Descriptive Writing: GCSE English.
Here are several famous examples of descriptive writing. Can you identify how they create a sense of place, atmosphere and time? Pick up any techniques which you find particularly vivid or effective in the writing. Which passage is your favourite and why? Which extract do you least prefer and why?
In the late summer of that year we lived in a house
in a village that looked across the river and the plain to
the mountains. In the bed of the river there were peb-
bles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the
water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the
channels. Troops went by the house and down the road
and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the
trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the
leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops march-
ing along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred
by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and
afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.
The plain was rich with crops; there were many
orchards of fruit trees and beyond the plain the moun-
tains were brown and bare. There was fighting in the
mountains and at night we could see the flashes from
the artillery. In the dark it was like summer lightning,
but the nights were cool and there was not the feeling
of a storm coming.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.
When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily. I’d know her head anywhere. And what’s inside it. I think of that, too: her mind. Her brain, all those coils, and her thoughts shuttling through those coils like fast, frantic centipedes. Like a child, I picture opening her skull, unspooling her brain and sifting through it, trying to catch and pin down her thoughts. What are you thinking, Amy? The question I’ve asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
IT WAS ABOUT ELEVEN O’CLOCK in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.
The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn’t seem to be really trying.
There were French doors at the back of the hall, beyond them a wide sweep of emerald grass to a white garage, in front of which a slim dark young chauffeur in shiny black leggings was dusting a maroon Packard convertible. Beyond the garage were some decorative trees trimmed as carefully as poodle dogs. Beyond them a large green house with a domed roof. Then more trees and beyond everything the solid, uneven, comfortable line of the foothills.
On the east side of the hall a free staircase, tile-paved, rose to a gallery with a wrought-iron railing and another piece of stained-glass romance. Large hard chairs with rounded red plush seats were backed into the vacant spaces of the wall round about. They didn’t look as if anybody had ever sat in them. In the middle of the west wall there was a big empty fireplace with a brass screen in four hinged panels, and over the fireplace a marble mantel with cupids at the corners. Above the mantel there was a large oil portrait, and above the portrait two bullet-torn or moth-eaten cavalry pennants crossed in a glass frame. The portrait was a stiffly posed job of an officer in full regimentals of about the time of the Mexican war. The officer had a neat black Imperial, black mustachios, hot hard coalblack eyes, and the general look of a man it would pay to get along with. I thought this might be General Sternwood’s grandfather. It could hardly be the General himself, even though I had heard he was pretty far gone in years to have a couple of daughters still in the dangerous twenties.
I was still staring at the hot black eyes when a door opened far back under the stairs. It wasn’t the butler coming back. It was a girl.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
“the architecture student from number eleven presses his face to the glass and looks at the way the light falls through the water, he thinks about a place where he worked in the spring, an office where they had a stack of empty watercooler bottles against the window, and how he would sit and watch the sun mazing its way through the layers of refraction, the beauty of it, he called it spontaneous maths and he wanted to build architecture like he that, he looks at the row of houses opposite and he pictures them built entirely of plastic and glass, he imagines how people’s lives might change if their dwellings shook with endless reflections of light, he does not know if it’s possible but he thinks it’s a nice idea”
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