How Do I Write a Descriptive Essay?

The Descriptive Essay

by Owen Fourie

~ Part One ~

Many students struggle to describe things in their writing. When an assignment requires them to write a descriptive essay, it can turn out to be a frustrating task. Many, feeling unable to measure up to the requirement, give up and produce inferior work, which satisfies neither them nor their teachers.

Smell this!

There is a way to write an effective descriptive essay that will be well rewarded with an excellent grade. To write such an essay, you have to sharpen all your physical senses and closely observe the world around you.

Make a daily and even a moment-by-moment effort to capture with all your senses the scenes and events that come your way. See them and note the finer details of how they look. Hear them and note their particular sound or sounds. Smell them and note their fragrance or pungency. Touch them if possible, or, if not, touch them remotely in your imagination. Sense their texture–the coarseness or the smoothness. Taste them if possible, or again imagine a comparable taste. Note the sweetness, the blandness, the saltiness, or the sourness. While you might not be able to apply every sense to each instance, you should do your best to apply most of them and let your imagination fill in what is lacking.

As you practice the sharpening of your senses, take time to write down your observations in descriptive paragraphs. When you do this, you are capturing the experience and the memory of a scene or an event in words. You are using the camera of your senses and your use of words to help your readers to enter into what you are describing. They see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, and taste it. To be able to write an effective descriptive essay, you should practice using your senses in this way.

...impressions of something higher...deeper, something beyond this world...

Going beyond the physical …

There are other aspects of description that you should try to include. Not only do we respond to our environment with our physical senses, but we also respond emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. As you observe the scenes and events around you and practice the art of description, ask yourself these questions. Here I will include the questions relating to the physical senses:

  • What do I see? How does it look? How shall I describe its appearance (or invisibility)?
  • What do I hear? How does it sound? How shall I describe its sound (or silence)?
  • What do I smell? How does it smell? How shall I describe its odor (or lack of it)?
  • What do I detect by touch? How does it feel? How shall I describe its texture (or lack of it)?
  • What do I taste? How does it taste? How shall I describe its taste (or lack of it)?
  • How do I feel about this? What emotions are stirred up in me by this–happiness, sadness?
  • What do I think about this? Can I analyze or categorize this? Can I relate it to something else by way of comparison or contrast?
  • Does this cause me to have impressions of something higher, something deeper, something beyond this world, something deep within me, a sense of infinity, a sense of eternity, a sense of the meaning of life, or of something beyond explanation?

Your objective as you write a descriptive essay is to get your reader to share as closely as possible all that you have sensed in a particular experience of a scene or an event. By careful and attentive observation, as you use all your senses and by writing these things down, you will be preparing the way to fulfill the requirements of your assignment.

We must move on now from this preparatory phase to what you should do when you actually write a descriptive essay. Be sure to read part two of this article.

Are there other questions that should be added to the bulleted list above? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

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