For other uses, see Description (disambiguation).
For the Hasidic musician, see DeScribe.
Description is the pattern of development[clarification needed] that presents a word picture of a thing, a person, a situation, or a series of events. It is one of four rhetorical modes (also known as modes of discourse), along with exposition, argumentation, and narration. Each of the rhetorical modes is present in a variety of forms and each has its own purpose and conventions. The act of description may be related to that of definition. Description is also the fiction-writing mode for transmitting a mental image of the particulars of a story.
As a fiction-writing mode
Fiction is a form of narrative, one of the four rhetorical modes of discourse. Fiction-writing also has modes: action, exposition, description, dialogue, summary, and transition. Author Peter Selgin refers to methods, including action, dialogue, thoughts, summary, scenes, and description. Currently, there is no consensus within the writing community regarding the number and composition of fiction-writing modes and their uses.
Description is the fiction-writing mode for transmitting a mental image of the particulars of a story. Together with dialogue, narration, exposition, and summarization, description is one of the most widely recognized of the fiction-writing modes. As stated in Writing from A to Z, edited by Kirk Polking, description is more than the amassing of details; it is bringing something to life by carefully choosing and arranging words and phrases to produce the desired effect. The most appropriate and effective techniques for presenting description are a matter of ongoing discussion among writers and writing coaches.
In literary criticism, purple prose is a passage or sometimes an entire literary work, written in prose so overly extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself. Purple prose is sensuously evocative beyond the requirements of its context. It also refers to writing that employs certain rhetorical effects such as exaggerated sentiment or pathos in an attempt to manipulate a reader's response.
In philosophy, the nature of description has been an important question since Bertrand Russell's classical texts.
The word deon is often used interchangeably with the word theory.
- Rozakis, Laurie (2003). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style, 2nd Edition. Alpha. ISBN 978-1-59257-115-4
- Marshall, Evan (1998). The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. pp. 143–165. ISBN 1-58297-062-9.
- Morrell, Jessica Page (2006). Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. p. 127. ISBN 978-1-58297-393-7.
- Polking, Kirk (1990). Writing A to Z. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-435-8.
- Selgin, Peter (2007). By Cunning & Craft: Sound Advice and Practical Wisdom for fiction writers. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-58297-491-0.
What is Description?
The goal of description is to convey a person, place or thing in such a way that a picture is formed in the reader’s mind. Capturing an event through descriptive language involves paying close attention to details by using all of your five senses (touch, sight, smell, taste, and sound). These senses are important to descriptive writing because they help the reader understand what the author is trying to say. As a descriptive writer, the more vividly you are able to describe what you have sensed, the more engaged audience will be with your text.
Grammatically speaking, descriptive language is the use of nouns and adjectives in order to most specifically describe the experiences of a particular sense. By making the language you use more powerful, you may use description in order to allow your reader to truly sense what you are writing about. To this end, one of description's main goals is making the abstract seem more concrete.
Specific descriptive language has uses outside of describing sensory experience. For example, the abstract idea of freedom may help many evoke different definitions and feelings for different readers, but when the idea of freedom is described to slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation, it becomes much more concrete and more uniform among readers. Description is used by writers in order to encourage their audiences to have a more specific reading of a text.
Why Write a Descriptive Essay?
A descriptive essay allows writers to engage their reader through the use of specific language and imagery. If the writer is trying to convey something that is scary or exciting, a concrete description is usually more effective than a vague or abstract one. These concrete descriptions create specific, vivid images in readers' imaginations. Think of a descriptive essay as being similar to writing a movie. At no time can a movie show beautiful. It must show what 'beautiful' is through the use of images.
A writer usually begins an essay with an objective. If a writer wanted to persuade the reader that ice cream is a tasty treat, what are descriptions that could cause the reader to want to eat ice cream? Would sweet sound appetizing? Would comparisons to other foods, such as a cherry, be used to convince the reader that the ice cream is worth trying? When you have begun to think in this fashion, then you are ready to start your essay.
