Descriptive essays are essays that usually describe something which includes places, emotions, situations, or even people. Descriptive essays about people can prove more difficult as many times we do not see these types of descriptions in books or popular literature. If there is a description of a person, it is usually short, within one paragraph, or spans across the entire book. Because of this, a descriptive essay about people can be challenging for those just learning how to write essays. We have provided some tips and other strategies when writing descriptive essays. The three biggest tips for writing descriptive essays are to use a person you know, bear in mind that actions speak louder than words, and make the most of the personality traits.
1. Use a Person You Know
Using a person you know can build a foundation for descriptions. This can be family members, friends, actors, or your favorite artist. Knowing what they look like can help with the process as you can pull up the mental image of them in your head for reference at any point. For a lower level entry essay, this can be your entire topic. If you want to describe a made-up person, you could use a collaboration of people you know in your life. You can also base it off on someone you know and change some key features making them unique to your story. The goal is to make the description of the person as authentic as possible, so using someone who is real can get the ball rolling. If you don’t know the person as well as you want, try and schedule an interview. This should let you learn more about them in both physical and mental aspects. Basing a character on a real person can help them become more realistic. For example, you are going to describe a girl that is breathtakingly beautiful, you might base her on Marilyn Monroe. In the description, you could say:
She has golden curly hair that framed her perfectly symmetrical face. Lips that were bright red making her teeth light up with a smile. Her eyebrows were long and slim. She had a slim body and well-tanned skin which makes fitting into a dress and going out look easy. She had a distinctive mole on the left side of her face right outside her dimples. Although some found it off-putting, I found it completed her.
2. Actions Speak Louder than Words
A descriptive essay that describes the character in one paragraph can be detrimental. In fact, many physical descriptions in popular literary work are not short, and as characters, physical personalities are shown throughout the book. Take a look back to your favorite book and think how the characters were revealed to you. Many of them use the span of the book or series of books to show character traits, flaws, and even sometimes descriptions. How do they do this? Many authors use actions or behaviors to speak for the character. Reveal only bits and pieces of the character as you write the story. As the character interacts with other characters, the reader will understand more about who they are. For example:
John has brown eyes and brown hair to his shoulders. He has a little stubble and stands about 6 feet tall.
Now take that sentence and use actions to describe John.
John smiled. The stubble around his mouth shaped his smile making it seem larger than it was. All of the sudden John tipped his head back and let out a belly of a laugh. So guttural and loud that it could be heard from across the hall. His long brown hair falling to his shoulders swayed with each laugh. John was standing over me like a tower, but his laugh was so infectious, I started laughing myself.
John is the same person in each scenario, but we used two different methods. The first was a simple description of John while the second used action verbs and behaviors to describe him. Using this method can be difficult if there is a certain page limit or it is a short essay. If so, you can use creative ways to integrate action verbs in short paragraphs to describe your characters. You can still take your time to reveal their physical and personal traits. Instead of doing it in one paragraph, try it in one or two pages.
3. Personality Traits
Personality traits can be difficult to write for a character. Consider that not every hero has to be perfect. You can give your main character a tragic flaw, or a character trait leading to the downfall or a low point in your story. Aristotle introduced this concept into the writing world a long time ago. When writing personality traits, also consider the above and don’t reveal everything at once. This can be done slowly as your character is faced with more trials. Seeing them react to others and their surrounding will develop their characteristics further. A tactic for creating personality traits is to give your character extreme emotions. For example, let’s say that John has an intense emotion. He is really happy; he is also someone who doesn’t give a care in the world- to a fault. You might say:
John is the kind of guy who doesn’t care about anything. All John wants to do is laugh and be happy. Even when I told John that I lied to him about using his truck, he smiled. The stubble around his mouth shaped his smile making it seem larger than it was. All of the sudden John tipped his head back and let out a belly of a laugh. So guttural and loud that it could be heard from across the hall. His long brown hair falling to his shoulders swayed with each laugh. John was standing over me like a tower, but his laugh was so infectious, I started laughing.
Adding this extreme personality trait gave John more character in the sample paragraph. You might even, later on, add that John is only this way because of a tragic childhood. This gives his character depth that can be revealed later in the essay.
For descriptive essays, there are some helpful structures in case you are still having trouble. Generally speaking, you should identify three personality traits that your character will have. In the introduction, introduce your character and some of their traits. These could be the biggest positives of your character to hook the reader into your story. The middle of the story should introduce other characters and show how your main character responds to its environment. This can bring rise to more complex emotions. Lastly, you can conclude the descriptive essay by showing how all these traits and emotions complete the individual. For John, he might use his over positivity to volunteer for at-risk youth which is something he faced when he was young.
As you start writing more descriptive essays, make sure you paint a picture of your character. This can carry on in many styles of writing such as describing a detailed topic. Remember, if you are still having trouble writing, the more you practice, the better you can become. Utilize as many tools such as other online resources or books written by well-renowned authors. For example, Stephen King wrote a book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.” Reading more on the topic can make you more knowledgeable and maybe even inspire you to write a fascinating descriptive essay.
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