There are 3 main uses for descriptive writing:
To write about
- a person
- a place
- an object
A technique which creates a picture in words
Three authors who I consider use particularly effective descriptions in their writing are:
Alexander McCall Smith. Try No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Jane Austen. Try Sense and Sensibility
Gerald Durrell. Try My Family and Other Animals
Each has written during a different period and each employs a different technique, from the very ‘flowery’ (Gerald Durrell) to the powerful (Alexander McCall Smith). Each works perfectly well in its time and setting and successfully evokes mood as well as a scene.
A useful exercise to practice using descriptive language is to write 5 sentences, each describing the same wintry scene, but each using 1 of the 5 senses. (Sight; hearing; taste; touch and smell.) We tend to use ‘sight’ more than any of the other senses in our writing, however use of them all in moderation, can help the reader feel more ‘invested’ in the setting.
In the following piece I have tried to demonstrate the use of descriptive language. It is of a building in which I worked for several years and of which I am very fond. Once you have read my description, open the following post on this page and see if your imagination and my words have conjured up a picture which is anything similar to the ‘real thing’!
My initial impression is of a traditional colonial house reminiscent of those one would have stumbled across in Kenya or Singapore, typically owned by a tea planter or regional official. But this is rural Australia.
A wide, low, single storied building, known as a homestead, it’s palest grey metal roof majestically dominates, sliding gracefully down from three ochre painted chimneys to shade the wooden veranda with a sense of calm and permanency. It is a surprise the building is asymmetrical. One would perhaps expect perfect symmetry, but with an unexpected and unmatching block protruding to the left side, this is not the case. Maybe long-ago owners demanded alterations to accommodate growing families and to advertise their increasing prosperity.
A scattering of towering trees frame the building, their dark figures contrasting with the unbroken brilliance of the sky. I guess those several Scots pines and two bunya-bunyas were planted by the first settlers almost two centuries ago. Bordering the veranda sits a low lavender hedge, its meticulously-clipped appearance suggesting loving attendance by a team of gardeners.
I peer past the cream-painted veranda columns into the cool and inviting shade where a series of open French windows march evenly-spaced down its length, their cedar shutters securely pinned back against the cool ochre walls. Simple floor length muslin drapes play teasingly in the stifling breeze, denying any glimpse of what lies within. A heavy ebony chaise-longue lazes against one wall, assisting my glimpse into a bygone age.
Three wooden steps, cedar of course, as common with many of the early-settler homesteads, signal the entrance, as does the surrounding pergola, groaning under the knotted limbs and dominant verdancy of an ancient wisteria. Heavily draped with its lilac garlands, it has generously scattered petals across the steps like stray confetti after a wedding.
But my gaze is grasped by the imperious double cedar front doors, strong and forbidding, they shout strength and, as with the roof, permanency. They are firmly closed. All is quiet. Even the raucous screech of a cockatoo and the monotonous rasp of a trillion cicadas cannot destroy the homestead’s beguiling tranquillity.
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