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16.5 Techniques for Writing: Using Specific Language

Exercise C: Paint two pictures using words.

1. Imagine a person doing something outside. Think about the weather. In three sentences, describe the person in action. Do not mention anything in the sky, the air, or the temperature, but make your reader feel what the weather is like through its effect on the person you are describing. Use details from the senses.

2. Think of someone you know well. Imagine that you are making a videotape of that person doing something that takes no more than five minutes. Make notes, translating into words exactly what the camera is recording in sight and sound. Include notes about motion and action, but avoid abstractions that a camera can't record, like excited, pretty, strong, angry, shy.

Test your pictures on a classmate. Ask the classmate to finish these two sentences using the abstract words you've avoided, like humid, windy or shy, angry:

1. The weather is _________________________

2. The person is __________________________

Did your details give an accurate impression?

Answers, of course, will vary enormously. Compare yours with those of other students. Your instructor may ask you to print out this exercise for class discussion.


Apply this technique to your writing: Study what you've written about your leisure time activity. Circle three general or abstract words and replace them with specific sensory details. Trade papers with a partner, and help each other find opportunities for anchoring general ideas in specific language.

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