is a tweezer, more used tissues, a cat toy, and an empty glass, lip imprints still on the edge of it. A small pile of receipts are being held down at the corner by her lamp. Above her bed is a portrait–a color drawing of an old-fashioned diner called “Rosie’s.” It looked to him like the sign would actually light up if plugged into the wall, as a wire hung from the frame and tiny red bulbs made up the name.
He squats down and examines the DVDs that sit next to her DVD player, underneath the television. Many of them Adrian Lyne films, one a copy of the Lolita remake. “She likes a good scandal,” he thinks to himself.
On top of her dresser sits a stereo. Unbeknownst to him, it was a gift from her ex-boyfriend. And that’s a secret she keeps from her current boyfriend.
He glances back over at the desk and comes to find the shelves above actually house the two sides of her personality: substance vs. shallowness; brainless vs. book smarts. The titles are on totally opposite ends of the spectrum and read from Confessions of a Shopaholic to State of Denial by Bob Woodward.
He scoffs at them.
He slowly circles the room, then turns back to the nightstand and zeros in on her bottle of Chanel perfume, wondering why he hadn’t noticed it before. He walks over, picks it up and uncaps it, bringing it to his nose, closing his eyes, and inhaling deeply. After a few moments, he opens them, places the bottle back down gently, and walks out of the room and out of the apartment.
He forgets to put the cap back on.