Deadly Good Descriptive Writing Guide

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Descriptive Writing

A lone writer slumps across a desk, cradling an old timely typewriter. White light fused through a green shade arcs light across a slice of room, gently illuminating the writer. Stale cigarette smoke and bourbon breath permeate the air of the small, over-full room. The floor is papered with partially used sheets from the typewriter, some crinkled, some smooth, some under the writer’s chair’s wheels, branded with tire marks. The cheap ticking sound of a Dollar Store battery-operated clock is audible when the traffic from the street below ebbs between changes of the stoplight. Yesterday’s cheese and crackers, or something that looks like it might once have been cheese and crackers, lays upon a chipped white saucer. A cigarette butt ground into a piece of cheese stands like some version of a flag.

The previous passage is an example of descriptive writing. Descriptive writing is also referred to as a word picture. Word pictures are organized around space, unlike any other type of writing, and they seek to provide the reader with a sensory experience of the topic of the writing. Word pictures may also set the scene for creative writing pieces. Writing and writing classes often begin with descriptive writing because it is one of the easiest and most useful types of writing, which is not to say that it is easy, merely that for some writers it can be less difficult than other types of writing. Note in the paragraph above that the most memorable and compelling parts of the paragraph appeal to one of the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. Of these, taste and touch are the hardest to incorporate into descriptive writing, unless your topic is food. So, descriptive writing, then, is writing that paints a word picture using appeals to the five senses and organized around space because space, and what does or does not occupy it, is what is written about.

Descriptive writing is of two sorts; subjective and objective. In an objective description, the writer includes only descriptive information that any observer could see. In a subjective description, the writer includes not just the obvious physical details of a scene, but also his/her personal opinions and observations about it. Both types of description rely on adverbs, words that describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs, and adjectives, words that describe nouns and other substantives and tell what kind or how many. Most writing requires spare use of adverbs and adjectives, but description is made of them, so use them as lavishly as you like in your writing, but, please, use them accurately so your word picture peels off the page and dances in the imagination of the reader.

Suitable topics for descriptive writing follow, but first, just a brief word on topics. The suitability of a topic is determined not just by what it is about but also by what it isn’t about. When working on your topic statement or thesis statement, remember to keep the topic narrow enough to fit into the page limit. For instance, politics is a whole subject not suitable for an essay of two or three pages, but Oklahoma politics since the ALEC and the Kochs’ money took over the State House, is narrow enough to fit into a few pages. One more time, health is too broad a topic for a short paper, but hospice care in Oklahoma since 2014 is narrow enough to fit into a short paper. By all means, write about anything you want, but make sure that you can give the topic the space it needs to be fully examined. Accomplish that by narrowing your topic in the very beginning of the writing.

  1. The best meal I ever ate was. . .
  2. The prettiest thing I have ever seen was. . .
  3. The thing I like most about my looks is. . .
  4. The most eccentric person I have ever known was. . .
  5. The best teacher I ever had looked like. . .
  6. My bedroom looks like. . .
  7. My car looks like. . .
  8. The Grand Canyon looks. . .
  9. The ocean is. . .
  10. My car is so dirty that. . .
  11. My most ugly boyfriend/girlfriend looked like. . .
  12. When I look at a painting, I see. . .
  13. When I look outside, I see. . .

By Karlane Kraner and Forest Green, staff writers

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Creative Writing Prompts to Awaken Even Dead Creative People

If you like a little foreplay to get your motor running, have some fun with these. Don’t say we didn’t warn you that they are what we like to call, “outside the mainstream” where we live. Who do you really, really detest? Why, and what might you do about it someday. Think up your own version of The Great Train Robbery and write down the plan. Then build a novel around the heist. Sure, heist stories have been written before

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If you like a little foreplay to get your motor running, have some fun with these. Don’t say we didn’t warn you that they are what we like to call, “outside the mainstream” where we live. You may click here to go to some prompts for younger writers.

