Let’s pick up where we left off last time. In case you missed it, here it is again: Interesting Ways to Begin a Descriptive Essay (Part 1). We now come to technique number four in our list:
“Where's Papa going with that axe?”
The first line of Charlotte's Web is memorable for its unique take on an opening.
Many cringe at the thought of going through long tedious paragraphs of description right at the beginning. So start off with a dramatic statement to catch the reader at once. Dialogue creates immediacy and proximity between the reader and the writer. The impression that he is in the knowledge of something significant brings the reader in the same room as the writer.
‘Keep your voices down! This is the library, not a playground,” hissed the stern librarian from behind her desk. (Opening for a descriptive essay on a library)
‘Do not put your hands through the bars. You can't pet it; remember it's a tiger, not a kitten,’ chided the zookeeper. (Opening for a descriptive essay on a tiger).
Begin with a relevant, resonating quote and connect it with your topic in the next line.
‘One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives’ (Euripides)
‘I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of Library’ (Jorge Luis Borges)
‘A house that does not have one warm, comfy chair in it is soulless’ (May Sarton)
‘Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?’ (William Blake)
6. Synecdoche or Metonymy
Another way to grab your readers’ attention is to go symbolic. Pick on something essentially characteristic about an object, animal, bird, person or place and build your opening around its description. In other words, you must metaphorise that quality, describing it so well, that it comes to actually represent your subject at hand.
Pars pro toto– part referring to whole – is the technique so that “tickling the ivories” could refer to playing a piano with your fingers. ‘Ivories’ here stands for the white keys of a piano.
“His eye met hers as she sat there paler and whiter than anyone in the vast ocean of anxious faces about her.” (The Lady or the Tiger? By Frank R. Stockton)
In the above line, ‘faces’ refers to rows of people surrounding the protagonist. It’s an example of synecdoche.
Similarly, for a kitten, the first thing that comes to mind is whiskers, paws and golden furs. So your opening can be something like –
‘Cleaning its puny mouth – soiled by milk gulped hurriedly – the delicate pair of paws made the visage spotless once again.’
However, do not reveal the suspense straight away. Let the reader construe a picture in his mind and guess for himself what you could be describing.
‘The rich foliage of majestic feathers, hopped on webbed legs and danced the dance of the rainy season.’
Here, the tropes or symbols are the feathers and legs, representing a peacock.
In the same way, you can be more adventurous and pick on the most classic, typical or archetypal elements of your entity to frame your opening.
7. Literary techniques
The momentum of a well composed write-up keeps going if you make a rich use of figurative techniques. Extensively use HAMOPS or Hyperbole, Alliteration, Metaphor, Onomatopoeia, Personification and Simile.
Here are a few instances presented for you:
Personification at openings –
‘The wisdom of seventy years of life experience brooded straight in his austere expression. This was Retd. Colonel John Rake, my dearest uncle.’
Here, wisdom is being personified as it broods or looks straight from the uncle’s expression.
‘The predator made a violent attempt, with the strength of a warrior, raising its large torso towards its prey. It was the king of the wild cat family – a vicious tiger – assaulting a weak deer.’
In the sentence above, the tiger is being personified as it is referred to as a ‘king.’ Moreover, it raises its ‘torso’ which means the upper part of human body. It is compared to a warrior as well.
‘The deep, dark ocean sent its brutal waves far and wide, as though to engulf all terrestrials.’
The ocean is personified as its waves are like brutal arms which would engulf all mortals or humans.
Metaphor at openings –
‘Up in the azure sky, beautiful butterflies fluttered, creating a picturesque collage.’ (Description of a holiday or outing)
The word ‘collage’ is usually used in the context of art. Here, it’s being used for a group of butterflies. It’s an example of metaphor.
Alliteration at openings –
‘I still remember the sharp sounds of the breaks as our speeding car suddenly came to a screeching halt.’
So many words begin with ‘s,’ hence it’s alliteration effect.
Hyperbole at openings –
‘We had arrived at our destination. It was the D-day! My school result.’
Calling the school result day as your D-day is hyperbole, as though it’s a matter of life and death for a student.
A zinger is a striking, captivating remark or observation that hooks the audience at once. Additionally, it makes them puzzle over what the narrator exactly means. It is a useful technique to fascinate your readers right at the beginning with your creative abilities.
Jane Austen’s legendary opening sentence of her novel, Pride and Prejudice reads:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
This is an example of a satirical remark, tongue-in-cheek mockery, irony or hilarious observation – a zinger. Austen is announcing a socially given reality only to turn it on its head. The idea of arranged marriages as being economic transactions is being targeted and criticized here. She is at first saying: ‘Yes, it’s true that every bachelor who is rich wants a wife’ so that she can actually make fun of this middle class belief. Many middle class parents who have daughters to marry dream of getting their daughters married to rich men and they love to believe that each rich bachelor is looking for a wife which may not be true, but only their false belief. So the novelist is agreeing only to disagree.
Likewise, you can construct openings for the description of a self-smug or self-important uncle or aunt in this way –
‘Showering the fountain of his/her greatly respected knowledge on posterity, the chapel of wisdom descended from the staircase.’
Middle aged men and women like to give advises to younger generations (posterity). The narrator is admitting that their knowledge is ‘greatly respected’ but only on the face of it. In reality, he is mocking this belief that uncles and aunts may have what they say is great for future generations.
9. Candid third-person omniscient narration
Now we return to the folds of what is classic or the most archetypal in English literature. Omniscient or third person narrator is one of the most typical modes of retelling a story.
Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield begins with:
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o'clock at night.”
Whether your subject is animate (living) like an animal or inanimate (non-living) like a place, you can make it the all-knowing, straightforward teller of your narrative.
A busy day in a bank could begin with this line from a third person narrator:
‘Buzzing with rows of sulky office goers, tensed elderlies and solemn home-makers,was the most popular and all-time crowded bank of the nation – the Yorkshire Bank.’
You can describe a library with this opening from a third person narrator:
‘This is the scholarly hub of the city, the famous point of learned pursuits –
visited by bookaholics, the daily comers, as well as the occasional readers, like myself.’
All you must remember is to capture objects, characters, sentiments or any other kind of entity in a strongly engaging manner. Make them come live. Breathe a new life into your subject with strongly vivid and evocative language. Go uncommon. Use highly out-of-the-box vocabulary which attracts and makes one want to read the whole write-up.
Also, no run of the mill or clumsy, unrefined sentences. Polish up your opening sentence from all perspectives, as you must do the entire write-up.