Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Answering a Challenge About Rusty

So yesterday we wrote about being careful not to let narrative swamp description when a writing teacher gives you a descriptive writing assignment. (A lot of teachers give either kind of assignment--narrative or description--at the beginning of a term.)

Someone who reads this blog and who also knows the Writing Center in real life said that it's easy to make jokes about what not to do, but it's harder to give a "positive" example.

Okay--point made. But we're conflicted about that. We don't want to write anyone's essay for them. So here is an attempt at descriptive writing that isn't narrative. There are a lot of ways to do this and writers should feel free to explore what works for them. This is just one example written by one Writing Center Blogger. But okay. Here goes.

My Pal Rusty
A Descriptive Essay by The Writing Center

Rusty was the dog I had when I was seven. He was a golden retriever, and by golden retriever I mean a lot more golden than retriever, because he didn't retrieve. Sometimes I would throw a stick and say to Rusty, "Go on, boy, go get it!" Rusty would, in a state of great alertness, stand there looking at me as if he was thinking, What you just did was totally random and I have no idea what is going to happen next and I'm a little bit excited and a little bit frightened but boy what will you do next? His big brown eyes would get wide and his wet brown nose would twitch a little and he would kind of shift his weight back and forth without moving his feet, as if he were an outfielder just staying kind of really ready for the crack of the bat to happen at any second. But other than that he would do nothing. Rusty, I mean. Not the outfielder. I just made up the outfielder.

But as I said, Rusty truly
was golden. On a sunny day when he was running like wild or jumping over fences with the sun glinting off his long shiny hair and his natural vivaciousness exuding just a kind of heavenly irridesence or what have you, he would actually be so golden that it made your eyes hurt. When he came running out of the irrigation canal behind our house, smelling of junk fish and old filth and stagnant rot, his wet hair would nevertheless have a kind of spun-gold quality to it--almost shampoo commercial-ish, if you know what I mean. If they made commercials for dog shampoo that featured dogs with wet lathered hair flipping their hair all around like they do with ladies in ladies' shampoo commercials, then I assure you Rusty would have been the dog for that. For the dog shampoo commercials, I mean. Not for the lady shampoo commercials. Though I guess you could kind of have a crossover-appeal commercial for men's shampoo where it was like a real tough lumberjack-type guy with a lot of stubble and an ax over his shoulder talking about how shiny his hair was because of his shampoo, and then he might say something like, "And it's great for Rusty here, too--his mane has never looked better!" The dog that walked into frame at that point would have to be my Rusty, because it would be true: he would be looking extremely good, just kind of kickin' it in the living room by the fireplace with his big happy pink tongue just hanging lazily out as if he were thinking, You know, I'm looking good, and life is good, and it's not so bad to be a dog when your mane looks this damn good, I can tell you that, my friend.

WARNING: That essay fragment has deliberately been written with some problems built into it, because the Writing Center doesn't want to get tricked into writing anyone's essay for them. There are paragraphing issues in that essay fragment, and there are issues of wordiness, chattiness, the appearance of comma splices and run-ons, some digression, and questionable use of a speculative anecdote. Let's just say that we write strangely on purpose so that you don't have to.

But that essay fragment
is primarily descriptive. It utilizes some narrative strategies (Rusty not chasing a stick, Rusty in a commercial, Rusty thinking his Rusty thoughts, etc.), but only in the service of a descriptive essay. There is no overarching story that takes over the piece.

The Writing Center would also like to say that it may have gotten a little bit carried away today with that Rusty stuff. Sorry. We'll try to be better tomorrow.

Happy writing!