  1. Who do you really, really detest? Why, and what might you do about it someday.
  2. Think up your own version of The Great Train Robbery and write down the plan. Then build a novel around the heist. Sure, heist stories have been written before. Hell, after Shakespeare put his quill down, as they say, it was all written. But with strong characterization, complex plot twists, and taut suspense throughout, you just might write something good. I detest people who pigeonhole genre fiction because the best of everything written could be placed in a genre, and then so what?
  3. What part of your brother-in-law would you fix if you could? Would you fix him and then maybe do the same favor for your immediate friends? How about your partner’s flaws? Would you fix them as well if you could? How far would it all go?
  4. Since we are living 7 billion to a planet made for 3 billion, how will we solve the overpopulation problem, the elephant in the room that one no one wants to talk about? To what lengths do you believe people will go to curb the birth rate?
  5. Have you ever cheated on your partner? Describe what would happen if you were discovered.
  6. Invent a character with a secret, make it a horrible secret, and then write about how far you would go if it were your secret to protect.
  7. Imagine that you awoke tomorrow morning in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Libya, and you are the appropriate ethnicity for the country you choose, and you can speak the language. However, you have no money, you are ignorant of even the simplest customs, and you are very old and very infirm, so much that walking out of where you are is impossible. Find a way back.
  8. You went out in the woods with some friends to camp and your buzz on, and whilst you were wasted, one of your party went missing. You all search but no matter what you do, you can’t get a phone signal, and you can’t find the missing guy. When you return to camp, your camp gear is gone, and the spot looks untouched. What happens next?
  9. The love of your life loves someone else. Your love will forever be unrequited. An opportunity comes up for you to buy the house next door to your unrequited love and his or her partner. What do you do, and how does it all shake out? Is it more painful never to see the love, or is it more painful to be apart?
  10. You have just hit and killed a person walking alongside the roadway in the dark. You are a little buzzed. You stop and learn your victim is dead. You tell yourself that it was his fault for being on the road, and you drive away. Early the next morning, the sheriff is at your door because the walker’s phone recorded everything, including your face and part of your license tag. What happens next?
  11. You are living in your car in a major city. You have a job, but you can’t get a place to live until you get a paycheck. There is a perverse rich man who patrols the areas where homeless people can park their cars to sleep in them without drawing attention from the police, and he finds people like you who don’t know how to be homeless, who have just had a setback this one time, and he tempts them because they are economically helpless maybe for the first time and vulnerable in a way they may never be again. What are you willing to do for this man to get a safe place of your own to live and shower in? What do you think this man could compel others to do in exchange for getting off the street?
  12. You are a talented professional dancer in the prime of your career. Yesterday, you were in a wreck and your legs had to be amputated. Your drunken partner was driving. You thought your partner was sober. What will you do next?
  13. My Cherokee grandfather told a story about two wolves. These two wolves live within us all. One wolf is angry, hungry, snarling, and quick to fight. The other wolf is calm, a reliable part of the pact in hunts, satisfied with the pieces of meat he gets, and quick to mend riffs in the pack. These wolves struggle against each other inside of us. When asked which wolf wins the struggle, Grandfather said, “The one you feed.” Write a beautiful poem or story about that struggle.

As always, thank you for reading, and use these prompts in any way you like, by Ricardo Verde.  

Here is the best book on creative writing ever written. Click on it to read or buy it.becomgwrt
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Creative Writing Exercises for Advanced Writers

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Creative Writing Exercises

by Gwyni L’Pouh Green

Beloved Fellow Writing Fanatics:

The following really difficult writing situations are designed to get you thinking about how to apply the salient plethora of writing tools and strategies you have to various pretend real life writing scenarios. I made the situations sticky, tricky, awkward and hard on purpose. To be effective writers, you must be able to select and apply your writing skills arsenal in ever changing new ways or the skills will be of little use to you. I encourage you to think way outside the box on these writing and thinking assignments. Take risks.

