Monday, August 3, 2009

Guidelines to Descriptive Essay

WRITING a descriptive essay is perhaps more difficult than writing a narrative essay because it makes more demands on one’s use of language. In a descriptive essay, you need to give a detailed description of a person, place, object, experience or memory. Your description must be so effective that the person, place, object, experience or memory described is clearly visualised by the reader.

If you are describing a person, the reader should feel that he knows the person well. If it is a place that is described, the reader should feel as if he is there and seeing it with his very eyes. How can this be achieved? Through the use of details that appeal to your reader’s senses and a lively tone that draws his emotions.

Techniques in descriptive writing

  • Use details – Focus on the five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch). Details are very important and when properly used, enable descriptions to come to life. Use nouns, adjectives and verbs to evoke these senses. Nouns and adjectives help the reader see; verbs help the reader feel.
  • Use a lively tone – Show your own feelings, responses and reactions as these make your description more vivid and lively.
  • Describe different aspects – If you are describing a person, do not limit your description to the person’s physical appearance. Include a detailed description of the person’s character and personality and how other people react to him. Include a detailed paragraph of an incident which highlights one of these aspects.

    Let’s look at the two extracts below on the topic “An Unforgettable Aunt”.

    Sample 1 Aunt Eleanor had a sharp nose and a pair of black eyes. She was thin, and had a thin, long face, an aquiline nose and sunken cheeks. Her hair was always tied in a knot and her clothes were only of one colour – grey. My cousins and I were afraid of her and always found an excuse to disappear whenever she was around.

    Sample 2 Aunt Eleanor was thin and scrawny and her protruding bones almost made her look like a walking skeleton. Her aquiline nose and sunken cheeks added to her witch-like looks and her dark eyes, when they flashed in anger, were capable of sending tremors of fear down one’s spine. The dreary grey tones of her clothes and her sparse dark hair, which was always tied in a knot, further emphasised her sternness. My cousins and I cringed with fear and were reduced to silence when she glared at us with her smouldering dark eyes. Her serious demeanour and scrooge-like appearance did nothing to endear her to us.

    Sample 1 is a plain description of the narrator’s aunt. Although there are several verbs and adjectives, the description is somewhat dull. Sample 2, on the other hand, is a vivid and interesting description which brings the character to life. We can almost see her in our mind’s eye and this effect is achieved through the description of the person’s features that are prominent and striking.

    Note the details about her overall physical appearance (thin, skeleton-like), her facial features (aquiline nose, sunken cheeks, dark eyes), and her manner of dressing and grooming (dreary grey tones, tight bun). Note the feelings stirred by her appearance (tremors of fear, reduced to silence, cringed with fear). The description of her physical appearance supports and reinforces her character and personality, and this makes the essay interesting and engaging.

    Some writers like to merge descriptive writing with narrative writing. There is nothing wrong with this as the description enriches the narration.

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