Definition of Detail and Development

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World without Adjectives

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This exercise involves taking a passage from a book, removing all descriptive detail, and having the students fill it in for themselves. It not only gives them practice writing description, but it also shows how boring and lifeless (and less meaningful and effective) writing is without supporting and descriptive detail.

Setup for World without Adjectives

Select a descriptive passage and remove all of its descriptive detail. Photocopy and make a transparency of the original and the revised passages. One instructor used a passage from a detective novel that describes an investigator arriving at a crime scene -- and without supporting detail, it's bland rather than grisly. I used a passage from Michael Chabon's Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which reveals a great deal about a character unless the description is removed. A pulp romance would work well too.

Have students evaluate and rewrite the passage, adding details in places where descriptions would be beneficial. When they're finished, ask volunteers to share their work or collect and randomly read a few passages. Discuss to see where people generally agreed detail was needed and what was lost to the meaning and effectiveness of the passage without the detail. Then, pass out copies of the original passage to show them what it really looked like. Discuss the differences and impress upon them that this is exactly why detail will be so important in their essays.