Description is traditionally defined as a painting made with words, and that is true because a good description is the one that makes an impression on the receiver in such a way that he can see mentally the described reality.
When writing descriptive paragraphs, you must put into words what you have seen, heard, tasted, smelled, or felt. You must use your senses and emotions.
What you need to do first is look at what you plan to describe. Or, if you’re writing from memory, choose something that you once observed carefully enough to allow you to recount the exact shapes, the lights and shades, the textures, maybe even the sounds and smells. But don’t include everything, or you may overwhelm your readers. Select the details that will best let your readers perceive what you’re describing. Then search your mind for the precise words that will convey that impression.
We can distinguish 2 kinds of description:
- The objective or technical one which is frequently used in science books.
- The subjective one where someone represents subjectively his vision about a scenery or an object with an aesthetic function. There are also 2 types in it:
ü Concrete descriptions present pictures of people, places or things as our senses perceive them.
ü Abstract/Impressionistic description deals with the presentation of abstractions imaginings or emotions, that which is imagined or felt.
We can distinguish 3 steps in the description process:
- The observation
- The reflexion
- The expression
1. The author must observe previously what he wants to describe. The observation is one of the qualities that must be exercised to describe correctly.
2. After the observation, we go to the reflexion. We have to consider all the data we have received and value them. We have to take the essential things and reject the superficial details received in the observation step. As a description is not a photograph, we have to make a selection. What is being described is always personalized either emphasised or minimised from the author´s point of view.
3. The last step is to look for an adequate expression. It is recommended to make a plan for work where we can organize all the material taken in the previous steps, before giving the definite form. If we want to get an ordered and coherent presentation, we have to make an outline.
What can we describe?
Everything we perceive not only through sight, but taste, sense of touch, hearing and smell can be described. Every object of reality can be converted into descriptive material. But apart from this, several aspects of the internal and psychic world such as sensations, feelings and emotions can be described.
There are no limits, but these last aspects are more difficult to describe than the description of an object or a scenery. In either cases, the description can be taken from the real world or from the imagination.
Types of description:
- According to the object we describe and its relationship with the subject:
ü The portrait or person description. If it refers to the physical aspects, we call it prosopography. If it refers to the moral qualities, we call it etopeya. However, the most frequent is to find the portrait of a person where there is reference to his physical and psychological aspects at the same time (his way of thinking, his personality, his preoccupations etc.) The author has to convey the image of the person in such a way that we can “visualize” him immediately.
Sometimes the writer gives his own point of view about the person described and he can even deform and ridicule him and make a cartoon.
ü Abstract reality such as a sensation, a feeling, an emotion, that is, aspects of the psychic world. The author has to take some sense elements to approach us the images which are so difficult to “paint” with words.
ü A scenery: The author describes the objects he has in front of him, organising them as he wants, just as a painter in front of an object tries to capture colour and light. In novels these descriptive fragments are used to inform us about the place where the action takes place.
ü Cinematographic: Through this kind of description, the author tries to capture a varied atmosphere in movement, where several sensations are mixed. The heterogeneity is its most important feature. The receiver sees a show as if he was watching a film. The author, as if he was a camera, offers simultaneous images that form a whole.
- According to the form I which the content is manifested:
ü The author offers us the aspects of things, their appearance in a static way, as if they remained out of time, without movement.
ü A description can be done in a dynamic and varied way. With this way we select the details that best represent the impression we have received, giving subjective features to the description. Between the reader and the object, we find the author who organises reality to facilitate a given interpretation.
Procedures used in description:
The most relevant features in description offer a given configuration:
1. Verbal forms: The most used ones in descriptive texts are the present and the past. With the present we convey the atemporal condition of the description. With the past we circumscribe it to a given temporal period. In both cases we do not mention the end of the action, so the use of forms in the non-perfective aspect is very common. The combination of present and past is also very frequent.
- The adjective: In all descriptive texts we have a predominance of nouns and adjectives because the reference to objects is greater than the reference to actions. Nouns abound in descriptive texts because they name the objects in reality. But even more important than the noun, we have adjective: They complete the information conveyed by the noun, they can tinge the sense and give a greater expressivity to the noun phrase.
We take into account all the necessary kind of adjectives to understand better a noun, for instance epithets, that is, adjectives with an aesthetic purpose.
The correct dealing of adjectives requires a great hold on language. It is not very convenient to accumulate adjectives in descriptions but to use only the ones that can be best adapted to the affective sense the author wants to convey.
The use of adjectives in description fulfils a very important role: they emphasize the sense components that we can find in every description.
- Syntactic structures: In description we have a predominance of yuxtaposed and coordinated structures.
ü We use yuxtaposition when we want to convey the described object as a whole, getting a simultaneity of the impressions we receive.
ü We use coordination when we want to convey dynamism because it introduces the notion of succession of the different components of description: and/but/or.
- Stylistic devices: The descriptive text usually has a frequent use of literary devices. As the writer has to convey his own personal view about the reality he tries to describe, it is very normal that he uses literary devices. Among them the most frequent ones are the simile and the metaphore, but we can also mention alliteration, personification and hyperbole.
Three steps in the descriptive text:
- The invention of materials which refer to the observation of what is going to be described.
- The disposition of materials in a concrete order, which is the selection of things which are going to be described, that is, the type of description.
- The elocution or expression of the text with the form in which the content is manifested with all the stylistic devices used in it.