Oct 26, Your assessment will requires you to write a descriptive/narrative piece based. From definition to outlining - we know all about descriptive essay.
A good descriptive paragraph is like a window into another world. Through the use of careful examples or details, an author can conjure a scene that vividly describes a person, place, or thing. The best descriptive writing appeals to multiple senses at once―smell, sight, taste, touch, and hearing―and is found in both fiction and nonfiction.
In their own way, each of the following writers (three of them students, two of them professional authors) have selected a belonging or a place that holds special meaning to them. After identifying that subject in a clear topic sentence, they proceed to describe it in detail while explaining its personal significance.
On one corner of my dresser sits a smiling toy clown on a tiny unicycle―a gift I received last Christmas from a close friend. The clown's short yellow hair, made of yarn, covers its ears but is parted above the eyes. The blue eyes are outlined in black with thin, dark lashes flowing from the brows. It has cherry-red cheeks, nose, and lips, and its broad grin disappears into the wide, white ruffle around its neck. The clown wears a fluffy, two-tone nylon costume. The left side of the outfit is light blue, and the right side is red. The two colors merge in a dark line that runs down the center of the small outfit. Surrounding its ankles and disguising its long black shoes are big pink bows. The white spokes on the wheels of the unicycle gather in the center and expand to the black tire so that the wheel somewhat resembles the inner half of a grapefruit. The clown and unicycle together stand about a foot high. As a cherished gift from my good friend Tran, this colorful figure greets me with a smile every time I enter my room.
Observe how the writer moves clearly from a description of the head of the clown to the body to the unicycle underneath. There aren't just sensory details for the eyes but also touch, in the description that the hair is made of yarn and the suit of nylon. Certain colors are specific, as in cherry-red cheeks and light blue, and descriptions help to visualize the object: the parted hair, the color line on the suit, and the grapefruit analogy. Dimensions overall help to provide the reader with the item's scale, and the descriptions of the size of the ruffle and bows on the shoes in comparison to what's nearby provide telling detail. The concluding sentence helps to tie the paragraph together by emphasizing the personal value of this gift.
My most valuable possession is an old, slightly warped blond guitar―the first instrument I taught myself how to play. It's nothing fancy, just a Madeira folk guitar, all scuffed and scratched and fingerprinted. At the top is a bramble of copper-wound strings, each one hooked through the eye of a silver tuning key. The strings are stretched down a long, slim neck, its frets tarnished, the wood worn by years of fingers pressing chords and picking notes. The body of the Madeira is shaped like an enormous yellow pear, one that was slightly damaged in shipping. The blond wood has been chipped and gouged to gray, particularly where the pick guard fell off years ago. No, it's not a beautiful instrument, but it still lets me make music, and for that I will always treasure it.
He emphasizes its condition by the number of different descriptions of the wear on the guitar, such as noting its slight warp; distinguishing between scuffs and scratches; describing the effect that fingers have had on the instrument by wearing down its neck, tarnishing frets, and leaving prints on the body; listing both its chips and gouges and even noting their effects on the color of the instrument. The author even describes the remnants of missing pieces. After all that, he plainly states his affection for it.
Gregory is my beautiful gray Persian cat. He walks with pride and grace, performing a dance of disdain as he slowly lifts and lowers each paw with the delicacy of a ballet dancer. His pride, however, does not extend to his appearance, for he spends most of his time indoors watching television and growing fat. He enjoys TV commercials, especially those for Meow Mix and 9 Lives. His familiarity with cat food commercials has led him to reject generic brands of cat food in favor of only the most expensive brands. Gregory is as finicky about visitors as he is about what he eats, befriending some and repelling others. He may snuggle up against your ankle, begging to be petted, or he may imitate a skunk and stain your favorite trousers. Gregory does not do this to establish his territory, as many cat experts think, but to humiliate me because he is jealous of my friends. After my guests have fled, I look at the old fleabag snoozing and smiling to himself in front of the television set, and I have to forgive him for his obnoxious, but endearing, habits.
