de·scrip·tion dəˈskripSH(ə)n; noun 1. a spoken or written representation or account of a person, object, or event.

By Janice McCaffrey

My critique buddies tell me I need more detail in my descriptions.

Oh, my heck!

The word description gives me sweaty palms and heart palpitations just like the phrase dangling participles.

Whenever I hear any grammatical term I’m transported back to Mrs. Foster’s eighth-grade English class. She’s handing back our descriptive paragraph assignment. I’m sitting at my desk waiting, feeling confident in my efforts. After all one day I’ll be a famous author.

Standing next to me, Mrs. Foster clears her throat and places a piece of loose leaf paper on my desktop. Face down. Beside the next desk she repeats her ritual. The room reeks with the smell of nervous teenagers. Kids clear their throats, cough, and squirm in their seats.

I take a deep breath and gather my courage. I worked hard on this assignment. I’m proud of the result. How bad could it be? I watch as my shaking fingers squeeze the paper so tight I leave a deep wrinkle. I wonder, is my heart still beating? Clinching my jaw I turn the paper over.

“WHAT?”

Stunned, I don’t move. I stare at too many red check marks to count. And right at the top of the page is a big, fat D–.

I hold my breath and bite my lip to stop the tears from streaming down my red face. I swallow hard to get the acidy taste off my tongue.

The bell rings and I watch my classmates sprint to the classroom door. I don’t know if my knees will hold me up. But I do know if I don’t move, I’ll be late to my next class. I stand and walk trance-like into the crowded hall.

That’s it, I think. I’ll never be an author.          edhs empty classroom 

I hate composition and especially grammar.

Afterwords:

I never learned how to repair my errors. That assignment didn’t teach me how to write descriptive paragraphs, it just screamed, “You’re Dumb!”

Today I ask myself, can my inner-teenager overcome her self-doubts and embrace grammatical terms? Will I ever forget those few minutes of shame so many years ago?

Well, the good news is: I’m workin’ on it.

How? How else? Google, of course.

I love Google!

Don’t ask why, but I began my Google exploration of descriptions with noses. I found Zwivel.com Sniffing Out Nose Shapes which lists the twelve most common nose types: fleshy, turned-up, Roman, bumpy, snub, hawk or aquiline, Greek, nubian, East Asian, Nixon, bulbous and combo.

I examined a multitude of images (photos of people and famous statues) testing my power of observation by identifying which nose would be categorized under which type.

Another search led me to word lists for writers on KathySteinemann.com Resources for Writers & Poets, 300+ ways to describe noses. She also has word lists to describe necks, ears, smiles, eyes, etc. etc.. At Wattpad.com there’s Vocabulary – Word Lists for Writers by The Otakunerd and at tumblr.com Reference for Writers.

At WritingWorld.com I found a blog called The Art of Description: Eight Tips to Help You Bring Your Settings to Life by Anne Marble. Her topics in this discussion are: Avoid Huge Lumps of Description; Make Description an Active Part of the Story; Describe What Your Characters Would Notice; Words, Words, Words; Use All the Senses; Fit the Description to the Type of Story; Avoid Excessive Name-dropping; and Don’t Let Description Hang You Up during a First Draft.

And last, but not least, at Wiki How.com how to do anything . . . I found How to Write a Descriptive Paragraph:

 Descriptive paragraphs include details that appeal to the five senses: sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing. In a descriptive paragraph, the writer must convey information that appeals to all the senses in order to give the best possible description to the reader. Descriptive paragraphs are commonly used in fiction and non-fiction writing to help immerse readers into the world of the author.

I’m impressed with the amount of free information online to help writers. Not only words, but how to: outline, plot a story arc, bring characters to life, edit, rewrite, and find editors or publishers. This is a great time to be a wanna-be-author.

As I pursue my quest, I repeat to myself, I think I can, I think I can.

And every so often I declare,

“I can . . . I will . . . and . . . I did!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Inner-Children Have Issues

Sis. McCaffrey    By Janice McCaffrey

In my early teen years I envisioned myself as a best-selling author of “THE great American novel” until . . .

Mrs. Foster’s 8th grade English class when we were assigned to write a descriptive paragraph. My imagination took over and I penned what I thought a fabulous portrayal of a Regency Era carriage.

The next day, expecting an A+, I sat at my desk straight backed and proud. Then Mrs. Foster handed my paper to me and instead of an A+ there was a huge red D; the paragraph riddled with red ü marks. In that horrifying moment, my writing career ended. I never received explanations for the check marks. And pretty much saw grammar and good writing over my head and out of reach. Yes, I could identify and properly use the basics: subjects, predicates, nouns, adjectives, verbs, and past, present and future tenses, but never grasped the finer points.

But then I’ve never been a quitter. So as a young mother with an infant I signed up for a fiction writing correspondence course. Yes, the one advertised in match books. I didn’t like following the formulas taught and eventually one instructor told me that before you can be a novelist you needed something to say. Obviously, I didn’t have anything to say.

very few years, I’d try again; receiving rejection letters from popular magazines (i.e. Redbook, my Bible of womanhood).

Then, as life would have it, in my retirement I found a good friend who just happened to be a published author. It took a few years of her encouragement, but I’m back to my early writing goal. My friend is my mentor, critique partner, and . . . a retired English teacher.

Now when she gives my papers back to me there are no red checks or grades and, in fact, there are often comments about good ideas, writing or scenes. But every now and then I hear “You have a dangling participle.” And there I am sitting in Mrs. Foster’s class holding that D paper. My mind freezes.

Then my 10-year-old inner-child comes to the rescue with humor erupting with, “Who the heck made up these words?” We laugh. She tries to explain in a way I can understand as I attempt to calm my inner- 8th grader. I go home, study grammatical rules and lingo and rewrite.

After several of these interactions, my friend loaned me Arcade Dictionary of Word Origins by John Ayto. I found the explanation of the word participle: “Greek – shares or partaker. Latin to English: Capture or participate.” An online dictionary says: “a participle is a word formed from a verb and used as an adjective or a noun. In English participles can also be used to make compound verb forms.”

And you’ve guessed it, my 8th grader’s brain froze and my 10-year-old shouted, “Who the h— thought this stuff up? My inner-children continue their habits whenever they hear grammatical terms, but thank Heavens I have a patient friend and mentor who parents these headstrong children with kindness and humor.

Thank you, my friend!