I. Gathering Ideas Observing the Rules



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Descriptive Essays

  • adapted from
  • Techniques in Writing
  • by Jack Hydes

I. Gathering Ideas

Observing the Rules

  • RULE #1:
  • Avoid the most obvious points.

Observing the Rules

  • RULE #2:
  • Make sure your observations are accurate and particular rather than vague and general.

The Interesting and Unusual

  • Here are some interesting and unusual observations on autumn that were taken from students' essays.

The Interesting and Unusual

  • It is sometimes drizzling; the water seems to hang in the air making a wet curtain.

The Interesting and Unusual

  • It is a lonely time of the year as everyone stays at home. It becomes too much of a struggle to go anywhere or see anyone.

The Interesting and Unusual

  • 3. A weary tree stands lonely. Its black bare fingers bind themselves about a nearby hedgerow for warmth.

The Interesting and Unusual

  • 4. As you breathe, your breath hangs in the air and then vanishes.

The Interesting and Unusual

  • 5. The bright sunshine, yet cold blue sky, which is perfect for postcards, makes it unmistakably autumn.

Observing the Rules

  • RULE #3:
  • Focus on unusual sights, vivid memories and original ideas.

II. Planning

Observing the Rules

Observing the Rules

  • RULE #5:
  • Begin by asking the following questions about the title: where? when? who? what? why? and how? For example:

Planning

  • You are going to describe autumn, but where? In the town? In the countryside? In a particular location? Or are you going to compare the effect of autumn in the town and in the countryside?

Planning

  • When is the description taking place? Will you be describing the passing of the complete season or simply taking a day or part of a day?

Planning

  • 3. Who are the people you have jotted down in your list? What are they doing and why are they there?

Planning

  • 4. How are people dressed and how do they behave?

Observing the Rules

  • RULE #6:
  • Another way to organize material could be to write a paragraph on each of the senses in turn. You might move from the sights of autumn to its sounds, smells and tastes …

Observing the Rules

  • RULE #6:
  • Or you could show how different age groups regard the season, showing first how old people, then how mothers and fathers, teenagers, schoolchildren and, lastly, toddlers see it.

III. Imagery

Imagery

  • Imagery is the comparison of one object with another so that the first object or idea can be more effectively understood or imagined. The comparison can be stated (a simile) or implied (a metaphor) but implying a comparison is often a much briefer and more powerful way of conveying your message.

Bank Holiday (Katherine Mansfield)

  • A stout man with a pink face wears dingy white flannel trousers, a blue coat with a pink handkerchief showing, and a straw hat much too small for him perched at the back of his head. He plays the guitar. A little chap in white canvas shoes, his face hidden under a felt hat like a broken wing, breathes into a flute; and a tall thin fellow, with bursting over-ripe button boots, draws ribbons - long, twisted streaming ribbons - of tune out of a fiddle. They stand unsmiling, but not serious, in the broad sunlight opposite the fruit shop: the pink spider of a hand beats the guitar, the squat little hand, with a brass-and-turquoise ring, forces the reluctant flute, and the fiddler's arm tries to saw the fiddle in two.

Observing the Rules

  • RULE #7:
  • There must be selective observation of details. To make these details more vivid, the author compares them (implied and otherwise) with unusual and unconnected objects and ideas.

Angel Pavement (J.B. Priestley)

  • When at last they were admitted, they walked through an enormous entrance hall, richly tricked out in chocolate and gold, illuminated by a huge central candelabrum, a vast bunch of russet-gold globes, the prodigiously thick and opulent chocolate carpets, into which their feet sank as if they were the feet of archdukes and duchesses. Up they went, passing a chocolate and gold platoon or two and a portrait gallery of film stars, whose eyelashes seemed to stand out from the walls like stout black wires, until they reached a door that led them to the dim summit of a balcony, which fell dizzily away in a scree of little heads. It

Angel Pavement (J.B. Priestley)

  • was an interval between pictures. Several searchlights were focused on an organ-keyboard that looked like a tiny gilded box, far below, and the organ itself was shaking out cascades of treacly sound, so that the whole place trembled with sugary ecstasies. But while they waited in the gangway the lights faded out, the gilded box dimmed and sank, the curtains parted to reveal the screen again, and an enormous voice, as inhuman as that of a genie, announced that it would bring the world's news not only to their eyes but to their ears.

Sample Descriptions

  • Make a list of all the images used. How many are connected with sight, sound or touch?
  • 1. The alarm clock rings. The sunlight squeezes through the gap at the top of the curtains and hits you right in the eye as you turn to switch off the bell.

Sample Descriptions

  • 2. I sometimes wish the wind would die down and stop whipping up my hair into rat's tails, especially as I spend three-quarters of an hour doing it.

Sample Descriptions

  • 3. The sea pounded against the sea wall as if it were going to swallow the whole world.

Sample Descriptions

  • 4. The hands of the clock slowly moved towards ten forty-five and I waited for the sadistic scream of the bell ordering me to pack up and run over to B block for my next class.

Sample Descriptions

  • 5. Dustbin lids rattled along the road and litter was tumbling playfully until it met an obstacle.

Sample Descriptions

  • 6. The clouds parted, revealing a pale strip of sky like a knife slash on canvas. The winds blew clouds apart, unveiling more - the frayed edge of the canvas hiding the mysterious painting beneath.

A Descriptive Passage

  • By the time George had reached the center of the town, the market was already doing business.

A Descriptive Passage

  • A group of men, tweed-suited and cloth-capped, stood gossiping on the corner and blocked the narrow pavement. People, recently deposited by the single-decker bus from the villages, hurried from stall to stall dragging their baskets to finish their shopping before the mid day bus home. A queue had already formed in front of the butcher's stall and Bertie Franklin had unloaded nearly all the racks of dresses and coats from his van onto the pavement.

A Descriptive Passage

  • 'Talk to me. Talk to me,' was the meaningless cry from the fruit stall, neatly and artistically set out with green grapes in bunches draped across mounds of plump orange tomatoes. At the front of the stall pineapples punctuated with careful elegance the heaps of tangerines; grapefruit, coxes and oranges were scattered among lettuces and cress; avocados nestled among walnuts and brazils.

A Descriptive Passage

  • The market street was blocked with lorries and vans. Boxes, racks and crates blocked the street.

A Descriptive Passage

  • How on earth was he going to find Jean among all this lot?

Observing the Rules

  • RULE #8:
  • To include a description of a scene can make a story livelier by giving the reader a sense of being there.

Observing the Rules

  • RULE #9:
  • Do not include so much description in your story that the reader loses the thread. In an examination essay, your main concern will be to cover the main events of your plot in the time allowed.



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