Two Contrasting Descriptions
of the Same Scene

Write two descriptions of the same scene, from contrasting angles of vision. Here is the catch: Your first description must convey a favorable impression of the scene, making it appear pleasing or attractive. The second description must convey a negative or unfavorable impression, making the scene appear unpleasant or unattractive. Both descriptions must contain only factual details and must describe exactly the same scene from the same location at the same time. It’s not fair, in other words, to describe the scene in sunny weather and then in the rain or otherwise to alter factual details. Each description should be one paragraph long (approximately 100-150 words).

Establishing a Context

To get into the spirit of this unusual assignment, you need to create a personal rationale for why you are writing two opposing descriptions. Our students have been successful imagining any one of the following three rationales:

  • Different moods. Pretend that you are observing this scene in different moods. How could you reflect a “happy” view of this scene and then a “sad” view? Let the mood determine your selection and framing of details, but don’t put your- self into the scene. The reader should infer your mood from the description.
  • Verbal game. Here you see yourself as a word wizard trying consciously to create two different rhetorical effects for readers. In this scenario, you don’t worry how you feel about the scene but how you want your readers to feel. Your focus is on crafting the language to influence your audience in different ways.
  • Different rhetorical purposes. In this scenario, you imagine your description in service of some desired action. You might dislike a certain space (for example, a poorly designed library reading room) and describe it in a way that highlights its bad features. This description is the way you really feel. Your next task is to see this same scene from an opposing perspective—perhaps that of the architect who designed the reading room.

Observing and Taking Notes

Once you have chosen your scene, you’ll need to observe and take notes for fifteen or twenty minutes in preparation for writing the focused descriptions of the scene using specific, concrete, sensory details. You need to compose descriptions that are rich in sensory detail–sights, sounds, smells, textures, even on occasion tastes–all contributing to a dominant impression that gives the description focus.

You can train yourself to notice sensory details by creating a two-column sensory chart and noting details that appeal to each of the senses. Then try describing them, first positively (left column) and then negatively (right column).

(A sample sensory chart and a student example of this assignment appear on page 77.)


This Writing Exercise appears on pages 76–77 of The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing

Page Last Updated: 27 September 2014