english descriptive writing
“The idiosyncrasy of this town is smoke. It rolls sullenly in slow folds from the great chimneys of the iron-foundries, and settles down in black, slimy pools on the muddy streets. Smoke on the wharves, smoke on the dingy boats, on the yellow river–clinging in a coating of greasy soot to the house-front, the two faded poplars, the faces of the passers-by.”
To be evocative, descriptive writing has to unite the concrete image with phrasing that evokes the impression the writer wants the reader to have. Consider “her eyes shone like sapphires, warming my night” versus “the woman’s eyes had a light like sapphires, bright and hard.” Each phrase uses the same concrete image, then employs evocative language to create different impressions.
“On one corner of my dresser sits a smiling toy clown on a tiny unicycle―a gift I received last Christmas from a close friend. The clown’s short yellow hair, made of yarn, covers its ears but is parted above the eyes. The blue eyes are outlined in black with thin, dark lashes flowing from the brows. It has cherry-red cheeks, nose, and lips, and its broad grin disappears into the wide, white ruffle around its neck. The clown wears a fluffy, two-tone nylon costume. The left side of the outfit is light blue, and the right side is red. The two colors merge in a dark line that runs down the center of the small outfit. Surrounding its ankles and disguising its long black shoes are big pink bows. The white spokes on the wheels of the unicycle gather in the center and expand to the black tire so that the wheel somewhat resembles the inner half of a grapefruit. The clown and unicycle together stand about a foot high. As a cherished gift from my good friend Tran, this colorful figure greets me with a smile every time I enter my room.”
In this paragraph (originally published in “Washington Post Book World” and reprinted in ”Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art”), Joyce Carol Oates affectionately describes the one-room schoolhouse she attended from first through fifth grades. Notice how she appeals to our sense of smell before moving on to describe the layout and contents of the room. When you walk into a place, its overall smell hits you immediately, if it’s pungent, even before you’ve taken in the whole area with your eyes. Thus this choice of chronology for this descriptive paragraph is also a logical order of narration, even though it differs from the Hong Kingston paragraph. It allows the reader to imagine the room just as if he were walking into it.
Here simple, rhyming words are used for aesthetic appeal. However, complex words can be used too, as well as sentences that don’t rhyme. It all depends on the poet. But at the end of the day, it leaves an impact in the mind of the reader.
There are three major forms of descriptive writing:
There’s no one way to teach descriptive writing. That said, teachers can:
Teacher Laura Torres created a lesson plan that uses images to jumpstart vivid writing: Three Descriptive Writing Picture Prompts.
Imagine you’ve been asked to write an essay about a castle you visited on vacation. If you describe the castle as being “big and old,” the person reading doesn’t get much information.
Dynamic verbs are crucial to descriptive writing. When you’re learning any language, you’ll always begin with the most fundamental verbs. As you progress, you’ll see that there are hundreds of alternative ways to describe your actions in English and each of them creates a different mood.