Writing Assignment: Description and Details

by Randy Murray on March 26, 2010

If your goal is to become a better writer, you need to practice. Here’s your writing assignment for today: write a short description focusing on clear details.

One of the keys to good writing is the ability to a person, place, or thing and provides enough details to allow the reader to accurately imagine that which you are describing. “Evocative” is the term used to describe a writer’s ability to elicit a response. To achieve this, you’ll need to be able to master description and the right level of details.

Details are like the individual strokes in a pencil drawing. A skilled artist can use just a few masterful lines to create a representation of a thing. The writer can do the same thing with details. It’s your choice on how detailed you wish to be, but remember, it’s never a good idea to overwhelm a reader with a laundry list of descriptive items.

For today’s assignment, write a short piece describing an object. Focus on the specific, physical details of this thing, providing the reader with enough so they can picture the item. When you are satisfied with your work, give it to a reader and ask for their comments and responses.

Here’s my example:

“The last of the snow melted and I made my way around the side of the house. With the ice and snow piled high, I hadn’t been past the edge of the patio in weeks. But I was ready for this unusually warm early March day and I fetched a leaf bag and my pruning shears from the garage and went to check on the Lenten Roses.

The leaves from last season are still firm and green, although now they are tinged with brown and lie flat across the mulch bed. I debate every year about removing these, but they come back so strong each time and I find that I can’t resist pruning them back. So I squat along the brick path and begin snipping them as close to the damp, black mulch as I can manage. You have to be careful with these leaves. They’re as big as my hand and have sharp, serrated edges, as if someone had shaped them out of painted tin with pinking shears. They were pressed against the mulch by two feet of snow, but last summer they were a solid dome of deep, dark green in the heavy shade of this corner patch.

And I see I’m none to early. This year’s shoots and the plump strawberry-sized flower buds are already being dragged aloft. These buds must be heavy, bowing towards the ground, devout in their attitude, showing their open faces only to the earth.

I can’t remember if I set them this way intentionally, but the outer two plants are the faintest purple, the middle one white.  And they are aggressively pushing out of the ground. They must have been heaving against the snow cover, and now free, they’re defiantly stretching up, challenging the weather, daring it to snow or rain. It’s clear they don’t care.

I trim the leaves away carefully; these new shoots are tender.  I think they’ll reach eight or ten inches high in a week, and not long after they’ll start putting out their leaves, and these shy, drooping flowers will quickly disappear beneath the open, impenetrable umbrella of firm, sharp leaves. This is one tough plant. Down the row, the ferns appear tissue paper thin and light in comparison. But that’s a deception. The ferns are resilient and strong in their own way. They’re just not impenetrable like the Lenten Roses who seem literally bulletproof in their construction.

It doesn’t take long, and by the time I’ve cleaned up and bagged the trimmings, the bag is nearly half full.  The three plants are free, spring-ready, prepared to stretch, yawn, and spread out for a leisurely spring and summer in the shade.”

You may leave your completed assignment in the comments section below.

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