Dear Gather Familia:
Two weeks ago, we looked at Description, specifically Objective Description. This week, we consider the other broad category of descriptive writing: Subjective Description.
Good objective description creates a picture in precise detail.Â The writer is like a camera.Â The better the writer does her job, the better will the reader be able to picture (or otherwise experience) the thing being described.
Subjective description introduces the writerâ€™s feelings about and responses to the thing or scene being described.Â The point of view is filtered through one particular personâ€™s perception.
[The perception] may emerge idealized, like a landscape by a romantic painter.Â It may be distorted and made ugly, like a reflection in a funhouse mirror.Â Idealization and distortion are perfectly legitimate.Â The writer of subjective description signs no contract to deliver literal truth.Â â€œHere,â€ he or she says, â€œis how I see it.â€ Yet the description may reveal a deeper truth than mere objective accuracy, and, like an artistâ€™s caricature, make plain a subtle reality.
[Thomas S. Kane:Â The Oxford Essential Guide To Writing; NY: Berkeley Publishing Group, 2000. Emphasis mine.]
Details are chosen selectively to create a particular impression. The better the writer does his job, the better will the reader be able to place herself inside the skin of the person experiencing and responding to the scene.
The description may include direct statements of feeling or emotional response.Â â€œEverything is helpless, hopeless, unrelieved, and dirty.â€Â Jack London.Â â€œThe whole place had an air of tidiness, thrift, and modest comfort.â€Â Thomas Wolfe.
The description may eschew such statements and convey the writerâ€™s impression entirely by the selection of details and the language and diction with which those details are portrayed.
â€œCarts and trucks flank the sidewalk; one walks through crates of curled parsley, scallions piled with ice, wagonloads of spinach with tender mauve stalks, moist baskets of crisp kale; sacks of white onions in oyster-white fishnet, pink onions in sacks of old rose; piles of eggplant with purple reflections, white garlic and long sea-green leeks with shredded roots, grey-white like witchesâ€™ hair.â€Â John Peale Bishop.
This type of description is called â€œcatalog description.â€Â The profusion of precisely-described images of colors and flavors, full of freshness and organic beauty, communicate a feeling of vitality and abundance far better than could any abstract blanket statement.
Here is a very different example of details chosen to create a particular impression; in this instance, the description also includes evaluative statements (value judgments) along with the vividly described details.
â€œI found great variation in the houses I visited.Â Some were as decent as one could possibly expect in the circumstances, some were so appalling that I have no hope of describing them adequately.Â To begin with, the smell, the dominant and essential thing, is indescribable.Â But the squalor and the confusion!Â A tub full of filthy water here, a basin full of unwashed crocks there, more crocks piled in any odd corner, torn newspaper littered everywhere, and in the middle always the same dreadful table covered with sticky oilcloth and crowded with cooking pots and irons and half-darned stockings and pieces of stale bread and bits of cheese wrapped round with greasy newspaper!â€Â George Orwell.
One overarching principle must be kept in mind:Â as framed by our friend Thomas Kane, The Impression Must Be Fixed In Images.
While subjective description often states an impression directly, it cannot rest on abstract statement.Â Feeling must be fixed in images, in details appealing to the senses.Â Only details, emotionally charged, make the impression real.
[Kane, op. cit.]
Choose a scene. The possibilities are endless: a farmerâ€™s market, a family Christmas gathering, a subway station, a forest glade, a landfill, an ocean beach, a ski slope, a football game, the home of one of those pathological hoarders you see on TV, etc.
Think about how you feel about that scene, or put yourself inside the mind of someone who feels a particular way about it. (If youâ€™re a fan, describing his home from the point of view of thehoarder would be awesome. Or, say, describing a kindergarten from the point of view of a student on her first day.)
Describe the scene subjectively, through the lens of the personal experience of yourself (if personal nonfiction) or the narrator (if fiction). Choose details that contribute to the impression you wish to convey. Make your language (the metaphors and similes you choose, the dictionâ€”sounds and intensityâ€”of the words, the connotations of the words) fit and contribute to that impression.
Read my essay â€œMasada By The Sea.â€ Answer these questions:
- Is this objective or subjective description or some of both?Â Why?
- What are some of the images and what senses do they appeal to?
- What is the scheme of organization for this descriptive passage?
- What overall impression is the author trying to convey?
- What metaphors, allusions, and other rhetorical devices are used to convey that impression and how?
- PutÂ SunWE in the title and tags.
- Share your post with Gather Writing Essential group.
- Indicate in some way which devices or techniques I should be paying attention to. Â (If responding to todayâ€™s, put Subjective Description in the title field.)
- This prompt does not turn into a pumpkin a week (or even two) from today.Â If your piece isnâ€™t done in the next week or two, get it in when you can.Â This is supposed to be fun.
- I will comment on every submission and include a link to it in the next column.
- If you would like a little more academic critiqueâ€”but still very friendly and positiveâ€”include the word "rigorous" in your post (e.g. "rigorous critique wanted").
Responses to previous prompts below. Let me know if I missed yours.
byÂ Virginia M.
by sarah leanne
Â© 2012 Douglas J. Westberg. All Rights Reserved. Â Please share this on Gather.com, and elsewhere on the web by means of a link back to this page, but please do not copy. Â Doug's latest book is The Depressed Guy's Book of Wisdom from Chipmunka Publishing.
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