The writer here focuses less on the physical appearance of her pet than on the cat's habits and actions. Notice how many different descriptors go into just the sentence about how the cat walks: emotions of pride and disdain and the extended metaphor of the dancer, including the phrases the "dance of disdain," "grace," and "ballet dancer." When you want to portray something through the use of a metaphor, make sure you are consistent, that all the descriptors make sense with that one metaphor. Don't use two different metaphors to describe the same thing, because that makes the image you're trying to portray awkward and convoluted. The consistency adds emphasis and depth to the description.
Personification is an effective literary device for giving lifelike detail to an inanimate object or an animal, and Carter uses it to great effect. Look at how much time she spends on the discussions of what the cat takes pride in (or doesn't) and how it comes across in his attitude, with being finicky and jealous, acting to humiliate by spraying, and just overall behaving obnoxiously. Still, she conveys her clear affection for the cat, something to which many readers can relate.
Once in a long while, four times so far for me, my mother brings out the metal tube that holds her medical diploma. On the tube are gold circles crossed with seven red lines each―"joy" ideographs in abstract. There are also little flowers that look like gears for a gold machine. According to the scraps of labels with Chinese and American addresses, stamps, and postmarks, the family airmailed the can from Hong Kong in 1950. It got crushed in the middle, and whoever tried to peel the labels off stopped because the red and gold paint came off too, leaving silver scratches that rust. Somebody tried to pry the end off before discovering that the tube falls apart. When I open it, the smell of China flies out, a thousand-year-old bat flying heavy-headed out of the Chinese caverns where bats are as white as dust, a smell that comes from long ago, far back in the brain.
This paragraph opens the third chapter of Maxine Hong Kingston's "The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts," a lyrical account of a Chinese-American girl growing up in California. Notice how Kingston integrates informative and descriptive details in this account of "the metal tube" that holds her mother's diploma from medical school. She uses color, shape, texture (rust, missing paint, pry marks, and scratches), and smell, where she has a particularly strong metaphor that surprises the reader with its distinctness. The last sentence in the paragraph (not reproduced here) is more about the smell; closing the paragraph with this aspect adds emphasis to it. The order of the description is also logical, as the first response to the closed object is how it looks rather than how it smells when opened.
Inside, the school smelled smartly of varnish and wood smoke from the potbellied stove. On gloomy days, not unknown in upstate New York in this region south of Lake Ontario and east of Lake Erie, the windows emitted a vague, gauzy light, not much reinforced by ceiling lights. We squinted at the blackboard, that seemed far away since it was on a small platform, where Mrs. Dietz's desk was also positioned, at the front, left of the room. We sat in rows of seats, smallest at the front, largest at the rear, attached at their bases by metal runners, like a toboggan; the wood of these desks seemed beautiful to me, smooth and of the red-burnished hue of horse chestnuts. The floor was bare wooden planks. An American flag hung limply at the far left of the blackboard and above the blackboard, running across the front of the room, designed to draw our eyes to it avidly, worshipfully, were paper squares showing that beautifully shaped script known as Parker Penmanship.
In this paragraph (originally published in "Washington Post Book World" and reprinted in "Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art,") Joyce Carol Oates affectionately describes the one-room schoolhouse she attended from first through fifth grades. Notice how she appeals to our sense of smell before moving on to describe the layout and contents of the room. When you walk into a place, its overall smell hits you immediately, if it's pungent, even before you've taken in the whole area with your eyes. Thus this choice of chronology for this descriptive paragraph is also a logical order of narration, even though it differs from the Hong Kingston paragraph. It allows the reader to imagine the room just as if he or she was walking into it.
The positioning of items in relation to other items is on full display in this paragraph, to give people a clear vision of the layout of the place as a whole. For the objects inside, she uses many descriptors of what materials they are made from. Note the imagery portrayed by the use of the phrases "gauzy light," "toboggan," and "horse chestnuts." You can imagine the emphasis placed on penmanship study by the description of their quantity, the deliberate location of the paper squares, and the desired effect upon the students brought about by this location.
Oates, Joyce Carol. "The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art." Kindle Edition, Reprint edition, HarperCollins e-books, March 17, 2009.
Oct 26, Your assessment will requires you to write a descriptive/narrative piece based. From definition to outlining - we know all about descriptive essay.
Using unfamiliar settings adds real mood and atmosphere.
Stephenie Meyer, when writing Twilight, decided she needed a rainy place near a forest to fit key plot elements.
