As part of the series of writing tips that I’ve posted on my website for student writers, two of the pieces focus on description. The first addresses the importance of using all five senses in description. The second talks about writing description in a way that evokes a particular feeling in readers.
Here’s a suggestion for a brief activity using these posts in your classroom. It could be structured either as a discussion about writing or as a discussion about careful reading:
- Talk through the advice from these two posts with your students.
- Read students the paragraph below from my novel Shelter from the Wind.
- Point out to students that at no point in the paragraph do I explicitly state what the character is feeling. Readers must pay careful attention to the description of the setting, the description of the character, and the description of her actions to figure that out.
- Tell students you are going to read the paragraph again, slowly, but that this time you would like them to listen for any clues to the character’s feelings.
- Ask students to share what they noted.
- Tell students that at this point in the story, Stacy feels angry and unwanted, so has decided to run away from home. Did the clues I gave as a writer signal those feelings in some way?
Here is the passage:
“The wind pushed against her. It blew warm now at 8:30 in the morning. Soon it would blow hot across the high plains. Stacy put her hands into the pockets of her jeans and walked with her head bent watching the dusty tips of her sneakers. When she got to the street, she turned left and walked the half a block to the highway and began walking away from her home and her father’s store. She could hear the rusty Seven-Up sign that creaked rhythmically in the doorway, the sound she had gone to sleep to as long as she could remember, but she didn’t turn around to look.”
from Shelter from the Wind, copyright © 1976 by Marion Dane Bauer (but still available in a more recent edition!)