BETTER WRITING TECHNIQUES: Brilliant description
WORKSHOP: Learning about description from experienced writers
One of the great joys when reading is the way a writer brings something to life in our imagination. The world-wide success of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was certainly because her characters and situations bounded off the pages. Her characters are vivid and original, her magic-filled world is detailed and authentic, and she peppers every page with humour and surprises. Keep exposing your students to great writing. Keep encouraging them to play and experiment and emulate what impresses them.
How can you help ?
1. Simply read excerpts like these out loud to them. Share the enjoyment with them.
2. Reflect briefly on why these short pieces are so satisfying. Why they ‘work’.
3. Observe particularly the word count. These are not massive paragraphs. In fact, being economical with words is an important part of the art.
4. Notice that word choice is the central strength of all of these. And it’s not about fancy words. It’s about bringing something to life in the imagination of the reader.
Here are some examples to get you started:
Describing a thing: rain after drought
Down it came, the blessed deluge. The music of rain splashing on tents and tin sheds drove men to an ecstasy of rejoicing. They turned out to cheer; lifted up their faces and opened their mouths to drink the bright drops; danced round, hallooing and shouting, getting drenched in the downpour.
[51 words] Katherine Prichard "The Roaring Nineties" 1946
Describing a person: Elvis Presley performing
The hair was a Vaseline cathedral, the mouth a touchingly uncertain sneer of allure. One, two-wham! Like a berserk blender the lusty young pelvis whirred and the notorious git-tar slammed forward with a jolt that symbolically deflowered a generation of teenagers and knocked chips off 90 million older shoulders. Then out of the half-melted vanilla face a wild black baritone came bawling in orgasmic lurches. Whu-huh-huh-huh f'the money! Two f'the show! Three t'git riddy naa GO CAAT GO!
[78 words] Brad Darrach, on Elvis Presley, Life, 1977
Describing an idea: what is a word?
A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought, and may vary greatly in colour and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1918
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