Like protagonist Bella, she was raised in Arizona, but explained the process of setting Twilight in an unfamiliar setting on her blog:
For my setting, I knew I needed someplace ridiculously rainy. I turned to Google, as I do for all my research needs, and looked for the place with the most rainfall in the U.S. This turned out to be the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. I pulled up maps of the area and studied them, looking for something small, out of the way, surrounded by forest. … In researching Forks, I discovered the La Push Reservation, home to the Quileute Tribe. The Quileute story is fascinating, and a few fictional members of the tribe quickly became intrinsic to my story.
As her success has shown, it’s possible to write successfully about a place you don’t know, but you must make it your business to know as much as you can about it. (Or if you’re writing a fantasy or sci-fi novel, plan your world down to its most intricate details.)
And to be clear: you’re doing the research, not because you want that research to limit you. (Oh, I can’t write that, because Wikipedia tells me that the river isn’t as long / the forest isn’t as thick / or whatever else.)
On the contrary:
You are doing the research, because that research may inspire and stimulate a set of ideas you might not have ecountered otherwise.
The key thing is to do your research to nail specifics, especially if they are unfamiliar, foreign, exotic.
Just read how Tokyo is described in Ryu Murakami’s thriller In the Miso Soup:
It was still early in the evening when we emerged onto a street in Tsukiji, near the fish market. … Wooden bait-and-tackle shops with disintegrating roofs and broken signs stood next to shiny new convenience stores, and futuristic highrise apartment complexes rose skyward on either side of narrow, retro streets lined with wholesalers of dried fish.
There’s authenticity, grit to this description of Tokyo, as opposed to using ‘stock’ descriptions that could apply to many modern cities.
Note this same thing with foods: in Japan, your protagonist could well be eating miso soup, as per Ryu Murakami.
Or say if your story was set in Hong Kong, you might write in a dai pai dong (a sort of Chinese street kitchen), something very specific to that city if you’re describing a street there.
Alternatively, if you are setting something in the past, get your sense of place right by doing your research right, too.
In historical novel Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, set in Holland in 1664, maid Griet narrates how artist Johannes Vermeer prepares her for her secret portrait, musing, to her horror, that ‘virtuous women did not open their mouths in paintings’.
That last is just a tiny detail, but Griet’s tears show us how mortified she is. Modern readers won’t (necessarily) think about seventeenth-century connotations like this, so if you’re writing a scene set in a very different era or culture to what you know, research so you’re creating a true sense of place.
Describe its sensory details, like color, texture, or taste. Strong sensory details can help your reader relate to an object they’ve never seen before, or cast new light on something familiar. These succinct descriptions, relating to the reader’s sense of touch, smell, taste, or sight, will make the object come alive. Talk about how heavy it is, whether it’s hot or cold, how strong it is, its smell, or even its taste. Get creative!
Using Sensory Details
Sight: “The lightbulb was incredibly powerful, throwing off a blaze so bright it was almost violet.”
Sound: “The bag crinkled sharply when I opened it.”
Touch: “The wood of the tree was rough, almost biting, scratching her hand when she brushed against the trunk by accident.”
Taste: “The pizza was garlicky and so salty that he finished his whole glass of soda after just one piece.”
Smell: “When they opened the box, the faded, pungent scent of old paper lifted out.”
Eli K.P. William, author of novel CASH CRASH JUBILEE, offers advice on how to write vivid descriptions, while still being mindful of pacing.
Writing is an account of how people think. As a medium it's intrinsically empathic; it communicates patently human sensibilities. In order for a story to work, it needs to feel like real life, even when it’s actually something quite different. The more detailed and rich your descriptions, the better your writing will approximate the human experience, thereby establishing a connection with fellow minds.
The best descriptions are the ones that are completely original, easily understood and often reminisced. They're digestible yet impressionable, they say something profound but they’re palatable enough to be comprehended by anyone. It’s a difficult technique to master, an art form in itself, really.
Consider this a primer for writing good descriptions (here’s your first lesson: “good” isn’t a suitable or sufficient way to describe anything). To make things interesting — and very embarrassing for me — I’ve dug up several of my own stories from years past to illustrate some truly awful blunders in description, each of which poisoned workshops at varying times during the earlier half of the last decade. Be warned: some major toadstools lie ahead.
