Tag Archives: tips

Descriptive Writing Tip 2

Use adjectives.

The reader needs details so that they can picture the number/quantity, size, shape, weight, colour, brightness, texture, condition, sound, smell, taste, speed, temperature, age, distance, time, origin, location, emotion towards or opinion of the thing being described.

Take this sentence: “The car raced through the town

I’ve got a good verb – “raced” but otherwise I know very little about either of the things being described – the car or the town. If I add a few adjectives, suddenly these nouns come to life!

“The tiny battered Mini raced through the sleepy seaside town”

You’ll notice I changed “car” to “Mini” so you could picture an actual make and model – “car” is a pretty crap noun because it’s a common noun but other than ‘engine, four wheels’, it doesn’t give you a specific picture in your mind.

For a vast list of adjectives, click on this link.

WARNING: Too many adjectives can make your writing worse, particularly when you select over-used adjectives such as big/small, happy/sad, good/bad, fast/slow. Writing which draws attention to itself – or rather which draws loads of attention to itself by being overly flowery – is known as purple prose.



You’ll annoy the reader because they’ll feel like you’re showing off and you’ll probably slow the pace of your sentences to a crawl as well.

Here is an example of just enough adjectives to keep the flow of the writing and at the same time offer us a clear picture:

“I could see a blue light flashing in the distance. My head was throbbing and when I lifted my swollen hand to my temple, sticky, wet blood smeared my fingertips. A low moan of pain was just barely audible amid the screaming sirens and the screeching whirr of the chainsaw that was going to cut me out of the train wreckage. It was only later I realised that I was the one moaning. Everyone else was dead”

Here’s an example of purple prose – add in 11 more adjectives (the ones I’ve underlined) and suddenly it goes from descriptive & well-paced to incredibly dragged out and intensely irritating!

“I could see a vivid blue light flashing in the far-off distance. My heavy headachy head was throbbing and when I lifted my swollen sore hand to my aching temple, sticky, wet blood smeared my shaking fingertips. A low moan of intense pain was just barely audible amid the screaming sirens and the screeching whirr of the vicious chainsaw that was going to soon cut me out of the twisted train wreckage. It was only later I realised that I was the one moaning. Everyone else was dead”

Some writers prefer a very minimalist style to keep a fast pace in their writing – something like this:

“I could see a blue light flashing. My head was throbbing. I lifted my swollen hand to my temple and blood smeared my fingertips. A moan of pain was just barely audible amid the sirens and the whirr of the chainsaw that was cutting me out of the train wreckage. It was only later I realised I was the one moaning. Everyone else was dead”

So, you don’t HAVE to include loads of adjectives to write descriptively…


Descriptive Writing Tip 1

Verb choice matters.

Take this sentence: “He walked past the window

Now imagine I substitute a different verb – I take out “walked” which doesn’t tell me a lot about HOW he walked, it just offers me a bland fact – he was walking. I can’t picture HOW he walked – but if I change the verb, look at how the picture in your head changes:

He crawled past the window

He staggered past the window

He danced past the window

He skipped past the window

He bounced past the window

He strutted past the window

He shuffled past the window

He stumbled past the window

He tip-toed past the window

He strolled  past the window

He ambled  past the window

He crept past the window

He scampered past the window

He  glided past the window

He charged past the window

He lurched past the window

He trotted past the window


Tips for Hamlet

[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0CqUTmwKiM#!]
“I am having real trouble getting my ideas in order in Hamlet answers and writing strong opening and closing paragraphs…any advice that could help me please :)”
I’ve just received this email and I figure I might as well share my reply with all of you, as this is a common problem I come across. Often students know Act 1 of their Shakespearean play so well that they write over two pages on it. And then cram all of Act 2, 3, 4 and 5 into a page and a half. Not really a good idea.
So here is the reply I sent:
Hi _____,

Well first off, you are not alone. Mastering the skill of writing good introductions and conclusions is very difficult. It’s made worse by the fear of knowing that you MUST ENGAGE fully with the question – so you can have an idea of what you want to say in general if a question comes up on a particular theme or character but you cannot know exactly what words you’ll use until you see the question asked.
Last year for example lots of students were prepared for a question on the theme of revenge but they had to change their ‘prepared’ answer significantly because the question that came up asked to you discuss revenge and justice together. If they just wrote what they’d prepared and ignored the question they didn’t do very well.
Anyway, if you click here http://leavingcertenglish.net/2011/04/hamlet-plot/ you can download a couple of sample paragraphs on specific Hamlet questions.
Also if you follow the rules here http://leavingcertenglish.net/2011/12/introductions-conclusions/ but apply them to the play instead of the poetry you should get a clear sense of what actually goes into an introduction and a conclusion.
If you want to get your ideas in order write down this checklist when brainstorming ideas. It doesn’t work for some questions (e.g. specific question on Ophelia or a question on soliloquies) but for most questions on Hamlet, general theme questions or open questions on the entire play it might come in handy.
10 most important ‘checkpoints’ in Hamlet
1. Court scene
2. Ghost scene
3. Nunnery scene
4. Player’s play
5. Prayer scene
6. Closet scene
7. Ophelia’s madness
8. Laertes return / manipulation by Claudius
9. Graveyard scene
10. Final scene
Hope that helps!