Structuring your writing - The photograph method

One method that can be used to help with descriptive writing is to imagine you are looking at a photograph, almost as if you are a swivelling camera aiming at parts of a scene to record what is there. You can then home in on different parts of the scene.

For example, if you were asked to write a detailed description of a place that is familar to you. First of all, try to get a very clear picture of the place in your mind’s eye. To help, you might imagine a scene in a graveyard, at sunset, in autumn:

Sun setting on a graveyard in autumn.
Credit: Michiko Smith

Task

Now, imagining you are that camera, choose two key parts of the image that you would like to zoom in on; these will each be a close-up picture that will be described in its own paragraph and in great detail.

You may choose the sun setting in the sky, and then, one of the trees.

To start the description, you might, instead of zooming in, do what film makers often do when they begin with an 'establishing shot' and start your description with a 'wide angle shot'.

You should aim to use the techniques that you have read and appeal to one or more senses. Remember also to adapt the start of your sentences, changing words around perhaps as you draft and redraft your work, adding in new writing techniques.

If you start with a 'wide angle shot', you will describe the image as a whole and this can be your opening paragraph.

Example

Can you recognise the way the writer has used different techniques and also what effect they have?

A 'wide angle' viewpoint

The sky became luminous and golden as the sun began its final descent towards the horizon with the many wisps of cloud looking almost to be touching the tree tops. The gravestones stood tall as if ready to bow down to honour the setting sun. Some leaned and looked sad, as if they were about to cry; and some leaned, as if looking for support. Bare-branched trees seemed to be guarding the grass - the soldiers of the graveyard.

Focus on the sun

Although the golden ball illuminated everything, there was a strong feeling that it was somehow running away from those buried in the ground, to leave the world cold.

Focus on the trees

The trees had been stripped of any signs of summer. The skeletal branches arched downwards in despair, as if mourning the passing of the daylight.

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