Discussion: Descriptive Writing

This activity will encourage you to flex your creative descriptor muscles by generating unanticipated language.

STEP 1: Begin by finding a mundane object. (A plain, unspectacular rock is my go-to choice.) It’s sometimes helpful to do this activity with pen and paper, so you can either divide a blank piece of paper into four quadrants OR use a document and divide it into four sections using headers:

  • Section 1: Object Description
  • Section 2: New descriptive words
  • Section 3: Object Uses
  • Section 4: New uses

Set a timer for two minutes; in this time, write as many describing words about your object as possible. You may use a bulleted list. Full sentences are not required.

Next, set a timer for five minutes. In the second section, write as many NEW describing words as possible without repeating anything from your first quadrant. If you’re struggling, try to use imagery and/or figurative language.

For the third section, set the timer for two minutes. Write as many uses as possible for your object.

Before starting the fourth section, set a timer for five minutes. Come up with as many NEW uses as you can, without repeating any of the uses from the previous section.

STEP 2: After this generative process, identify your three favorite words and ideas from the second and fourth lists. Spend ten minutes writing in any genre or form you like—a story, a poem, a song, a letter, anything—on any topic you like. Your writing doesn’t have to be about the object you chose, but try to incorporate your chosen descriptors or uses in some way.

STEP 3: Share your writing in the discussion forum and debrief about the exercise. What surprises did this process yield? What does it teach us about innovative language use?

STEP 4: Respond in two separate posts to two classmates (in at least 75 words). Explicitly address their examples and try to extend, complicate, or redirect their points in a substantive, knowledge-demonstrating way.

Remember: Writing invites discovery: the more you look the more you see! Objects aren’t boring. The ordinary can be described creatively and dramatically for a purpose. Also, suspend judgment—your first idea may not be your best.