Writing Activity: Describe A View From A Moving Vehicle

train window

When conveying the movement of the vehicle, Lists and Repetition as Storytelling Technique may come in handy.

Now on the streetcar going to Lena’s place I couldn’t stop the stupidity. I said, “Are we still downtown?’”The high buildings had been quickly left behind but I didn’t think you could call this area residential. The same thing went on over and over again – a dry cleaner, a florist, a grocery store, a restaurant. Boxes of fruit and vegetables out on the sidewalk, signs for dentists and dressmakers and plumbing suppliers in the second-storey windows. Hardly a building higher than that, hardly a tree.

Queenie” by Alice Munro

Mansfield creates an almost magical, fantasy London in the paragraph below, as Rosabel looks out of the window of a bus on a rainy London evening, after a day working in a hat shop, selling fancy goods to rich ladies. For now she takes some of the shine of richness home with her:

Rosabel looked out of the windows; the street was blurred and misty, but light striking on the panes turned their dullness to opal and silver, and the jewellers’ shops seen through this, were fairy palaces. Her feet were horribly wet, and she knew the bottom of her skirt and petticoat would be coated with black, greasy mud. There was a sickening smell of warm humanity—it seemed to be oozing out of everybody in the ‘bus—and everybody had the same expression, sitting so still, staring in front of them. How many times had she read these advertisements—”Sapolio Saves Time, Saves Labour”—”Heinz’s Tomato Sauce”—and the inane, annoying dialogue between doctor and judge concerning the superlative merits of “Lamplough’s Pyretic Saline.”

“The Tiredness of Rosabel” by Katherine Mansfield (Read online for free at Project Gutenberg.)

Mansfield wrote a number of train scenes in her stories. Below we have a man who is fully at home in his work, fully at home on a first-class smoker carriage, but who carries the backpack of privilege with him despite his discomfort in life. Mansfield conveys William’s ignorance about his own privilege by showing us his judgements of the people he sees on the train platform as the train starts moving. She uses a paragraph break to tell us we have left the city and entered the country around London.

Two men came in, stepped across him, and made for the farther corner. A young fellow swung his golf clubs into the rack and sat down opposite. The train gave a gentle lurch, they were off. William glanced up and saw the hot, bright station slipping away. A red-faced girl raced along by the carriages, there was something strained and almost desperate in the way she waved and called. “Hysterical!” thought William dully. Then a greasy, black-faced workman at the end of the platform grinned at the passing train. And William thought, “A filthy life!” and went back to his papers.

When he looked up again there were fields, and beasts standing for shelter under the dark trees. A wide river, with naked children splashing in the shallows, glided into sight and was gone again. The sky shone pale, and one bird drifted high like a dark fleck in a jewel.

“Marriage a la Mode” by Katherine Mansfield

and on the way back to London, gripped with further anxiety:

Fields, trees, hedges streamed by. They shook through the empty, blind-looking little town, ground up the steep pull to the station.

“Marriage a la Mode” by Katherine Mansfield

Charles Keeping : ‘Inter City’ 1977. Inter city was the name given to the train service in Britain during the 1970s. Apart from getting on/off and a few in the carriages, this picture book is framed as if your looking out of the window as the train leaves London. The train travels through the suburbs, then through the countryside.

A window into a child’s experience of the Great Migration from the award-winning creators of Before She Was Harriet and Finding Langston .

As she climbs aboard the New York bound Silver Meteor train, Ruth Ellen embarks upon a journey toward a new life up North– one she can’t begin to imagine. Stop by stop, the perceptive young narrator tells her journey in poems, leaving behind the cotton fields and distant Blue Ridge mountains.

Each leg of the trip brings new revelations as scenes out the window of folks working in fields give way to the Delaware River, the curtain that separates the colored car is removed, and glimpses of the freedom and opportunity the family hopes to find come into view. As they travel, Ruth Ellen reads from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, reflecting on how her journey mirrors her own– until finally the train arrives at its last stop, New York’s Penn Station, and the family heads out into a night filled with bright lights, glimmering stars, and new possibility.

James Ransome’s mixed-media illustrations are full of bold color and texture, bringing Ruth Ellen’s journey to life, from sprawling cotton fields to cramped train cars, the wary glances of other passengers and the dark forest through which Frederick Douglass traveled towards freedom. Overground Railroad is, as Lesa notes, a story “of people who were running from and running to at the same time,” and it’s a story that will stay with readers long after the final pages.

The Enchanted Road by Frank O. Salisbury, oil on canvas, c1928
The Enchanted Road by Frank O. Salisbury, oil on canvas, c1928
Yuri Ivanovich Pimenov (1903-1977) Russia
Yuri Ivanovich Pimenov (1903-1977) Russia
Giuseppe De Nittis (1846 - 1884) Il passaggio degli Appennini, 1867
Giuseppe De Nittis (1846 – 1884) Il passaggio degli Appennini, 1867
Arthur Delaney (British, 1927 - 1987)
Arthur Delaney (British, 1927 – 1987)
Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871 – 1954) ‘The Journey’ 1903 from a Harper’s Magazine article called ‘The Little Past’, poems by Josephine Preston Peabody