How to Write a Descriptive Essay about a Person
There is something about the personal essays - sometimes they are referred to as “character sketches.” But it is difficult to learn how to write a descriptive essay about a person, because we really do not read them often. We get “pictures” in our heads about characters in a piece of fiction over many pages of writing; and most non-fiction does not entail character sketches. So, when you are assigned this type of essay, you may be at a loss as to how to construct it or even what to say. We have explored a lot of information about this kind of paper and have made a whole article about it in order to help you out. Here are some pretty basic tips and strategies to use as you develop your piece.
Select a Person You Know Well
You cannot write a character sketch about anyone you do not know intimately. This person can be a member of your family, a close friend, or even a main character in a novel or movie if you loved it so much you read or saw it many times.
You can select a totally fictitious person, of course, but it is probably wise to make the person at least a combination of people you know, so that your description “sounds” authentic to a reader. Most fiction writers admit that their major characters are a bit autobiographical or combinations of people they know, because they are just more believable. Also it will help you to get more ideas about what to write and you won’t get lost. If you want you may even have some sort of an interview with the person you are writing about in order to know more about them. Thus you will present them in a way more realistic and truthful way.
Show, Don’t Tell
A descriptive essay about a person is a failure, if all you do is describe that individual physically and then tell the reader that s/he has three or four personality traits. Physical descriptions should be revealed indirectly, and those three or four personality traits must be shown be specific words, actions, and behaviors.
Go back and read your favorite short story or novel. How does the author reveal everything about that main character? Chances are s/he does not spend paragraphs of prose describing what that character looks like. Bits and pieces are revealed along the way, and often the details are left up to the reader to fil in. How do you know what the character’s personality is like? You get that over time, as that character speaks and takes action throughout the work.
Consider these two methods of providing a physical description:
Carol has long curly brown hair, brown eyes, and stands about 5’ 4” tall. She is slender, and her long legs give a graceful appearance as she walks. (Very boring.)
Carol has a completely contagious laugh. When she laughs her entire body is involved. Those long brown curls fly about her face and shoulders, and all 5’ 4” of her is somehow involved. And when she is angry, watch out. Those piercing brown eyes are throwing daggers of light, and those long legs are poised in a true fighting stance, like she is ready to go 16 rounds.
Same person – two different writers. See the difference? When you don’t have an entire novel to gradually provide a physical description, you have to get creative with the way in which you do it. There are a lot of tips and pieces of advice from professional writers on the web that can help you to improve your skills in writing character’s description. Also a lot of writers like Chuck Palahniuk, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and others have written whole books about the art of writing so consider reading them too.
Describing Personality Traits
Part of learning how to write a descriptive essay about a person mastering this art of showing not telling as you reveal his/her personality traits. Words and behaviors must be used. Let’s take a look at Carol again. Suppose you have decided that she really has extremes in emotions when she is happy or sad – there doesn’t seem to be much “in between” with her. So, that is one of the traits that you want to address in your description. You can take what was written above and expand it a bit, still keeping the physical descriptors but now giving specific examples of these extremes. You should reveal them in real-life situations. Incorporate them in a realistic way. Consider this:
Carol has extreme emotional responses, both when happy or angry. When she found out she was accepted to her first choice for college, she threw her head back, long brown curls flying, raised those slender arms toward the sky and immediately broke into dance moves that I had never seen before, as she sang “Don’t Stop Believin’” and threw those long legs all over the room. And one day, when someone stole a parking space she had been waiting for, I watched her follow that man all the way into the store, shaking her finger and calling him a rude guy and several other terms I won’t mention here.
You have now “proved” to the reader that Carol has extreme emotional responses and done so in an engaging way. It’s important to give such descriptions if you want to keep your writing interesting and not to be boring. It also helps you to carve your own style and to improve writing skills at all.
When You Write Your Essay
As you search for descriptive essay ideas that will make your character “live” on your paper, you can look online for examples of character sketch or personal description essays – you will find plenty to review that will help you see how to formulate your own “picture” of your character. It’s very useful to read other essays if you want to learn how to write good papers. It may also give you plenty of new ideas or to inspire you to write a descriptive essay.
Generally, in a character sketch essay, you should identify three personality traits that you will present, each in a different paragraph. It’s not advised to describe whole personality as it will become a novel. Instead consider using this scheme. Your introduction will obviously introduce your person, and the traits that you will be covering. Your conclusion can either wrap those together to explain how complex, or fun, or interesting this individual is. A conclusion for Carol might be something like this:
Living with my sister Carol has been an adventure, to be sure. And I hope that adventure continues for years to come, even after we are grown and have our own separate lives.
