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Transcript of Descriptive Writing
What is it that creates style within writing?
The goal of concise writing is to use the most effective words. Concise writing does not always have the fewest words, but it always uses the strongest ones.
Every word in a sentence
should provide something important and unique to a sentence.
Wordy: Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood formed a new band of musicians together in 1969, giving it the ironic name of Blind Faith because early speculation that was spreading everywhere about the band suggested that the new musical group would be good enough to rival the earlier bands that both men had been in, Cream and Traffic, which people had really liked and had been very popular. (66 words)
Concise: Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood formed a new band in 1969, ironically naming it Blind Faith because speculation suggested that the group would rival the musicians’ previous popular bands, Cream and Traffic. (32 words)
with words that are powerful and specific
Wordy: Suzie believed but could not confirm that Billy had feelings of affection for her. (14 words)
Wordy: Our website has made available many of the things you can use for making a decision on the best dentist. (20 words)
Wordy: The politician talked about several of the merits of after-school programs in his speech (14 words)
Concise: Suzie assumed that Billy adored her. (6 words)
Concise: Our website presents criteria for determining the best dentist. (9 words)
Concise: The politician touted after-school programs in his speech. (8 words)
without losing any of the meaning or value
Wordy: Ludwig's castles are an astounding marriage of beauty and madness. By his death, he had commissioned three castles. (18 words)
Wordy: The supposed crash of a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico aroused interest in extraterrestrial life. This crash is rumored to have occurred in 1947. (24 words)
Concise: Ludwig's three castles are an astounding marriage of beauty and madness. (11 words)
Concise: The supposed 1947 crash of a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico aroused interest in extraterrestrial life. (16 words)
create an experience, not just an image
images and nouns create reality
Use powerful verbs that demonstrate sensory actions
Abstract terms refer to ideas or concepts; they have no physical referents.
Love is Good!
(you probably agree)
Prostitution should be legalized.
(you probably don't agree)
Gov't? Marriage? Debts? Looser pants?
Concrete terms refer to objects or events that are available to the senses.
velvet eye patch
I want a gold Rolex on my wrist and a Mercedes in my driveway,"
"I'll spend $10 million of your taxes on a new highway that will help my biggest campaign contributor."
"We'll direct all our considerable resources to satisfying the needs of our constituents"
lime green velvet La-Z-Boy rocker recliner
lime green velvet La-Z-Boy rocker recliner with a cigarette burn on the left arm and a crushed jelly doughnut pressed into the back edge of the seat cushion.
Can you picture furniture clearly in your mind?
Do you have a positive or negative emotional reaction to chair?
Better: we are all more likely to picture a similar object, with similar associations (comfort, relaxation, calm)
By the time we get to the last description, we have surely reached the individual, a single chair. Note how easy it is to visualize this chair, and how much attitude we can form about it.
Does this mean you have to cram your writing with loads of detailed description? No. First, you don't always need modifiers to identify an individual: Bill Clinton and Mother Teresa are specifics; so are Bob's Camaro and the wart on Zelda's chin. Second, not everything needs to be individual: sometimes we need to know that Fred sat in a chair, but we don't care what the chair looked like.
The Old to New Contract
1. Begin sentences with information familiar to your readers.
That information can either come from a sentence or two before, or it can be general information that your reader brings to the subject.
Example: Some astonishing questions about the nature of the universe have been raised by scientists studying
black holes in space.
Each sentence in the paragraph should build to create a coherent whole.
Sayner, Wisconsin is the snowmobile capital of the world. The buzzing of snowmobile engines fills the air, and their tank-like tracks crisscross the snow. The snow reminds me of Mom’s mashed potatoes, covered with furrows I would draw with my fork. Her mashed potatoes usually make me sick, that’s why I play with them. I like to make a hole in the middle of the potatoes and fill it with melted butter. This behavior has been the subject of long chats between me and my therapist.
Follows Old - New, but the topic wanders
Readers look for the topics of sentences to tell them what a whole passage is “about.” If they feel that its sequence of topics focuses on a limited set of related topics, then they will feel they are moving through that passage from a cumulatively coherent point of view. But if topics seem to shift randomly, then readers have to begin each sentence from no coherent point of view, and when that happens, readers feel dislocated, disoriented, and the passage seems out of focus.
Repeated words create a chain of meaning
A sentence is one idea;
a paragraph needs to be one topic
that builds on the next.
Cause - Effect
Compare - Contrast
Let the subject perform the action.
This avoids awkward wording or misunderstanding.
Hint: If you find yourself using too many "to be" verbs, you are probably using too much passive voice. Only use "to be" if you are changing tenses. Otherwise, make the subject perform the action.
Don't settle for "show" or "gave" when you could use "revealed" or "tossed"
• Bland - The house was on fire.
• Vivid - Flames erupted from the windows.
• Bland - Goliath was taller than David.
• Vivid - The giant towered over David.
2. End sentences with information the reader cannot anticipate. W
hatever is familiar and simple is easier to understand than what is new and complicated, and readers always prefer to read what is easy before they read what is hard.
A black hole
is created by the collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps
no larger than a marble.
So much matter compressed into so little volume
changes the fabric of space around it in puzzling ways.
Always seek new and fresh ways of describing something.
Avoid the cliche; let your writing be known
for your own voice, not someone else's.