English Composition I
Home Page >> Information Sheets >> Description
Description is a very important tool that writers tend to either use too much or too little. Too much description makes your writing very florid and heavy -- "The heavy branches drooped with long, slimy tendrils of Spanish Moss that slowly dripped splashes of fluorescent green liquid that looked like water but smelled like some lost item in the refrigerator long past its expiration date." Too little description doesn't let the reader know exactly what you are trying to tell us about the subject -- "The tree had ugly green stuff on it and smelled bad."
How much description to use depends on the mood and context that you are trying to create. The first description up above might work if you are most interested in creating a mood, or detailing the environment in some detail. However, if your essay just needs a quick setting, this extensive of a description will distract the reader and make them forget the point that you are trying to make. Pick and choose carefully. Describe the most important points and evidence in great detail. Give quick, simple descriptions of everything else. Use description to send the reader signals about what's most important
The main thing that the writer can do with description is to remember that we live in a world that's more than just visual. The vast majority of description used in writing is visual, because we are most used to getting our information visually through TV, reading, movies, etc. We tend to ignore the information that we can give to our readers using our other senses.
We've all seen people being shot or car accidents in the movies and TV. These are cliches, visually. However, since most people haven't been shot or been in a bad car accident, they don't know what it's really like to experience those events. That gives you the opportunity to show your actual experience in contrast to what everyone already "knows" is true visually.
If describing a gunshot, don't focus so much on the visual clues, what the gun looks like, the puff of smoke and flare of the gun firing. We've all seen that hundreds of times in cop shows and movies. Instead, focus on the other senses.
The more specific you can be, the more real your readers will see your experience.
When describing a car accident, don't get so involved in the chronological blow by blow of what happened that you forget to give us the details that make it real. Help the reader feel the disorientation and confusion as too much information comes in at once to make sense.