What is description? Description—creates vivid images in thereader’s mind by portraying people,places, or moments in detail.
Why use description?It creates a dominantimpression on the reader.This is the overall mood, feeling, orimage and atmosphere you wantto convey to the readers.It brings emphasis to what youdescribe—the important momentsin your writing.
Why use description? Expresses your attitude toward the subject. How do you feel about the subject? Positively? Negatively? Neutral? Uncomfortable? Afraid? Supportive? Choose details that support your attitudetoward the subject.
Why use description?It uses concrete details.It helps the reader visualize theperson, place, or situation.It helps the readers understandyour ideas fully and more clearly.It makes your important ideascome across to the readersbetter!
How do I use description? Use specific rather than generallanguage Use concrete rather than abstractlanguage Show, don’t tell! Use imagery (words that appeal to thesenses) Use strong nouns and verbs (not vagueadjectives and adverbs)
General and SpecificLanguageGeneral Everyone Everything Things Good BadSpecific My mother, father, brother, and I Basic needs like food, shelter, and love Morals, like how to be respectful ofothers, to value family, and to keep myfaith, especially in difficult times My mom always armed herself withinformation and asked questions aboutour illnesses, even if it was just chickenpox. My mom became stressed and lostpatience with us.
General and Specific Words(cont.) food junk food dessert ice cream premium ice cream Ben and Jerrys ice cream Ben and Jerrys Chunky Monkey icecream a double-scoop waffle cone of Ben andJerrys Chunky Monkey ice creamMost generalMost specific
Concrete and Abstract WordsAbstract These refer toconcepts. Theydon’t physicallyexist. Love Moral Truth Beauty Freedom GoodConcrete These words refer tophysical objects, canbe experienced bythe senses. Girl or Boy Forest Stone deep spruce green ice cream
Show! Don’t Tell.When you are writing, it iseasy to simply tell yourreaders about your topic.Don’t do this! Show themwith description. Show through action ratherthan just giving a briefsynopsis.Actions speak louderthan words!
Examples Telling: It was a nice day. The sky is a brightshade of blue, and it has white clouds in it. Showing: Puffy white clouds floated across thecobalt-blue sky. Telling: We had fun together when we werechildren. Showing: Tumbling off the couch, letting outbanshee-like screams, we fell to an imaginarydeath at the foot of the torn and tattered cliffof the couch.
Examples Telling: The girls were excited. Showing: Giggles and screams filled the arena. The soft curlswere now damp with perspiration and the anticipation of theevent. They held tight to each other in a mock effort to containthemselves. Arms flailed upward, and voices echoed in varyingtones. The moment was here. Telling: The room was empty and scary. Showing: The door opened with a resounding echo thatseemed to fill the house. Cob webs once attached flowedfreely in the air as the open door brought light to a well wornfloor. The light gave notice to the peeling paint on the wallsand to the silhouettes once covered by pictures. The new airgave life to a stuffiness that entrapped the room. Faded andtorn white sheets covered once new furniture now drowning indust.
Show, Don’t Tell Examples(cont.) Now, you try one. Revise this sentence tomake it show, rather than tell: Telling: The class is interesting. How could you show this through concretedetails? Possible Answer: The sound of voices fills theroom in my college English class. Our teachergives us wacky writing prompts, and studentspassionately read what they wrote out loud.Then, when each student finishes reading, weall applaud in support. There’s certainly nevera dull moment.
Show, Don’t Tell Examples(cont.) Try one more. Revise this sentence to make itshow, rather than tell: Telling: My mom is responsible. How could you show this through concretedetails? Possible Answer: After a long day at work caringfor others at the hospital, my mom came home,cooked my brother and I dinner, helped us withour homework, played a game with us, and thenread us a story, complete with all the characters’voices. After we were in bed, she went straight tothe computer to finish homework for her master’sdegree. There were nights that I was sure shedidn’t sleep, but she never let it show.
Imagery Imagery—using language that appeals tothe sensesSightSoundTouchTasteSmell
Imagery ExampleWhat senses are being appealed to in this passage?The hot July sun beat relentlessly down, casting anorange glare over the farm buildings, the fields, the pond.Even the usually cool green willows bordering the pondhung wilted and dry. Our sun-baked backs ached for relief.We quickly pulled off our sweaty clothes and plunged intothe pond, but the tepid water only stifled us and we soonclimbed onto the brown, dusty bank. Our parched throatslonged for something cool--a strawberry ice, a tall frostedglass of lemonade.We pulled on our clothes, crackling underbrush, thesharp briars pulling at our damp jeans, until we reached thewatermelon patch. As we began to cut open the nearestmelon, we could smell the pungent skin mingling with thedusty odor of the dry earth. Suddenly, the melon gave waywith a crack, revealing the deep, pink sweetness inside.
Imagery ExampleWhat senses are being appealed to in this passage?The hot July sun beat relentlessly down, [touch, sight]casting an orange glare over the farm buildings, [sight] the fields,the pond. Even the usually cool green willows bordering thepond hung wilted and dry. [sight] Our sun-baked backs achedfor relief. [touch] We quickly pulled off our sweaty clothes andplunged into the pond, but the tepid water only stifled us [touch]and we soon climbed onto the brown, dusty bank. [sight] Ourparched throats longed for something cool--a strawberry ice, atall frosted glass of lemonade. [taste]We pulled on our clothes, crackling underbrush, [sound]the sharp briars pulling at our damp jeans, [touch] until wereached the watermelon patch. As we began to cut open thenearest melon, we could smell the pungent skin mingling with thedusty odor of the dry earth. [smell] Suddenly, the melon gaveway with a crack, revealing the deep, pink sweetness inside.[sound and sight]
Use Strong Nouns and Verbs Describe through nouns and verbs, ratherthan adjectives and adverbs In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen Kingsays, “The road to hell is paved withadverbs.” I would add that it is also paved with vagueadjectives. Use specific nouns and vivid verbs todescribe.
Using Strong Nouns and VerbsExample Poor: The toy was a lot of comfort to the childwhen she was afraid of the dark. This sentence uses vague nouns andadjectives: toy, child, a lot. It also uses the weak, general verb wastwice. This sentence is okay, but it could bemuch better. Let’s look at anotherexample.
Using Strong Nouns and VerbsExample Better: When the toddler imagined hairy monstersspringing from the shadows of the darkenedhallway, she crushed her stuffed raccoon to herchest. There are specific nouns and adjectives:stuffed raccoon, hairy monsters, shadows,darkened hallway, toddler. This sentence takes advantage of verbs likeimagined, springing, and crushed, which giveexact description of the action and elicit amore intense response from the readers.
Using Strong Verbs ExamplesStrong verbs can add color to a sentencewithout adding clutter or length. Poor: His cologne smelled really bad. Better: He skunked the party up with his cologne. Poor: She always skipped class. Better: She wormed her way out of the class. Poor: The man ran quickly. Better: The man dashed. Poor: She said loudly. Better: She shouted.
PracticeThink about a particular place thatyou go often, a coffee shop, a mall,a park, a gift shop, your work, etc.Write a paragraph that describesthat place in great detail andimagery, including sights, sounds,smells, etc. Remember to form a strong topicsentence!
One Last Thought… How can you use description to improve yourmedia review essay? What descriptive words could you use todescribe the movie, album, or book you’rewriting about? What sensory details can you use to supportyour claims about it? After you’ve written your first draft, take anotherlook through it. Where could you replace aweak verb with a stronger, more colorful one?