Abstract Descriptions Versus Concrete Descriptions
Try to avoid vague, abstract descriptions. For example, a writer may write beautiful to describe a tree. However, beautiful is too vague. Instead, a concrete adjective or modifier would be stronger and gives greater impact. The reader needs details for a picture to form in their heads, abstract concepts like beautiful lack a real-world analog. Here's a reworked description of the tree: "the sun's rays glistened off the rain-slick leaves, even as the afternoon sky dipped towards evening." The beautiful qualities of the tree are "shown" through concrete details instead of merely told through abstraction. This gives the reader the illusion of immediate experience, as opposed to the dictionary variety
Abstractions are often ideas that cannot be seen, heard, touched, or smelled.
Examples of abstract descriptions:
- the sad man
- the happy woman
- the beautiful dog
- a lovely house
- an amazing sight
A concrete description can be seen, heard, touched, or smelled.
Examples of concrete details:
- the crunching sound
- the melted candy cane
- the burnt toast
- the flashing light
- the smooth butter
There are appropriate times to use abstractions. For instance, if the reader is already aware of the circumstances (i.e., a writer is referring to a passage from a novel, in which the audience knows of a certain event) then the writer can generalize the emotion. However, especially in creative works such as fiction and poetry, it is best to turn the abstract into the concrete.
Similes and Metaphors
Another way to add descriptive language is to use similes and metaphors, creating a picture in readers' heads by comparing two objects to one another. Similes and metaphors help to make connections between two ideas, concepts, or objects that clarify or give new meaning.
A simile is a comparison using the words like or as. It usually compares two dissimilar objects. For example, the bread was as dry as a bone. The comparison links a piece of bread that has become hard and white to a bone that is also hard and white. Bones often dry out, and so does bread. These similar characteristics are what make the simile effective.
A metaphor states that one thing is something else. It is a comparison, but it does NOT use like or as to make the comparison. For example, the athlete's stomach was a bottomless pit. The comparison implies that the athlete's stomach will not fill up easily or quickly. The athlete can eat lots of food.
To make a simile or metaphor, identify an object like a sunset, tree, or river, or a concept like love, peace, or anger. Then think of another object that has some similar traits. Decide whether the words "like" or "as" will help make the connection more understandable. A good simile or metaphor will make the reader look at both objects in a new perspective.
By adding similes and metaphors to a description paper, the writer can appeal to the readers' imagination and make the writing more interesting to read. Similes and metaphors add spark to descriptions.
How to Write Description
In order to write descriptively, you must take a topic and decide how to make that topic vivid for your audience. If the topic of the piece is merely to describe a particular place, you must decide what elements of that place, when described in text, will become most vivid for your audience. The first step in any descriptive writing is to choose a topic and begin to work out a thesis statement. As was suggested in the previous sections, you may choose to describe a particular place.
Sample Thesis Statement: Although Minnesota may seem drab and cold to outsiders, natives of the state find it a wonderful place to live.
We can see in this thesis statement that the writer will attempt to show the aspects of Minnesota that make it a great place to live. After detailing a thesis statement, you should come up with a list of sensory words that provide vivid detail and support the thesis. You may start by thinking about the five senses. How does your particular place look, smell, feel, taste, and sound like? How can you best describe these senses so the reader feels what you feel? By organizing the elements of descriptive language into easier to handle sections, like the five senses, you are able to more specifically engage in what elements of the description are most useful.
Examples of Sensory Words
Examples of Sound Imagery
- Quiet solitude
- Grasshoppers chirping at night
- Trees rustling in the wind
- The howl of a wolf
- Birds singing
- Leaves crunching
- Fire crackling
Examples of Smell Imagery
- Chlorine at a pool
- Freshly cut grass
- Flowers in spring
- Morning dew,
- Freshly baked banana bread,
- Acrid-campfire smoke.
Examples of Touch Imagery
- Cold, wet snowflakes falling on your nose
- Coarse sandpaper
- Rough, dry tree bark
- Wet sand beneath your feet
- Hot pan on the stove
Example of Visual Imagery
- The brilliant rays of sunset
- The churning blue waterfall
- Powerful deer racing across the field
- Clean snow falling softly in the sun
- Corn stalks rustling in the breeze
Examples of Taste Imagery
- Lutefisk or lefsa during the holidays
- Steaming, bitter, black coffee
- Fresh, succulent strawberries
- Crunchy chocolate chip cookies
- Cotton candy, sweetly melting in your mouth
After deciding what senses you wish to invoke, make a list of all the words you wish to include. You should also begin to plan a way to present the information that will drive home the thesis statement in the most profound way.
