Descriptive Essays

Vivid image

Up to recently, students felt relatively confident that they were choosing from amongst four genres in the composing section of the Leaving Cert English Paper 1 – you wrote a

  1. short story
  2. personal essay
  3. newspaper/magazine article or
  4. speech/debate

Occasionally you’d have the option to write a series of diary entries, but this has more or less disappeared from composing and is more likely to appear as a QB.

Descriptive words

Anyway, descriptive essays have started to make an appearance on the paper, a fact which I am bloody delighted about! To my mind, they are a half-way house between the short story and the personal essay. If you’re good at descriptive writing, this is a great option to choose instead of the short story because you don’t have to worry about creating a plausible ‘plot’. As long as you can describe vividly, you can potentially get full marks here. With personal essays, you will often (nay should!) write in a descriptive way but you’ll also feel the need to reveal your personality; the essence of who you are as a person. So the descriptive essay is once again a less prescriptive option, because you’ve don’t have to worry about laying bare your soul.

For a full and detailed discussion of what exactly descriptive writing is and how to do it yourself, click on this post “Language of Narration & Description“. Meanwhile, here are the two descriptive essay titles that have come up so far – they’re very open and very doable imho.

2013 Write a descriptive essay based on a variety of glimpsed moments.

2011 Write a descriptive essay about twenty-four hours in the life of a town or city.

Here’s a link to a descriptive essay I wrote a while back, called ‘fragments from a lost weekend‘. I deliberately used lower case letters in the title to try and reflect my sense that this was a series of throwaway fragments; and also perhaps the idea that my experience was minor and insignificant by comparison to what my friend suffered in losing her dad.

Some would argue it’s a short story; others that it’s a personal essay. I think it’s both and neither. I think ultimately I was trying to write a descriptive essay which would capture the void which gapes open in a person’s life when they lose a parent.


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