Write detail by painting the picture

by Katya Rivers

Some of you love to write; others don’t. This is completely normal. Writing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But before you toss it out the window, let me introduce writing to you as an art form—and something that can actually be fun. If you apply yourself wholeheartedly, writing can open your eyes to observational skills, critical thinking, and creativity, and it expand your thinking overall.

So how can writing be fun, you ask? It all lies with descriptive detail, observation and communicating what you see and experience to your audience. You can use descriptive writing to

  • make scenes realistic and memorable
  • help readers experience an emotion
  • share your feelings more clearly
  • bring characters to life
  • convey key ideas, especially complex ideas
  • help readers feel like they are in the scene, the narrative or the story

Here are a couple of suggestions to help you write descriptively and spice up your papers.

  1. Use the details to create a strong mood or feeling about the subject
  2. Make sure to draw on all five senses: sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell
  3. Consider including figures of speech, the imaginative comparisons that will evoke feelings in your readers.

Here is an example of descriptive writing in a short story, but keep in mind that academic papers can include some of these moves. After reading the following passage from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and reflect on it. Ask yourself what you felt. What emotions did the author evoke in you, what was effective? Was it the word choice? The tone? And then apply your gathered information to your own writing.

Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon, which now shone vividly through that once barely discernible fissure, of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, the fissure rapidly widened—there came a   fierce breath of the whirlwind—the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight—my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder—there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters—and the    deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently….

—Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher”

The author uses sensory details to paint a word picture of a person, place, scene, object, or emotion (see the bold words). Descriptive writing is about painting your message—you want your audience to engage, do be curious and intrigued or provoked. Detailed writing allows you to connect to your audience most effectively. What’s pretty neat about descriptive writing is that it not only helps your readers grasp your message, but it also serves as an effective tool to explain and persuade. So, write on!

Katya Rivers is a senior majoring in religion.

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