Descriptive Passage

cementWriting effective descriptive passages is an exercise in balance. An effective description does not need multiple adjectives, adverbs and figures of speech. Paring away descriptors and leaving a few well-honed phrases can often be the most effective way to describe something or someone.

The following is an unedited passage that describes the physical appearance of a building that has undergone two phases of construction. While the shape and configuration of the building are important to the story, the reader of the unedited version can get lost among too many details.

Below the unedited version is my edit of the same text. My editorial comments are at the bottom of this post.

The building was kind of narrow in the middle, almost like it was a person that had a waist. This was because of the way the building’s construction had been planned. At the beginning, when the building was first built, it was just a normal twenty-story building. It was rectangular, and the top was as wide as the bottom all the way up to the second to last floor. The last two floors were narrower than the rest of the building. Then, about ten years later, it was decided to put an addition on the building. They just started building right on top of the narrow top part of the original building. Because the floors of the new addition were as wide as the lower floors of the original building, the building had kind of an hourglass shape.

Drake stood in the park and focused his binoculars on that narrow part.

The edited passage reads as follows:

The building was narrow in the middle, almost as if it had a waist. Its unusual shape was due to its two-part construction. At first, the building was a near-perfect twenty-story rectangle. Each of its floors was as wide as the one above and below it, except for the top two floors. These two were narrower than the rest of the building. About ten years after the building’s original construction, the developer added several floors to it. This new construction began on top of the narrow upper two floors of the original building. Because the floors of the new addition were as wide as the lower floors of the original building, the building developed an hourglass shape.

Drake stood in the park and focused his binoculars on that narrow part.

What follows is the passage with editing marks visible. My comments to the author are in brackets. The portions I cut appear with a strike-through, and the portions I added are underlined. (In a normal Word document with “Track Changes,” my editing marks are in red, and my comments are in their own separate section, not inserted into the text.)

The building was kind of narrow in the middle, almost like as if it was a person that had a waist. Its unusual shape was due to its two-partThis was because of the way the building’s construction had been planned. At the beginning, when the building was first built, the building was a near-perfect it was just a normal twenty-story rectanglebuilding. Each of its floors was as wide as the one above and below it, except forIt was rectangular, and the top was as wide as the bottom all the way up to the second to last floor. Tthe toplast two floors. These two were narrower than the rest of the building. Then, aAbout ten years laterafter the building’s original construction, the developer added several floors to it it was decided to put an addition on the building. [Is the developer the one who added the floors? I’m trying to change this sentence from passive to active.] They just started building rightThis new construction began on top of the narrow upper two floorstop part of the original building. Because the floors of the new addition were as wide as the lower floors of the original building, the building had kind of developed an hourglass shape.

Drake stood in the park and focused his binoculars on that narrow part.

[Please send me your comments about this Sample Edit. To submit your own work for a free edit–and inclusion in a posting on this blog–please write to me at jane@beaumonthardy.com.]

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