Basic Features

Basic Features


how writers use naming and detailing to create vivid images, look closely at Dillard’s description of an iceball:

I started making an iceball — a [ perfect ] iceball, from [ perfectly white] snow, [ perfectly spherical], and [squeezed perfectly translucent] so no snow remained all the way through. (par. 6)

Notice that she names two things (underlined): iceball and snow. She adds to these names descriptive details (in brackets) — white (color), spherical (shape), and translucent (appearance) — that help readers imagine more precisely what an ice- ball looks like. She also repeats the words perfect and perfectly (highlighted) to emphasize the color, shape, and appearance of this particular iceball.

To analyze Dillard’s use of the describing strategies of naming and detailing to present places and people, do the following:

Reread paragraphs 10 and 12, where she describes the man and the neighbor- hood through which he chases her and Mikey.

Underline the names of people and objects (nouns).

Put brackets around the words and phrases that modify the nouns they name.

Write a couple of sentences explaining what you notice about the relative amount of naming and detailing Dillard uses in these paragraphs and the kinds of details she chooses to include.

Autobiographical Significance

Writers convey significance by a combination of showing and telling. Showing, through the careful choice of words and details, creates an overall or dominant impression. Telling includes the narrator’s remembered feelings and thoughts together with her present perspective on what happened and why it is significant.

To analyze Dillard’s use of showing to convey significance, do the following:

Reread paragraphs 7, 10, 13, 16, 18, 20–21, and highlight the details Dillard uses to describe the man, how he dresses, the car he drives, and especially the way he talks when he catches the kids.

Write a couple of sentences characterizing the dominant impression you get of the man from these details and what they suggest about why he chases the kids.

To analyze Dillard’s use of telling to convey significance, do the following:

Reread paragraphs 15–21 and highlight the key words Dillard uses to tell read- ers what she thinks of the man and the chase.

Write a couple of sentences explaining what these key words tell you about the significance of the experience for Dillard.

Write another sentence discussing how the opening anecdote about learning to play football fearlessly and courageously helps you understand the significance of the event for Dillard.

To learn more about the describing strategies of naming and detailing, see Chapter 15.



Like Dillard, you could write about a time when an adult did something entirely unexpected during your childhood, an action that seemed dangerous or threatening to you, or something humorous, kind, or generous. List two or three of these occa- sions. Consider unpredictable actions of adults in your immediate or extended family, adults you had come to know outside your family, and strangers. As you consider these possible topics, think about your purpose and audience: What would you want your instructor and classmates to learn about you from reading about this particular event?

TREY ELLIS is a film professor at Columbia University and a prolific writer. He has written novels including Right Here, Right Now (1999), winner of the American Book Award; plays and screenplays, including The Tuskegee Airmen (1995); and essays published in notable news- papers and magazines such as the Washington Post, Newsweek, and Salon. He also does commentary for NPR’s All Things Considered and blogs for the Huffington Post and his own Web site, His

most recent publication is Bedtime Stories: Adventures in the Land of Single-Fatherhood (2008), from which this essay was adapted for publication in the New York Times.

The reading tells what happened when Ellis was twenty-two years old and visited his father in France. Ellis includes a photograph of his father. As you read, think about what the photograph adds to your reading of the essay.

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