In this lesson, you will learn how to write descriptive paragraphs.
Writing Descriptive Paragraphs
Descriptive writing supports every method of writing including narration, exposition, and persuasion. Transferring the mental picture you have of a person, place, object, or emotion to your audience requires careful selection of specific words. Before writing descriptive sentences and paragraphs, you should analyze your purpose.
What do you want to be?
Do you want to be objective, that is, to relate just the facts, such as color, height, width, weight, shape, distance and cost? Objective descriptions are important in science and business. Here is an example of an objective description:
Legal documents should be written on white, 100% cotton rag paper, 20 pound weight, 8.5 x 11'', and watermarked parchment deed.
Do you want your writing to be subjective, that is, to include your attitude and emotion towards the subject? Writers of subjective description have a dominant idea, or impression, that controls the focus of their writing. On the following pages are two examples of subjective description. Notice how the first paragraph leaves an impression of mystery and suspense, while the second paragraph has a tone of pride and anticipation.
Slowly, the heavy door creaked open, and a shadowy figure in a hooded white robe blocked the entrance. A flickering candle illuminated its pale, skeletal face with skin like crumpled tissue paper and deep-set eyes like black holes. Thin, blood-red lips whispered, "Come in. I've been expecting you."
Once you have established the dominant impression of mystery and suspense, do not include any details to spoil the mood. For example, you would not add the following sentence to the above paragraph, unless, of course, you are trying to be funny.
"Hey, Bro. Great costume! What's with the candle? Did you forget to pay your electric bill?"
The second paragraph has a tone of pride and anticipation.
As I beat out the cadence on my drum, every musician in our 40 piece band marched in quick step down Main Street. Then Brad, our drum major, raised his baton and signaled the downbeat to Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever." Our four majorettes twirled their batons with precision and strutted proudly out in front of the band. As we passed the judges' stand, people on the curb oohed and ahhed over our new red and white uniforms and began clapping their hands
Adding the following details to the paragraph would confuse your audience about the dominant idea or impression you are trying to create.
Usually, Jan drops her baton, and Seth's clarinet sounds like a squealing rabbit in the jaws of a predator. Some of the uniforms don't fit, especially Big Sam's. He couldn't get his pants buttoned and had to use a safety pin.
Descriptive writing uses any or all of the following techniques: measurements, spatial order, analogy, comparison/contrast, sensory impressions, figures of speech, noting what is missing, and changes in form or condition. Here are examples of descriptive paragraphs, followed by assignments for each technique.
Thirteen-year-old Colby Hamilton is 6'3'' tall and weighs 145 pounds. In a dress shirt, he wears a 15" neck size x 37" sleeve length. In jeans, he takes a 28" waist by 38" inseam. He wears size 13 boots. Colby has a big problem sitting in school desks designed for smaller teenagers.
Write a short, descriptive paragraph giving the measurements of one of your textbooks (length, width, thickness, number of pages, cover design). ]
Begin writing here:
Carly's birthday cake rests on a white ceramic plate. Smooth mocha chocolate icing covers three tiers of rich devil's food cake, each tier 1/2 inch smaller than the one below it. On the top tier, a small plastic fence encloses a circus ring, where the tiny figurine of a bareback rider in a pink tutu rides a white horse, and a clown with a red nose waves. Thirteen lighted candles are placed outside the fence around the edge of the cake.
Using spatial order, write a short paragraph describing what you see from top to bottom, left to right on your computer screen.
Begin writing below:
People are amazed to discover that Kyle and Kelly are twin brothers. Kyle looks a lot like their dad, and Kelly resembles their mother. About the only trait they have in common is their mischievous blue eyes. Kyle is outgoing and likes art and music. He plays lead guitar in a rock band. Kelly is the studious type. He likes science and math and is a star player on the basketball and baseball teams. Kyle is short and stocky with straight blonde hair that he wears in a pony tail. Kelly is tall and slender with wavy brown hair that he keeps hidden under a cap. Kyle wears baggies and sandals, whereas Kelly dresses like a cowboy in western shirts, jeans, and boots. Kyle and Kelly are proof that fraternal twins have no special genetic attachment, other than they are brothers who happen to have the same birthday.
Write a descriptive paragraph in which you compare or contrast two brothers or two sisters in your acquaintance. Use the point by point method. (If necessary, go back to Lesson 22, page 6, and review this method.)
Begin writing below:
Sensory impressions of sights, sounds, tastes, touches, smells are used to create imagery:
From the doorway of the gym, I can see kids and their parents filling up the bleachers. Smells of popcorn and chili dogs at the concession stand make my mouth water, but I'll wait until halftime to pig out. I sit down carefully on a wooden bench reserved for the pep band. Last time I sat there, I got a splinter in my leg. I assemble my trombone, then I look around the gym at the victory posters. Go Langston Longhorns! Cheerleaders on the sidelines are doing warm-ups, and basketball players from both teams are out on the floor shooting baskets. The noise level reaches a loud roar. After the band plays "The Star Spangled Banner," the game begins. Athletic shoes screech on the polished floor, and the basketball thumps as a forward drives it down the court and slams it into the hoop for two. Our side cheers.
Write a paragraph that uses all 5 senses to create the impression of what it is like to be at a sporting event.
Begin writing below:
Figures of Speech
A writer's clever use of language will create mental pictures in the mind of the audience. The various figures of speech that authors incorporate into their work are explained on the following pages.
Alliteration: repetition of the beginning consonant sounds of words
Example: Blast it, Barney! You've bungled the burglary!
Write a sentence with alliteration.
Consonance: repetition of consonant sounds within words
Example: Betty ate a little bit of peanut brittle.
Write a sentence using consonance.
Assonance: repetition of vowel sounds within words
Example: Find time to fly your kite when the time is right.
Write a sentence using assonance.
Inversion: for emphasis, word order is different than the natural order of a sentence
Example: A handsome hero he isn't.
Write a sentence using inversion.
Simile: comparison of two unlike images by using like or as
Example: The moss-covered pond looked like cream of asparagus soup.
Write a sentence using a simile.
Metaphor: direct comparison of two unlike images
Example: Doc's eyes glinted angrily beneath his bottle brush eyebrows.
Write a sentence using a metaphor.
Onomatopoeia: words that imitate sounds
Example: Robin's bow twanged as the arrow hissed toward its target.
Write a sentence using onomatopoeia.
Hyperbole: exaggeration for a dramatic effect, not meant to deceive
Example: That gambler is so crooked he has to screw his boots on.
Write a sentence using hyperbole.
Personification: giving human qualities to an idea or an object
Example: Armies of cancer cells invaded and attacked Joan's body.
Write a sentence using personification.