Sunday, September 14, 2008

Choose the right words

SPM ENGLISH WITH JUGDEEP KAUR GILL

WRITING a descriptive essay is more challenging than writing a narrative essay. This is because the descriptive essay makes more demands on your ability to use language effectively.

When writing a descriptive essay, you should be able to portray people and places, and capture things, moments or experiences vividly so that the reader can create a mental picture of what is being described.

In other words, you should be able to paint pictures using words.

For instance, if you are describing a person, the reader should be able to visualise, in his mind’s eye, the person you are describing.

If you are describing a place, then the reader should be able to “see” the place in his mind.

Not everyone can handle a descriptive essay.

You need to be competent in the language and have a good eye for detail. Besides, you also need to be able to appeal to the reader’s senses and evoke his emotions.

Techniques in descriptive writing

>      Use details to make your descriptions come alive.

>      Focus on stimulating the senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch). Choose appropriate nouns, adjectives and verbs to help the reader see and feel things.

>       A descriptive essay need not be boring and monotonous. Adopt a lively tone and reveal your feelings, responses and reactions so that the reader feels them too.

>       Bring out various aspects in your essay. For instance, if you are describing a person, do not limit your description to the person’s physical appearance. Include a detailed description of his/her character and personality and talk about how other people react to him/her. Include a detailed paragraph of an incident which highlights one of these aspects.

Task

Let us now try to write a descriptive essay based on the following topic:

Describe a frightening experience.

Sample answer

The door creaked noisily when I unlocked it. Its hinges, brown with rust, screeched as if angry at having been forced open. I saw nothing but darkness.

I narrowed my eyes, squinting and straining to see what secrets lay hidden in the room no one had been allowed to enter as long as mother had been alive. Now, with mother gone, I saw no reason why I should not enter the forbidden room and unearth its secrets, which mother had purportedly taken with her to the grave.

I could hear my heart pounding in my chest as I slowly stepped inside. Everyone in the family always said that I was the fearless one but this time, for no apparent reason, I suddenly felt fear seep into my body and crawl underneath my skin.

Never in my life had I experienced such eerie feelings. Where was my skepticism? Where was my courage? Why had they abandoned me when I needed them?

I felt like taking to my heels but could not summon the energy to do so. Whatever was in the room, whether it was an anxious soul or a well-kept secret, pulled at me like a magnet, wanting me to face it.

Nervously, my fingers found the switch on the torchlight. I fumbled with it for several seconds before I was able to switch it on.

I flashed it around and what I saw was something I had seen countless times in all those eerie made-for-TV movies. The only difference was this time everything was real — the cobwebs, the dusty furniture, the dirty walls.

Sheets which had once been white were now ash grey with dust as they lay stretched over furniture. The more I looked around, the more tense I felt.

Just then, I felt a slightly chilling draft whiz past me. I froze. There were no windows in the room. Every opening had been sealed a long time ago. Where had it come from?

Then I felt it again. It whizzed past me to the other side of the room. I knew I was not alone.

Then, it circled around me several times while assaulting my senses. Wave after wave of fear enveloped me, tormenting every part of my body. Suddenly, a light zoomed past me and hit the wall. That was when I saw it. That was when I saw the restless spirit.

It looked exactly like me, except for its pale deathly appearance. Was I hallucinating? Was my mind playing tricks on me?

I could not fathom what was happening and I did not want to. All I wanted to do was run but my feet felt heavy like lead.

Then the figure bounced around me as if to torment me further. The agony was unbearable and I felt my body become limp as I crumbled to the floor.

When I regained consciousness, I found myself surrounded by the anxious faces of my family members. I was told I had been unconscious for several days. All the doctors could tell them was that I had probably had a terrifying experience which had embedded itself in my mind. I had been writhing in bed and saying only one word, “Francis”.

Who was he? I did not know any Francis.

Finally, dad revealed, with a heavy heart, that Francis had been my twin brother who had died in infancy. Mum had always blamed herself for his death. Mum and dad had been unable to forget him and had kept all his memories locked up in the forbidden room.

No one, not even my grandparents, had known about his birth. It was a dark secret my parents kept to themselves, thinking that in some way they had killed their son.

Over the next few days, dad had some priests come over to say prayers to appease Francis, the spirit. I still find it hard to believe that my parents had kept such a terrible, dark secret.

I believe Francis had died of sudden cot death syndrome, something which was unheard of back then.

Anyway, I will never be the same again. I cannot say I do not believe in spirits and denizens of the other world. How can I when I have had a close encounter with one?

Guiding questions

In analysing the above essay, you may try answering the following questions:

  • What is the writer describing?
  • Why is the incident/experience important to the writer?
  • What were her feelings at that time? How does she convey these feelings?
  • How does she engage the reader?
  • What mental images does she create? Are they vivid enough?
  • What feelings does the essay evoke? Is it effective in evoking such feelings?
The sample essay given is also suitable if the question is Describe an unusual encounter, or, Describe an unforgettable experience.

It is up to you to manipulate a story and work around the title to make it work for you.

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