Writing Activity: Zoom In to Capture Descriptive Details

Using a still life or landscape to write descriptive details

Teachers and docents find that writing with art is an exciting, productive activity. Whether you are in a museum or a classroom, the following ideas and prompts can be springboards to writing for many purposes.  

Engagement Strategies:

How many of you like to take photos? What makes a good photo? Sometimes we take pictures of large scenes, like the grand canyon, and sometimes we like to “zoom in” on single people or objects in a scene. Photographers are like writers and painters in the way they take a snapshot of life. Writers have a built in camera with a zoom lens. Let’s practice using ours. Demonstrate with an actual camera or phone. 

Questions / Activities:

Look at the painting and imagine yourself in this place. Write one line on your paper to describe the large view (ex. In the room there was a table)
Now turn that imaginary zoom lens one notch and describe one object. Notice texture, bumpy, smooth, slippery; notice light, color, even shape.
Now turn the zoom lens to get in even closer on a single object and say even more about it. Push yourself to get as close as you can.
Read what you have to a partner. Ask for volunteers to share.
What details made this painting seem real?

A More Scripted Approach:
Just like a photographer uses her zoom lens to pull in close to specific details, we as writers have our own magic zoom lens. At any time we can zoom in on important people, places or things as we write. When a writer uses his zoom lens, the writing comes alive. For example, instead of writing about how bad a character's day was, the writer can 'zoom in' on the rumpled food-stained clothing, messy hair and dark circles under his character's eyes.

Begin teaching this strategy by looking at a model in the literature students might be reading as a way to notice how this strategy can work. Let's look at how other writers have used this technique. Example: "Ma kissed them both, and tucked the covers around them. They lay there, awhile, looking at Ma's smooth, parted hair and her hands busy with sewing in the lamplight. Her needle made little clicking sounds against her thimble and then the thread went softly, swish! Through the pretty calico that Pa had traded furs for." From Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Let's look at the painting now. Imagine you're writing a story and one of your characters enters this room. (Consider Claesz Heda's Vanities). "As I stood in the doorway I noticed a table on the other side of the room."
Now use your imaginary writer's camera, zoom in slightly on just one part of the table. Pause while they write.
Now turn the zoom lens to get in even closer on some object. Notice texture: bumpy, smooth, slippery. Notice light, color, and shape. Pause while they write.
Push yourself to get a little closer, as close as you can, as if you're turning the zoom lens each time.

Read what you have and share with a partner. Details make this painting come alive. Details make our stories and poems come alive.   


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Description — by Margaret Grace VanderVliet (April 15 2017 @ 2:34 pm)
Detail — by Margaret Grace VanderVliet (April 15 2017 @ 2:34 pm)

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May 18, 2017 1:55 p.m.


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