Order of Presentation
The writer in this case could choose to present the positive aspects of Minnesota in terms of the seasons and weather changes. The details could be presented linearly, starting with spring and going through the winter, highlighting the aspects of each season that most closely support the thesis, that Minnesota is a great place to live.
Prior to starting the essay, give some thought as to whom the audience of your piece will be. Who is going to read the essay, and what effect would you like it to have upon them? An awareness of audience is important to choosing the level of formality you take with your writing. Knowing your audience will also help you distinguish which details to include throughout your essay. Assume that your audience knows very little or nothing about your subject matter, and include details that may seem very obvious to you.
Example Audience: In this particular essay, the writer wants to show an outsider to the state why Minnesota natives are so happy to live there. The essay should help break down stereotypes for those outsiders about Minnesota's cold weather and apparent drabness. Because the essay is designed for those who do not live in Minnesota, and maybe have never been there, it is important to include details about the state that may seem obvious to a native.
With the preparatory work complete, it is time now to begin writing your essay. Use your thesis statement to begin to construct an introductory paragraph. The introduction should set up the basis for your essay, and the thesis statement should state its purpose.
Example Introduction: Many who have not traveled to the state of Minnesota only hear of its cold weather and boring reputation. They are sure missing out on the great opportunities that Minnesota affords. Each season offers different senses that native Minnesotans and tourists know and love. Although Minnesota may seem drab and cold to outsiders, natives of the state find it a wonderful place to live.
With the introduction complete, it is time to start constructing the body paragraphs of your essay. Each body paragraph should have a central theme in itself, and that theme should be represented in a topic sentence. Consequently, each sentence of the paragraph should relate to and support the topic sentence. The body paragraphs are where the majority of the details should be given. When writing the first draft of your descriptive essay, include as many details as is reasonably possible. You can always eliminate the ones that do not serve the essay as well when you are revising your draft. In the case of the Minnesota nature essay, we have decided to set up the body paragraphs in terms of season, starting with spring.
Example Body Paragraph:
Spring in Minnesota brings new life to the state after the long winter season. The rain washes the landscape clean, leaving its fresh aroma for all to enjoy. The flowers soak up the golden sun's rays and begin to show their vibrant colors. The first birds can be seen and heard throughout the woods and fields, telling their stories in beautiful songs. The lakes begin to show their glossy finish as the ice melts away slowly under the heat of the season.
With the body paragraphs complete, it is time to bring the essay to a close with the conclusion. The conclusion should return back to the thesis and provide coherence to the essay. The conclusion should restate the main points of the essay in order to give the reader a final sense of what the essay was meant to portray. There should not be any new material introduced in the conclusion, and the way it is worded should give the reader a sense of finality.
By examining what each of the seasons in Minnesota has to offer, it becomes clear that the state is a truly wonderful place to live or visit. Minnesota is much more than the cold and drab state that many people give it credit for. One visit to the state and anyone can see the great things about Minnesota.
With the essay complete, it is time to reread and revise your essay (also see revision sections of this textbook). Read your first draft and pinpoint all of the descriptor words you used. If possible, go back and add more after the ones you already used in the essay. If you can, read your essay out loud to a friend and have them tell you what images are vivid for them and what images are a little more cloudy. Rework any images that are cloudy with more descriptions. Also check to see if your descriptions have made use of all of the five senses: sound, smell, texture, sight, and taste. Repeat these steps as many times as necessary until you are happy with your product.
A Second Sample Descriptive Essay
In recent years, many of St. Cloud's residents have congregated to Waite Park's stores and businesses for entertainment. However, people who focus their attention entirely on the flashy Crossroads Mall or the giant Parkwood 18 theater are depriving themselves of the fun and tradition of downtown St. Cloud. The downtown bars, stores, and restaurants provide a rich experience that is unlike all others in Minnesota.