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Tips on Writing a Descriptive Essay
Writers use the descriptive essay to create a vivid picture of a person, place, or thing. Unlike a narrative essay, which reveals meaning through a personal story, the purpose of a descriptive essay is to reveal the meaning of a subject through detailed, sensory observation. The descriptive essay employs the power of language and all the human senses to bring a subject to life for the reader.
If readers come away from a descriptive essay with the feeling that they have really met a person, gone to a particular place, or held a certain object, the writer has done a good job. If readers also feel an emotional connection and deep appreciation for the subject’s significance, the writer has done a great job.
The Five-Step Writing Process for Descriptive Essays
Professional writers know one thing: Writing takes work. Understanding and following the proven steps of the writing process helps all writers, including students. Here are descriptive essay writing tips for each phase of the writing process:
1. Prewriting for the Descriptive Essay
In the prewriting phase of descriptive essay writing, students should take time to think about who or what they want to describe and why. Do they want to write about a person of significance in their lives, or an object or place that holds meaning? The topic doesn’t have to be famous or unusual. The person could be a grandparent, the object, a favorite toy, and the place, a tree house.
Once a topic is chosen, students should spend time thinking about the qualities they want to describe. Brainstorm about all the details associated with the topic. Even when not writing about a place, reflect on the surroundings. Where is the object located? Where does the person live? Consider not just physical characteristics, but also what memories, feelings, and ideas the subject evokes. Memory and emotion play an important role in conveying the subject’s significance. Plan the focus of each paragraph and create an outline that puts these details into a logical sequence.
2. Drafting a Descriptive Essay
When creating the initial draft of a descriptive essay, follow the outline, but remember, the goal is to give the reader a rich experience of the subject. Keep in mind, the most important watchword of writing a descriptive essay is show, don’t tell. One of the best ways to show is to involve all of the senses—not just sight, but also hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Write so the reader will see the sunset, hear the song, smell the flowers, taste the pie, or feel the touch of a hand.
Use descriptive and figurative language, as well as concrete images to describe the subject. Similes and metaphors work well. Here are some examples:
The house was old.
The house frowned with a wrinkled brow, and inside it creaked with each step, releasing a scent of neglected laundry.
If you had to pick a study buddy, you would pick this guy.
The clock had been in our family for years.
The clock stood by our family, faithfully marking the minutes and hours of our lives.
Enjoy the process of describing the subject—it can be a rewarding experience. A descriptive essay doesn’t rely on facts and examples, but on the writer’s ability to create a mental picture for the reader.
3. Revising a Descriptive Essay
In the revision phase, students review, modify, and reorganize their work with the goal of making it the best it can be. In revising a descriptive essay, students should reread their work with these considerations in mind:
- Does the essay unfold in a way that helps the reader fully appreciate the subject? Do any paragraphs confuse more than describe?
- Does the word choice and figurative language involve the five senses and convey emotion and meaning?
- Are there enough details to give the reader a complete picture?
- Has a connection been made between the description and its meaning to the writer? Will the reader be able to identify with the conclusion made?
Always keep the reader in mind from opening to concluding paragraph. A descriptive essay must be precise in its detail, yet not get ahead of itself. It’s better to go from the general to the specific. Otherwise, the reader will have trouble building the image in their mind’s eye. For example, don’t describe a glossy coat of fur before telling the reader the essay is about a dog!
4. Editing a Descriptive Essay
At this point in the writing process, writers proofread and correct errors in grammar and mechanics. It’s also the time to improve style and clarity. Watch out for clichés and loading up on adjectives and adverbs. Having a friend read the essay helps writers see trouble spots and edit with a fresh perspective.
5. Publishing a Descriptive Essay
Sharing a descriptive essay with the rest of the class can be both exciting and a bit scary. Remember, there isn’t a writer on earth who isn’t sensitive about his or her own work. The important thing is to learn from the experience and take whatever feedback is given to make the next essay even better.
Time4Writing Teaches Descriptive Essay Writing
Time4Writing essay writing courses offer a highly effective way to learn how to write the types of essays required for school, standardized tests, and college applications. A unique online writing program for elementary, middle school, and high school students, Time4Writing breaks down the writing process into manageable chunks, easily digested by young writers. Students steadily build writing skills and confidence, guided by one-on-one instruction with a dedicated, certified teacher. Our middle school Welcome to the Essay and Advanced Essay courses teach students the fundamentals of writing well-constructed essays, including the descriptive essay. The high school Exciting Essay Writing course focuses in depth on the essay writing process with preparation for college as the goal. The courses also cover how to interpret essay writing prompts in testing situations. Read what parents are saying about their children’s writing progress in Time4Writing courses.