Saturday, March 10, 2012

Examples of Effective Description

1.   From Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong:
         "The whaling station was a rough spot, with the carcasses of blue and humpback whales putrefying in the midnight sun, and the harbor red with blood and shimmering with grease around the oil factory.  Billowing clouds of steam rose from the plant where blubber was being boiled down.  According to Harry McNeish, the ship's Scottish carpenter, "Ye could sniff the aroma if ye were five miles out to wind'ard."  The crew soon gave the harbor the sarcastic name "the Scent Bottle."  From the mountainsides echoed the harsh donkey bray of gentoo penguins, the screech of skuas, and the bellowing of elephant seals."  (pages 12-13)

Extra Credit for finding an example of very effective description in a book.  Show me. 

Inside District School #7, Niagara County, New York

by Joyce Carol Oates
     Inside, the school smelled smartly of varnish and wood smoke from the potbellied stove. On gloomy days, not unknown in upstate New York in this region south of Lake Ontario and east of Lake Erie, the windows emitted a vague, gauzy light, not much reinforced by ceiling lights. We squinted at the blackboard, that seemed far away since it was on a small platform, where Mrs. Dietz's desk was also positioned, at the front, left of the room. We sat in rows of seats, smallest at the front, largest at the rear, attached at their bases by metal runners, like a toboggan; the wood of these desks seemed beautiful to me, smooth and of the red-burnished hue of horse chestnuts. The floor was bare wooden planks. An American flag hung limply at the far left of the blackboard and above the blackboard, running across the front of the room, designed to draw our eyes to it avidly, worshipfully, were paper squares showing that beautifully shaped script known as Parker Penmanship.
In this paragraph (originally published in Washington Post Book World and reprinted in "Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art," Joyce Carol Oates affectionately describes the "single-room schoolhouse" she attended from first through fifth grades. Notice how she appeals to our sense of smell before moving on to describe the layout and contents of the room.

The Meteor Show
The much advertised meteor show this summer was a memory ot behold. The air was crisp and cool. I did not even feel a hint of a breeze on my skin as I lie on my back in the darkness. The warm temperature of the water against the cooler air created a drifting airy fog that whispered over the lake. Darkness enveloped the sky as only a slight curve of the moon shone in the night; consequently, this made the perfect stage for the breathtaking view of twinkling stars. In the still of the night many galaxies glittered from the depths of the sky as I felt hypnotically drawn into the mesmorizing show above me. Broad irregular bands of light from the Milky Way stretched across the sky while the big and little dipper shined brightly. As predicted, the meteor show began with various sized meteors cascading to the earth's atmosphere about every fifteen to thirty seconds. Shots of light, followed by orange and white mist, describes the presence of the meteors. The panoramic view made it possible to witness several meteors at a time while marveling at each one. An event like this may only happen once in a lifetime, so I will cherish this moment and it will remain as one of my fondest memories.
~© 2005 Leslie Malsam~

Not a place, but well-described!
The Hot Fudge Sundae
In front of me on the table sat a beautiful pure white bowl, simplistic in design, hiding a decadent surprise inside. In the bowl was hidden something that was not so pure, however, the irresistible indulgence was worth every calorie that I knew it contained. As I looked inside I saw on the bottom of the bowl a hot, tender brownie loaded with macadamia nuts. I knew from past experience that the nuts had a creamy and smooth texture, almost like white chocolate. On top of the brownie were two firmly packed scoops of ice cream, laying side by side, each one a different flavor. The scoop on the right was a rich vanilla, flecked with dark specks of vanilla bean. The scoop on the left was a dark, smooth, bittersweet chocolate. The scoops were just starting to melt tiny rivers of melted cream down the sides of the hot brownie, pooling on the bottom of the pure white bowl. These scoops of ice cream were draped with a sumptuous, rich, hot fudge sauce. Topping the luscious sauce was an ample dollop of whipped cream that was in perfect contrast to the dense, almost too rich dessert below. The whipped cream was topped with a shower of chocolate sprinkles and finely chopped walnuts. What finally completed this wonderful creation was a perfect maraschino cherry, its red juice sending tiny streams down the whole mountain of dessert delight. The contrast of colors, textures and flavors in this dessert appealed to every part of my senses. I could not wait to eat it.
~© 2005 Kelly Cofske~