Beware Careless Descriptions

A great post on The Elegant Variation last week shared the dangers of descriptions. It reminded me of notes I often write on my students’ essays when they’re trying to describe something. More often than not, the description is worded just oddly enough to cause something weird to happen in the sentence.

For example, I once had a student who was trying to describe the differences between summer and winter, and she had a sentence that had people sitting in a roaring fire while drinking cocoa. I’ve had several students talk about their modular body parts in essays about video games where the characters’ bodies were not meant to be easily taken apart. I always have the student read the sentence aloud to me and then I read it back to them before asking them to rewrite the sentence to say what the student really intended to say. Usually, the student has a great laugh when they hear what they wrote, and are only too happy to take the minute or five necessary to restructure the sentence.

Careless descriptions are a lot like misplaced modifiers. Both creep into your writing when you aren’t looking, and you might completely miss them when reading over your work quietly but they should jump out at you when you read over your work out loud. If you still find yourself having trouble finding them, then find a trusted friend or teacher to read over your essay or story for careless descriptions.


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