How to Write a Descriptive Essay
by Chris Angelopoulos
Many forms of writing can be said to be analogous to painting. This comparison is probably most apt for descriptive writing. If a narrative essay is a movie that tells an immersive story, a descriptive essay is a very high resolution image of one particular scene. Like other essays it usually includes the necessary steps of brainstorming, writing a thesis statement, outlining, and any required formatting.
If the topic is not assigned, the first step in writing a descriptive essay is brainstorming. Make sure to check out the article on brainstorming in this series for an overview of how this can be accomplished. The main idea when brainstorming is to generate enough ideas that it is possible to find a suitable subject among them to write about.
Define the Focus
After you have chosen a topic, the next step is to write a thesis statement. For a descriptive essay, the thesis statement should be a summary of what the reader should focus on in the scene described. This also serves to keep you, the writer, focused on the most important aspects of the description. Sketching an outline of the highlights can provide further structure and assist writing. Speare makes it easy to add section headings and easily add to the proper categories as ideas flow.
Staging the Scene
When writing begins in earnest, it may be helpful to constantly consider what sensations or experiences are most important to accurately describe the focus of the scene. Which of the five senses is the most critical to understanding? What emotion is being felt and what caused it? What details stand out and why?
It can help to use vivid, descriptive language to draw the reader in and accurately convey the feeling of the scene. The powerful thundering water cascading over the cliff in a torrent, the elation of a discovery so ground breaking it changes everything, and the ticking of a clock that serves to amplify the panic of being out of time all use colorful words to paint an immersive scene and convey a feeling.
Stay on Point
As with any style of writing, the impact is always greatest when the writer stays focused on the most important idea. There can be plenty of surrounding detail, as long as it serves to enhance the main scene being described. To use the picture metaphor, detail is almost always welcome so long as it enhances the resolution of the image being captured and doesn’t try to paint outside the lines and add details that would distract the reader from the main point.
A well written descriptive essay is focused, descriptive, and draws readers’ attention to a single point within a richly detailed scene. To start painting this picture, write down all important details on paper or using software such as Speare. Then cut down and rearrange content to create the intended work of art.