Writing Prompts

  1. (Thinking about audience/tone)  You have been caught streaking through the Tiger Fountain in the middle of campus during Homecoming Week. Photographs of you in the act of streaking have been published in the campus newspaper. Without question, you are guilty. You did it. Now, working within these assignment parameters, compose a letter explaining your actions to one of the following persons or groups: 1. your pastor; 2. your parents; 3. the president of ECU; 4. your buddies. Then, make this letter a flashback to college where your protagonist met his or her friend who changed everything.
  2. (Thinking about persuasion)  You are a firm believer in extraterrestrial life forms having visited and taken up residence here on Earth. You want to persuade the National Science Foundation that you are correct in your belief, that you are not insane, and that the Foundation should fund your research. Your research is aimed at contacting and exchanging information with aliens. Write a persuasive essay that contains at least three well developed arguments in favor of your contention, one demonstrating pathos, one demonstrating ethos, and one demonstrating logos arguments (if you want to, of course). Note that this has more or less been done since we do have SETI and a continual greeting broadcast from our planet. This prompt was intended as an introduction to a science fiction novel, or a contemporary story about being sane in insane places, the power of belief, the power of staunch disbelief, but it could go anywhere your imagination takes it.
  3. (Thinking more about persuasion)  You are an unfortunate victim of neurofibromatosis, the Elephant Man’s disease.  You are lucky because only your face and hands are covered with 100’s of small, marble-sized tumors, which are harmless and not contagious. Other than the superficial disfigurement of your face and hands, you suffer neither discomfort nor disability. However, your most cherished dream is to work as an advocate for a small, remotely located Native tribe called the No-Uglies. You need the tribe’s invitation to relocate to the Amazon Basin where they live. Your degree is in anthropology, and you know more about the No-Uglies than anyone alive. You absolutely love them, and although you have never met any of them in person, the No-Uglies have your heart already. The No-Uglies are a simple and charming people whom, you realize, need your help because their ancestral home, previously remote enough to protect them from exploitation by others, is about to become adjacent to a superhighway. The first obstacle you must overcome is to persuade the No Uglies to hire you in spite of the fact that the No-Uglies believe character weakness and/or demons cause illness and disease and that these same demons or flaws can jump out of one person and into another, spreading flaws and disease throughout the entire tribe. How can they trust you in light of your obvious physical condition?  How can they admit you into their living quarters? The second obstacle is that the No-Uglies value beauty and physical perfection above all else and consider physical imperfections extremely unlucky. Thus, not only are you a Typhoid Mary to them, you are also every unlucky omen combined and multiplied by 100.  Now, write a persuasive letter of application to the No-Uglies explaining why they should set aside their beliefs and hire you as their advocate and let you live among them. Go anywhere this one takes you! Although it is circa 2006, it reads fresh and resonant today.
  4. (Thinking about tone/style) You must write a condolence letter to the parents of your best friend whom you accidentally killed in a car accident while you were driving drunk last weekend. Humor won’t work here at all, so don’t use it. Try to puzzle out a unique approach, but if you fail to do so, then write in a serious, heartfelt style that convinces me you are sorry and realize the gravity of what you have done. Only you know that you were drunk as you were not ticketed, so you may decide for yourself how much you are going to tell these parents, whom you have known all of your life. What if the story started there. . . .
  5. (Thinking about persuasion) You must write to the Dean of Forgiveness for failing to carry a 2.0 grade point average for three semesters in a row. Be creative here and try to come up with solid reasons for all of the failing semesters and for your overall uninspiring performance.  Use tone and style appropriate for addressing a Dean who controls your fate at college. Opportunities for irony abound.
  6. (Obsessively thinking about persuasion) You must write a letter either to a charitable foundation that funds sex change operations or to the Head of the Bureau of Federal Prisons because you urgently need a sex change operation or you will surely die within 6 months for reasons unknown and unchangeable but certainly accurate.  However, you have two large obstacles preventing you from obtaining your surgery: First you are imprisoned for importing exotic animals into the US; and second you are blind in one eye and can’t see well out of the other so written communication is especially hard and slow for you. You need others on your side to win your sex change. The Chaplain has said he believes you need the operation while the Warden has said you are just a mental case. The prison doctor is also blind in one eye and nearly deaf, so you don’t know if she has recommended that you receive your surgery or not. Written long before Chelsey Manning was even out of grade school, this prompt doesn’t seem to age, either.
  7. (manipulation of facts) You must write a Dear Terry (formerly a Dear John Letter) to your fiancé, who is serving min Iraq. Your only reason for breaking up with him or her is that you have been caught seeing his/her sister, and so you know you will be informed on soon anyway. You started cheating even before your fiancé went away for his/her tour of duty.  In fact, you were never faithful. You are not a nice or good person, but you are a person who cares what others think of you, so you must find a way to justify your behavior in the letter while at the same time breaking up and making the break-up seem to be your fiancé’s fault. Wouldn’t this make for a rip-snorting romance novel just rife with spins?
  8. You must write a letter to John Deere explaining why you think they should replace a very expensive tractor you bought from them. Your brother got drunk and drove the tractor into the pond after which it wouldn’t run like a deere anymore. You have no money to repair or replace it. You also honestly believe it is the company’s fault because tractors should be designed for such use and you explain why. Perhaps, in the spirit of Eudora Welty, a writer could use this prompt as a point of departure for a family-centered novel.

End Note: JFYI I originally wrote these prompts for my college students to get them to both stretch their rhetorical legs and to painlessly instill a sense of consciousness about their own writing in them. I was trying for that sweet spot in teaching where you have pushed and peeled just enough to show them what they already know without leaving raw spots of resentment on them. I wrote just the first three or so and took the exercise into the classroom where it was so well-received and effective that I wrote a few more and made them a standard component of my composition sections. Later, I found that they work for all types of writers. I write all of this by way of an apology for the bossy, directive tone.
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