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Effective Description

Read through this descriptive paragraph and notice the underlined words and the feelings and images they create.

Then the thunder started.  And after the thunder the lightening started.  The storm was directly on top of us, and it turned out to be the summer storm to end all summer storms.  I have never seen weather like that before or since.  The rain poured down on us so hard that it actually hurt; each time the thunder exploded, you could feel the noise vibrating inside your body.  When the lightning came, it danced around us like spears.  It was as if weapons had materialized out of thin air--a sudden flash that turned everything a bright, ghostly white.  Trees were struck, and their branches began to smolder.  Then it would go dark again for a moment, there would be another crash in the sky and the lightening would return in a different spot.
 
- Paul Austerís "Why Write?" (paragraph #8)


Often the difference between vivid, descriptive writing and bland, non-descriptive writing is the writer's attention to nouns.  While concrete nouns tend to make one's writing more descriptive and alive, abstract nouns have the opposite effect.

Concrete Nouns - actual, tangible parts of the things being described; things you can see, hear, touch, or smell.

Abstract Nouns - things you cannot touch, see, or hear; often used when referring to ideas or qualities.  Examples include love, faith, justice.
 
 

Descriptive Techniques: "Detailing"

Notice the underline items that describe through naming details.

He was ten inches long, thin as a curve, a muscled ribbon, brown as fruitwood, soft-furred, alert.  His face was fierce, small and pointed as a lizard's, he would have made a good arrowhead.  There was just a dot of chin, maybe two brown hairs' worth, and then the pure white fur began that spread down his underside.  He had two black eyes I didn't see, any more than you see a window.

From Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk


Descriptive Techniques: "Comparing"

Notice the use of similes.

He was ten inches long, thin as a curve, a muscled ribbon, brown as fruitwood, soft-furred, alert.  His face was fierce, small and pointed as a lizard's, he would have made a good arrowhead.  There was just a dot of chin, maybe two brown hairs' worth, and then the pure white fur began that spread down his underside.  He had two black eyes I didn't see, any more than you see a window.
 


Exercise 1
Make the following general concepts more concrete.  There are 7 general concepts listed below; choose four and write four concrete examples for each of the four concepts that you choose.

Example:
"Loneliness"
--A king-size bed with one person in it
--Watching t.v. while you eat (for company)
--Waiting by the phone for someone to call
--Walking down a school hallway, not knowing anyone

1. Freedom
2. Love
3. Admiration
4. Greed
5. Lust
6. Need
7. Frivolous


Exercise 2
List the following groups of words from most general to most specific:

1.
80's Sitcom
Show
Growing Pains
Television Show
Sitcom
 

2.
Instrumental
Soundtrack
Sound
Music
Titanic
 

3.
Candy
Health
Nutrition
Snickers
Food
Junk Food
 

4.
A Decision
Identity
Eating Snickers
Concept
Character
Habits