Monday, April 16, 2007

Lights, Cameras, Description!!!
(Okay, we know that’s a really cheesy title)

So the teacher has asked you to describe a place, but not use narrative. You may be thinking, “Dude, that’s so boring, what I did on my camping trip was so much cooler than just describing the place.” However, if the instructor has asked for description, it might be a good idea to try and stick to the assignment.

How to start? Everyone likes the movies, right? Is a movie boring? Okay, some might be, but that’s not the point. Think of how many movies you have seen. Think of how they start. A lot of times the first few minutes of a film has an establishing shot or a series of establishing shots that give you a brief idea of the setting and characters. A long shot of the place, or a close up of the character that is going to be developed are visual signals that hint at things to come. Your descriptive essay should give similar clues to your reader.

Think of your first paragraph as that long shot establishing place. Think about your place not as if you were entering the room and walking through it step by step, but as though you could see it at a distance. What are some of the general elements that you can see from a distance? What colors stand out? What shapes stand out? If you could compare this bigger picture to something, what would it be?

Now the camera is going to zoom in on something that is interesting and important in this bigger picture, perhaps a character or a thing that is important to this place. This may be a good time to start a new paragraph. Now that you have focused more closely on the details of something in your place start to describe it. Now hit the pause button. If you were watching a film there are probably many details in the frame, which the director has carefully placed there. You are creating a frame with your paragraph too. Only instead of visuals you will be using words.

So what catches your attention in a film? Bright colors? Fast cuts in the film? Noir lighting? A snazzy sound track? Sexy actors? The words you use are going to be doing this same kind of work to keep your reader interested. A film works on all of your senses; a good written description should also. So instead of saying something is blue, try something like electric blue, violet blue, hazy-cloud blue. Or instead of the metal door, try the metal door that looked like it belonged to a safe vault and gleamed under the streetlight like neon lights reflected on wet pavement. Okay, that might be overdoing it, but you get the idea.

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