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Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so I thought I would appeal to your love of writing and chocolate. There is nothing better than a playful language activity to breathe life into your writing. If you’ll feel too silly, you can always try this with your children or grandchildren. I formerly used this activity in the classroom as a way to foster better description. No matter the type of writing you produce on a regular basis, taking time to make it fun is worthwhile. Enjoy!

It’s common to forget one or two of our senses when writing about an object or experience. Strong writing uses significant details to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. Detailed images can then move past physical description to the larger issues associated with the writer’s observations. The following exercise will help further develop the ability to achieve a balance between concrete and abstract details in writing.

Picture of Hershey's Kiss

  • Before you eat your Kiss, take a minute to examine its appearance. Now consider the five senses that humans possess.
  • Pick your Kiss up, unwrap it, and then eat it. All the while keeping the five senses in mind.
  • Using as many sensory details as possible, freewrite a description of your Kiss. Try to keep your pen moving.

If done in a school setting, it’s worthwhile to remind students to keep their descriptions school appropriate. Otherwise, some will undoubtedly come up with stuff that will make people blush. Though if you play this with a group of adults, it could be fun to tip the scales the other way.

  • If working in groups, share your descriptions by reading them aloud. Briefly discuss the many adjectives everyone used, poetic comparisons, or associations made. If time allows, pick one to share.

Not all written language is as concrete as the sense descriptions just recorded about the Kiss. Writers often use concrete detail convey a more metaphorical meaning. For example, Scott Russell Sanders writes:

Much of the pleasure in writing an essay—and, when the writing is any good, the pleasure in reading it—comes from this dodging and leaping, this movement of the mind. It must not be idle movement, however, if the essay is to hold up; it must be driven by deep concerns. The surface of a river is alive with lights and reflections, the breaking of foam over rocks, but beneath that dazzle it is going somewhere. We should expect as much from an essay: The shimmer and play of the mind on the surface and in the depths a strong current.

What else comes to mind if you were to describe the Kiss in more abstract terms?

  • Now consider the following questions as you freewrite: What does it represent or symbolize? What is associated with it? What does chocolate mean to you? What do Kisses or chocolate in general mean to American culture? To other cultures?

As you can see, a Kiss can be more than just a Kiss. Writing often involves examining all of the concrete details we can immediately sense followed by consideration of the abstractions that those details imply. Also, for every abstract idea, details (facts, quotes, analogies, examples) exist at the other end of the ladder. No matter your writing field, the ability to balance concrete and abstract details just makes good sense.

When is the last time you simply took the time to have a bit of fun with language? What concrete and abstract details do you associate with chocolate?

Image Credit: Hershey Kiss by John Siebert

Article by Jeri Walker-Bickett aka JeriWB

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