Words with strong sensory associations always increase your chances of yielding an empathic response. Why? When you appeal to our sensory faculties, you’re inviting us to imagine how something feels. Literally.
In order to maximize that empathic response, try to appeal to all the senses as often as you can. Don’t just tell us what something looks like, tell us how it sounds, how it tastes. Recent studies show words containing sensory descriptions are so powerful they even stimulate areas of the brain that aren't used to process language. When we read a detailed account of how something smells, for example, our sensory cortex gets a signal. In other words, the brain often treats real experiences and reading about them as the same thing. If you really want to place your reader in the story, your writing should take advantage of our collective faulty wiring whenever you can.
The same applies to our relationships with the laws of physics. Words describing motion can stimulate the motor cortex, which is responsible for coordinating body movements. If you really want to simulate motion, try doing this while varying the rhythms in your sentences. Want to increase action? Put your subject directly before the verb. To slow down the motion (in other words, to add emphasis), shorten the sentence. If you want to bring things to a stop, try replacing a conjunction with a comma: The fields are barren now, deserted. Here’s another trick: if you want to temporarily “stop” time, try removing the verbs altogether.
In order to maximize that empathic response, try to appeal to all the senses as often as you can. Don’t just tell us what something looks like, tell us how it sounds, how it tastes.
Avoid summary in your descriptions. Offer concrete information, engage us with moment-to-moment details, tell us about each detail, and how they affect the senses.
One of the most practical — and indeed, easiest — ways of laying out a descriptive foundation is to envision each scene before you write it. Literally close your eyes, see the scene and then write it down. For the time being, just let the image do its work; look closely at the objects in the scene, and describe them in a manner that’s as painfully specific as possible. Now — to establish storytelling authority — make sure the description is told from the proper subjective viewpoint: tell us how the character or narrator would see things from the POV you've established.
Here’s an especially bad slice of description from a story I wrote eight years ago:
Example (bad): It is hot.
“It is hot” would be fine if I were filling out a police report, or even writing a piece of journalism. But this was intended to be a work of fiction. Clearly, I hadn’t yet realized that by generalizing and not appealing to the readers' senses I missed an ideal opportunity to connect with empathizing human minds.
Example (better): The heat is oppressive, sweltering and exhausting, it sticks to the skin and makes ovens out of parking lots.
Some things to always consider when you’re writing a scene: do your word choices paint images, do they place us in the moment? Do they make us participants in the story instead of mere observers? Not only is this new sentence more specific, it brings in a few common experiences associated with heat (sticky skin, broiling parking lots), thereby placing readers into the action and increasing the chances of an empathic response.
It’s bad timing given my last example, but try to cut down on your adjectives and adverbs. Modifiers don’t specify words as much as you might think. More often than not, they actually abstract a thought, so sentences that rely on modifiers for descriptive strength are building on faulty foundations. You’ll be more successful if you instead find the verb that perfectly portrays the image you’re envisioning. When you edit your work, spend considerable time scrutinizing your sentences to make sure the action maximizes full descriptive potential.
Example (bad): They arrived at the house just behind the streaming line of fire trucks, their street alive in the opulent glow of lights and sirens, their house ablaze in a perennial bloom of orange and yellow.
Unfortunately, this story was published before I possessed the wherewithal to edit such obtuse overwriting. Looking at it five years later, the sentence would have been fine if I simply cut down on the modifiers and let the action breathe.
Example (better): They arrived at the house just behind the fire trucks, the street alive in a glow of lights and sirens, their house ablaze.
Notice how this version places an emphasis on the verbs. Moreover, there’s another advantage gained here. In the first version, the sentence ends with a description of the colors of the blaze, hardly essential information. Now emphasis is placed on the most important information in the sentence (and in this case, the entire story): the burning house. If you want to draw extra emphasis to anything, put it at the end of the sentence. Placing it at the beginning is a close second. Never bury important information in the middle.
Ever wonder why metaphor and analogy are such powerful — not to mention, popular — tools? Figurative language is an unmatched ally in descriptive pursuits. It gives the writer a chance to deconstruct a specific, subjective event and recast it into something familiar.
