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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Welcome to week 3 of this semester and your second writing assignment..
I hope you all enjoyed writing and reading the last assignment. If you did not get your text corrected by someone please let me know. No texts should go uncorrected!
This week we will tturn our attention to another useful device used in both fiction and non-fiction, the descriptive technique. As we learned, narrative paragraphs describe a sequence of events or tell a story. The logical arrangement of ideas and sentences in a narrative paragraph is chronological - according to time order. But what if you were asked to describe how something looks - a place, a thing, or a person? How should you arrange your ideas and sentences in the paragraph? Obviously, time order would not be logical. When you are describing the way something looks - its physical appearance - it is not time but space that is important. Therefore, you should arrange your sentences and details according to where the objects being described are located. This type of organization is called spatial organization. In a descriptive paragraph, you must make the location of the objects being described very clear.
As literary students you may be asked to relate the role a character plays in a novel or as design students you may be asked to relate the role a person plays in a successful design, as a designer for instance. But how would you describe a person and their role? Depending on the subject or assignment, you could describe the person's physical appearance, behaviour, inner thoughts or the influence the person had on you or others.
A person's appearance can be described in many ways. It is possible to tell about the person's style of clothing, manner of walking, colour and style of hair, facial appearance, body shape, and expression or even the person's way of talking. Just what a writer selects to describe depends on the writer's chosen topic and purpose. No matter what the topic, however, the writer is a painter with words, so the description must be vivid but also coherent - logically arranged - so that the reader can clearly envision who is being described. The following paragraph describes a person's face with a spatial organizationt. Look at the following description and see if you can get a good image of what Mary looks like:
|Mary is as beautiful as a Hollywood star. Her thick, wavy, long black hair gracefully falls down to her shoulders and encircles her diamond-shaped face. A golden suntan usually brings out her smooth, clear complexion and high cheek bones. Her slightly arched chestnut brown eyebrows highlight her emotions by moving up and down as she reacts to her world around her. Her large deep blue eyes, remind me of a lake on a stormy day. Her curved nose gives her a little girl look that makes me want to smile when she talks. And her mouth is a small mouth outlined by puffy lips that she often accentuates with glossy pink lipstick. When she smiles, which is often, her well formed and even, white teeth brighten up her whole face. I guess you can tell that I am head over heals in love with Mary.|
In this paragraph the reader can not only tell what Mary looks like but also what the author's attitude about her outer appearance is. Last week I mentioned topic sentences: a topic sentence summarizes the entire idea of the paragraph a writer is relating in one short sentence. In narratives a topic sentence often comes at the very end in order to build up suspense for the reader. Generally speaking, however, in most academic writing, the topic sentence is the first sentence in the paragraph and summarizes the ideas that will follow. A good/clear topic sentence not only states the topic (in this case Mary) but also supplies a strong controlling idea which states "how the writer feels about the topic".
More often though than simply describing a person's out appearance because one loves the person, there is a deeper reason. The following paragraph by a former OWC student describes a person but the descriptions are only a support for an underlying political standpoint the author wants to make.
Jane Goodall had long been an idol of mine before I had the opportunity to meet her personally. I have been a member of one of her international Jane-Goodall-Institutes (JGI) for a couple of years now. I have read some of her books and like her idea of teaching children all over the world about environmental conservation and wild animal care so much that I hope to do it personally one day, too. As the greatest and most popular scientist of chimpanzees in the world and today also an active member of the UN Security Council and close friend of Kofi Anan, she is very busy and always travelling, so the chance to see her is quite rare.
There was a very lively as well as wise expression in her eyes, but most impressible was the deep love and peace they transmitted to everybody when she spoke to the audience. She had lived over 30 years next to chimpanzees in the rainforest, studying and learning from them as she said. You could see the marks of that life, as her whole body seemed to talk with peace and wisdom and was as fit as that of a young woman in her mid-twenties. And even though she has been back to the civilized world for many years now, where she has taught at many universities and fought battles against politicians, businesses and other strong opponents to get protection for chimpanzees and other apes, she must have done this with those very calm gestures that are more convincing than any powerful and eloquent talk. I guess that has made her so successful, because when you watch her you cannot help but agree with her. And her most important message to us was that the love of creatures can be more powerful than all the weapons in the world, if we will just let it.
Now it is your turn to think of a person you admire and to describe the influence he/she had on you or the world. Try to use very descriptive adjectives and possibly look up some in either a dictionary or translator to add them to your active vocabulary. Students from KISD should describe a famous designer. Try to write at least four-hundred words this time. If you want to describe your person from two perspectives, such as outer and inner, then you should be sure and separate your text into different paragraphs with different topic sentences.
Make sure though that your paragraphs actually look like paragraphs with one topic sentence. Academic writing is much more structured than e-mails or letters, so that everything that belongs together stays together. In other words, your paragraph should look like a box when you are finished and not like lots of little paragraphs.
P.S. You don't have to be as sappy as the author of "Mary" was but you can be, of course!