Style models

As with other writing tasks, when you are asked to write descriptively, it is always best to read other professional examples to use as 'style models', helping you to pick out some key techniques or conventions of this style of writing.

This extract is taken from a ghost story called The Red Room by HG Wells:

I heard the sound of a stick and a shambling step on the flags in the passage outside, and the door creaked on its hinges as a second old man entered, more bent, more wrinkled, more aged even than the first. He supported himself by a single crutch, his eyes were covered by a shade, and his lower lip, half averted, hung pale and pink from his decaying yellow teeth. He made straight for an arm-chair on the opposite side of the table, sat down clumsily, and began to cough. The man with the withered arm gave this new-comer a short glance of positive dislike; the old woman took no notice of his arrival, but remained with her eyes fixed steadily on the fire.

The Red Room by HG Wells

First, it helps to 'CAP' it:

Context - This is a piece of highly descriptive writing taken from the genre of a ghost story, designed to be entertaining. It has a style we call gothic so is expected to be quite dark in its style. It was first published in 1896 so some of the language will be different from what we use today.

Audience - The original readers will have been educated adults who enjoy reading ghost stories for entertainment.

Purpose - The purpose is mainly to entertain. As with all serious literature, the writer might also have the purpose of exploring certain themes that might even promote a particular moral viewpoint. As it is gothic in style, it will probably aim to scare us too.

Below, you can see some of the writing techniques which have been used in the extract.

Extract from The Red Room highlighting where alliteration, onomatopoeia, repetition/list of three, and connotation are used.Red Room features

Even though this piece doesn’t use metaphors and similes, it certainly uses lots of the other features and, later in the story, Wells does use both of these language techniques.

We can also check this for style by asking the following questions:

Is the writing formal or informal?

The writing is formal and it is written in Standard English.

Is the voice of the narrator in first, second or third person?

The story is told to the reader by a first-person narrator.

What is the vocabulary like?

The vocabulary is detailed and uses many descriptive words chosen deliberately for effect so that they create connotations that help the Gothic ghost story effect. For example, with 'decaying yellow teeth'. The descriptive writing is well chosen to appeal to the senses with phrases like 'I heard' and the narrator describes in detail what he can see, including commenting on other people’s reactions in ways that also helps build up a ghost story atmosphere.

What are the sentences like?

The writer uses a mixture of sentence types and lengths. These include compound and complex sentences that are full of information and detail; the variety of punctuation allows the reader to absorb the detail more easily.

What does this tell us about this example of descriptive writing?

It is formal and written in Standard English.

The style uses a first person narrator and is quite formal, and not conversational or chatty.