Yesterday in class we talked about descriptive writing in greater detail, noting the many different ways you can use descriptive writing.

Specifically, we considered the following excerpts and talked about the different things these writers are trying to accomplish through their descriptive work:

In the first case, The Jungle, we talked about how Sinclair had a background in journalism and was very politically engaged, both of which drove him to write a novel full of vivid descriptions of the Chicago meat packing plants in hopes of achieving meaningful reform of that industry and of American labor practices more broadly. One type of descriptive writing, then, might be a kind of activist, political writing meant to prompt change by showing people what a thing really is like.

A second type, of the sort you get from Dante and Bradstreet, is a kind of descriptive writing as spiritual exercise. Both of them are describing spiritual transformation happening within them through telling a vivid and often painful story. We mentioned that John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress would fit into this category as well.

Finally, a third type of descriptive writing is not as ambitious but is still valuable and important: You might just want to tell a really fun story because of the pleasure it gives you to write it and because you want to delight your readers. That is certainly where Lawhead’s Hood fits but I think it also is the most natural place for Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

For your assignment this week, I want you to read each of these five excerpts (you can just stop at the prologue on Hood though you may find that you enjoy it enough that you want to keep going). Then, think about what sort of descriptive essay you want to write to turn in a week from Monday.

You could write a kind of research piece looking at a specific social issue and advocating for some sort of reform via a concrete, specific description of the human costs with that issue–something like what Sinclair does, in other words. (Pro-life advocacy work often uses these sorts of tactics.)

You could also write a kind of spiritual reflection that functions more like Dante or Bradstreet’s work, using concrete specific details to help give the reader a picture of some kind of spiritual reality.

Finally, you could attempt to write a short narrative that is heavy on descriptive detail that is really just intended to be a fun diversion for you and your readers.

Read each of the samples, think about what you would like to attempt, and start doing some initial outlining or drafting this week. Come to class ready to talk about it on Monday.