The human mind is engineered to see patterns. Anytime you disguise a comparison as a statement (which is what happens with a metaphor) you’re bringing the subject into a new relationship. You’ve established one pattern as being analogous to another pre-existing pattern, and we begin to see a small part of the world in a different way. It takes some creative know-how to make figurative language fly however, and metaphors that are confused, off-base or cliché can ruin an otherwise stellar piece of writing. The analogous relationships you establish have to be earned.
Example (bad): The overcast September sky stared back under a blanket of ashen gray.
First of all, I could happily live the remainder of my days without ever hearing clouds being referred to as a “blanket” again (ditto for “cotton”). Description this familiar tells me I wasn’t particularly inspired when I wrote it, back in 2005. Then there’s the semantic clumsiness of it all. “Blanket of ashen gray?" Why not just write “ashen gray blanket,” or better yet, “gray blanket?” Finally, do skies really “stare back?" The figurative appeals here (clichéd metaphor, awkward personification) seem careless, even lazy. If I were to rewrite the phrase today I might say something like this:
Example (better): There was an orange burn where the sun had been, and the mutilated animal shapes of cloud lay scattered in the tear of dusk.
It’s overkill, but you get the idea. Say something that both reconstructs the subject and enables the reader to see the world in a new, yet recognizable, light.
Also, avoid well-worn words and everyday figures of speech. Describing a farmhouse as “quaint," or using phrases like “before he knew it,” are so familiar the reader treats them as boilerplate and usually skips over them entirely. Always try to describe something in a way that’s never been described before.
If you want to draw extra emphasis to anything, put it at the end of the sentence. Placing it at the beginning is a close second. Never bury important information in the middle.
If there’s a single take-away I want readers to get from a column that focuses on description, it’s this: avoid obfuscating and pointless over-writing. It’s not the job of the writer to besiege the reader, either with a litany of unimportant details or some long-winded, faux intellectual attempt at armchair discourse. Unfortunately, it seems nearly every writer (myself included) goes through this cringe-inducing phase where we pillage the dictionary or treat our keyboards like calculators. Works resulting from this mindset offer very little descriptive assistance for the reader, and a lot of later embarrassment for writers guilty of these storytelling snafus. When it comes to description, focus on the most telling details rather than caving in to your writerly proclivities to lean on the pen. You’ll thank me later.
Example (bad): He wondered if there was some deeper meaning to it, if the heat spoke of the true workings of this city, the only place he’d known really, and if he tried hard enough he could find an answer that satisfied him, an explanation beyond what those fortunate to have everything and those cursed with nothing have always been forced to accept, if nature’s brutality revealed a final authority, and man’s need to find reason with it was little more than a grotesque delusion that he could make sense out of nothing.
What a mess! Sentences like this reveal a practice that’s very common today, where writers spin these syntactical Triple Lindies in the hopes they can somehow scare people into liking their work. There’s a sort of bullying insecurity afoot here, because the delivery seems to operate off the idea that if readers don’t like the work, clearly it means they “didn’t understand it.” In actuality, this hat trick works on very few people, and incidentally, what’s on the page here says very, very little. This section’s descriptive duties would’ve been much more effective if I had ditched the dime-store existentialism and described instead what the character was thinking, in terms more fitting of his POV. The fundamental disregard to work within the descriptive framework of the character I established — to choose authorial square jawed smugness instead of revealing things the way the character would have seen them, in other words — reveals a rudimentary mishandling of narrative. In the end, it’s the writer who suffers the most from this kind of cloying pedantry, because he/she has deliberately girded the sentences’ potential strengths with mindless clutter.
Example (better): He wondered if the heat revealed nature’s final authority, and that man’s need to find reason with it was little more than a grotesque delusion that he could make sense out of nothing.
The sentence’s newfound pith reestablishes some aphoristic value that was completely submerged in the verbiage. It’s still not a very good sentence, mind you, but it’s far less annoying than what was on the page before. Maybe someday I’ll go back and further try to clean up this mess-terpiece, but until then I’m more than happy to let my purple prose serve as a lesson in moderation and sensibility. Here’s hoping you can also learn from your mistakes — as well as mine.
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This lesson will assist you in identifying descriptive writing found in literature and ways you can apply it in your own writing. Learn more about.