Downtown St. Cloud's bars are always overflowing with cheek-stretching smiles, live music, and professionally made beverages. The Tavern on Germain boasts a cozy environment with drinks such as Vodka Sours and Captain Cokes. However, if one is tired of drinking the night away, he/she can go next door for live music ranging from the acoustic-guitar stringing of Leonard Mills to the horn-blaring excitement of Test Tube and the Tuba Players.
Entertainment is not unique to the over twenty-one crowd, especially when visitors can stop by coffee houses such as the Java Joint and the Meeting Grounds. Relax with friends while dining on coffee cakes and drinking them down with cappuccinos. As the laughter of your group erupts, and your nose inhales the aroma of coffee beans and melting chocolate, it becomes easier to take those few extra minutes for a lunch break.
When dinner time arrives, the options of the hungry people are plentiful. Cheese melts while sausage sizzles on the crust of pizza at the House of Pizza. When hungry individuals take a taste of the pie from the House, it melts in a mouth with layers of tickling pepperoni. If pizza is not what's in a person's mind, order a burger at the Green Mill or devour a calzone. Either one will gladly fill an empty stomach.
When dinner concludes, one can travel to some of the shops. Drum beats pound like gorilla dance moves at the Electric Fetus. From the slipperiness of the CD cases featuring covers with Pete Townshend driving his hand across the strings of his guitar, or other records with Mariah Carey singing on the windy stage, a music lover finds it all the Electric Fetus.
From music to tasty treats, St. Cloud's residents can find all that they desire downtown. Choose it instead of an over-crowded mall. It is meant for exploration, and with a little digging, anyone can find what they are looking for.
First Draft of a Sample Descriptive Essay
In recent years, many of St. Cloud's residents have congregated to Waite Park's stores and businesses for entertainment. However, people who focus their attention entirely on the Crossroads Mall or the Parkwood 18 theater are depriving themselves of the fun and tradition of downtown St. Cloud. The downtown bars, stores, and restaurants provide a rich experience that is unlike all others in Minnesota.
For those who seek quiet conversations and steaming-hot drinks to start off your day, downtown St. Cloud can provide them with cozy coffee houses like the Meeting Grounds. Inside, groups of friends unwind with frosted coffee cakes, and individuals with books and newspapers recline with a new mug of cappuccino. As the sun rises in the back of the Meeting Grounds, visitors inhale the aroma of coffee beans and melting chocolate, and it becomes easier for them to take a few extra minutes before leaving for work.
As those work days dip into evenings, hungry downtown patrons, with their stomachs growling in unison, march to any one of the many eateries. Mexican Village spreads the aroma of spices and peppers rolled into a tortilla wrap with thick cuts of beef down the street. However, not to be outdone, House of Pizza strolls out its smell of pepperoni that tickles the nose, but then sends a message to the mouth that says, "Come this way." A wind gust brushes through the downtown area carrying the Green Mill's calzone aroma, which leaves those hungry patrons without an easy answer.
With their stomachs filled, downtown patrons wander down the street to the retail shops. Some of the customers step into the Electric Fetus where the drums beat like avalanches, and the songbirds are in flight with microphones pressed against their lips. Further north, another sound rattles through each person's eardrum: the flipping of smooth pages from Books Revisited, where used literature is sold, stacked, then discovered by bookworms digging through each level. Books may be flipped and songs may blare, but shoes scuff the tile floor of Herbergers—a two-story department store where jewelry and clothing are yanked from the rack just as quickly as they are hung on.
The sun sets and the moon rises, but that just means that St. Cloud's downtown bars will be overflowing with cheek-stretching smiles, wall-shaking music, and lip-licking beverages. The Tavern on Germain rapidly serves drinks such as Vodka Sours and Captain Cokes to customers sitting at their table. Along with the constant guzzling, he/she can go next door for live music ranging from the acoustic-guitar stringing of Leonard Mills to the horn-blaring excitement of Test Tube and the Tuba Players.
Whether their hands are sorting through thin page of paperback books, or their mouths are chewing on the gooey cottage cheese of lasagna, downtown patrons are always on the go to the next hot spot. As the customers reach the end of the downtown St. Cloud district, most are ready to turn around and visit all the stops again. St. Cloud is bustling with retailers that will cause anyone's eyes to take a second glimpse.
Second Draft of a Sample Descriptive Essay
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