A descriptive essay focuses on making one single dominant impression on the reader--an overall attitude, mood, or feeling about the subject. Is it dusty, dry, colorful, hazy, foggy, cold, or hot? Here is an example of a sentence that begins a dominant impression:
"The train track wandered down a skinny valley that was flanked by a steep cliff of vegetation on either side. The track was abandoned, forgotten, solitary, and alone."
Use Sensory Details
To create a strong dominant impression, a writer should use the five senses to guide his or her description:
- what does it look like?
- what does it smell like?
- what does it feel like?
- what does it sound like?
- what does it taste like?
Example: "In the morning, my father's car throbbed and fluttered when he turned the key."
Select Active Verbs
Use active verbs, not passive tense.
(Original) "The team captain proudly accepted the award.
(Revised) "The team captain marched to the podium; grasped the trophy; and, using two hands, held it high above his head."
Employ Connotative Language Effectively
The connotative meaning of a word is its emotional meaning. This is different from the denotation of a word (dictionary definition). For example, a "flag" represents a piece of cloth used as a national emblem; however, connotatively, a "flag" denotes patriotism. In descriptive essays, writers should choose words whose connotations strengthen the dominant impression they are trying to make.
Incorporate Figures of Speech for Strong Comparisons and Impressions
An effective technique to use in descriptive writing is using figures of speech such as similes, metaphors, personifications, or alliteration.
Simile: "Biting into a Tabasco pepper is like aiming a flame-thrower at parted lips."
Metaphor: ""Eating chili peppers is a descent into a fiery hell."
Personification: "Her iPhone screen blinked to get her attention."
Alliteration: "The cows crouched for cover."
Follow a Method of Organization
Common methods of organization for descriptive writing are spatial order; chronological order; and most-to-least or least-to-most order. Here are some examples:
Spatial Order: "The overhead screen blazed a photograph of the panorama of Yosemite. Cursive writing covered the whiteboard behind the screen, and the teacher stood in front of it with a marker in her hand."
Chronological Order: In the morning, the market fills with fruit vendors from all over the city. They hang colored awnings over their produce and call out like sirens to lure customers. At five p.m. the fruit sellers wrap up and go home, and the night food nomads roll their ovens-on-wheels around the plaza like wise men smoking frankincense.
There is a stated difference between "dominant impression" and "thesis statement." While they are related, I can see where the distinction, and eventual confusion, would lie. In descriptive writing pieces, a dominant impression is the perception that you are trying to convey to the reader. The thesis statement is the one or two sentenced clear belief that communicates the sum total of your impressions to the reader. For example, if you are describing a visit...
There is a stated difference between "dominant impression" and "thesis statement." While they are related, I can see where the distinction, and eventual confusion, would lie. In descriptive writing pieces, a dominant impression is the perception that you are trying to convey to the reader. The thesis statement is the one or two sentenced clear belief that communicates the sum total of your impressions to the reader. For example, if you are describing a visit to the hospital and you are striving to impart a feeling of gloom to the reader, the dominant impression would be all the details that contributed to this experience while the thesis statement would be your precise statement that clearly articulates your impression of your visit to the hospital. Dominant impressions are helpful because they create the atmosphere which will give birth to the thesis statement. The dominant impression is the garden and the surroundings that allow the flower of the thesis statement to bloom... or something like that.
All good writing must have a thesis, a central point that will be substantiated with the paper. A clear, specific and appropriate thesis statement renders a clear vision of the paper's purpose, into which all the dominant impressions will be channeled and filtered. The qualities of a thesis statement are that it is clearly worded, defined in a context that can be substantiated and supported with detail throughout the paper, and defines the boundaries of the work. Essentially, the thesis statement is the one sentence that permeates the entire paper; every single word, every phrase, every sentence resonates and is clearly related to that thesis statement. Clear language, strong focus, and words that make sense to both the reader and the writer help to make a great thesis statement, through which all the dominant impressions are channeled for meaning and purpose.