Sunday, October 11, 2009

Details to ‘liven up’ essay


Writing a descriptive essay is more challenging than writing a narrative essay. This is because it makes more demands on your ability to use language effectively. When writing a descriptive essay you should be able to portray people, places, 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 with his very eyes. Not everyone can handle a descriptive essay. You need to be competent in the language and you need an eye for detail. Besides, you should 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 evoking the senses. (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch)

Nouns, adjectives and verbs help the reader see and feel things.

A descriptive essay need not be boring and monotonous. Make use of a lively tone – show your own feelings, responses and reactions and let the reader feel them too.

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/her. Include a detailed paragraph of an incident which highlights one of these aspects.
Before you begin writing a descriptive essay, you need to identify what you want to describe.
Consider the following topic:
My favourite teacher

If you are going to write about a favourite teacher, you might want to include his/her physical appearance. When describing his/her physical appearance, you can provide a general description of him/her or focus on important certain aspects which define his/her character. An essay of this nature would not be complete without a description of his/her qualities and how he/she interacts with his/her students.

Look at the two extracts below.

Extract 1

Mr L was my English Literature lecturer. He was thin and of average height. He was boyish looking. He spoke with an unusual accent. He was also quite sarcastic and some of the students did not like this. He did not like students coming in late to class. Some of us loved him but others hated him.

Extract 1 is a simple description of the teacher. Although there are several adjectives, the description is somewhat dull as the structures used are simple and repetitive.

Extract 2

The first time I entered his class, I, like many of the other students, was charmed by his boyish looks. A quick calculation told us that he was in his twenties. His straight black hair fell across his forehead when it was slightly long and his clear complexion enhanced his looks. For a Chinese, he had unusually big eyes and quite a sharp nose. He was always welldressed in a rugged sort of way. He was not outrageously handsome but there was something in him which definitely made him attractive His unusual accent mesmerised some of us but his sarcasm did not go down too well with others. You see, he did not approve of tardiness or sloppy work. The fact that many of us were working adults was not an excuse for lack of punctuality or delay in handing in assignments. Some of us grew to love him but some hated him.

Extract 2, on the other hand, is a vivid and interesting description which brings the character to life.

We can almost see him 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 his overall physical description (boyish looks, in his twenties, not outrageously handsome, attractive, straight black hair, unusual accent), his facial features (unusually big eyes, quite a sharp nose), and his manner of dressing (well-dressed in a rugged sort of way).

Note his qualities (he did not approve of tardiness or sloppy work) and the feelings the students had for him ( His unusual accent mesmerised some of us but his sarcasm did not go down too well with others. Some of us grew to love him but some hated him).

The description of his physical appearance supports and reinforces the fact that he is likeable character but his values made him unpopular with some.

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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