Summer break is a great time to kick back, relax and enjoy yourself and, if you’re lucky, to go on an awesome trip! But how can you translate your amazing vacation into a narrative essay for English class or work it to fit a common application prompt? Here’s some tips to help you out:
Save Mementos From Your Summer
Even if you’re not the sentimental type, make sure to document your summer travels. Take pictures, write diary entries, save train stubs. This is the best way to ensure that you’ll remember your summer well enough to look back and write about it later.
Write an Outline Before Writing Your Essay
Regardless of whether you spent your summer break in Madison, Wisconsin or Madrid, Spain, you should plan out what you’re going to write before diving in. Make a list of what you’ve done over the summer so that you can later narrow down a focus for the essay itself. Keep in mind that the best essay topics aren’t always on the most exciting activities an essay about getting stuck in traffic on the way to the airport on the way to Denver could work better than an essay on hiking the Grand Canyon and looking out at the incredible view.
Since you’re going to keep a record of your trip and come up with an outline before writing your essay, you should be able to put some detail into your essay. Be as specific as possible when it comes to your word choice. If you’re talking about some gelato that you ate in Italy, don’t say that it was “delicious.” Instead, say that it was “creamy and chocolatey, with a note of vanilla.”
Focus on Feelings About Your Trip, Not What You Did
If you spent the summer on the beach in Cape Cod, you shouldn’t write about what you did. You should write instead about how you felt while there. An essay that reads “I went to beach, then had lobster for dinner” is not quite as exciting as one that goes, “As I went for a walk on the beach, I thought about how lucky I was to be able to enjoy nature.” Feelings translate better into text than events, and you should try to place those feelings into context.
Stick to Writing About a Small Moment
With any essay you write especially a short one it’s important to focus a narrow moment in time. Don’t write about your entire week in Paris. Instead, write about the moment you got lost in the city at midnight and fumbled your way home in the dark. You don’t have to pick a particularly glamorous moment from your trip, but you should pick one that meant something to you.
Edit Your Essay Carefully
The shorter the essay, the more important precision is. Regardless of length, make sure to carefully read over what you’ve written to make sure every sentence conveys the message you most want displayed. The editing process matters just as much as the writing process, even if it seems less so.
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Describe your whereabouts on the evening of the 18th.
Okay, this isn’t CSI, and you’re not under investigation, so this isn’t the type of description we’ll be learning about in this post.
Describe your summer vacation.
You’re not in third grade, either so no one is going to ask you to write a paper describing your family’s summer vacation (I hope!).
Write a 750 word essay describing a place, an object, an experience, or a process. Be creative!
Now this sounds like something you might be asked to write. Describing something sounds easy enough, right? But there are guidelines you should follow when writing a descriptive essay.
Being creative and descriptive can sometimes be a challenge. I’m sure you don’t want to write the seventh incarnation of your summer vacation essay, but you might be struggling to think of something a bit more original.
If you’re feeling less than creative and need some inspiration, then you’ve found the right place, as this post includes 20 fascinating and unusual descriptive essay topics.
Writing a Descriptive Essay: What You Need to Know
Yes, you’ll need to include descriptions in a descriptive essay, but there’s more to it than that.
Here are three key points should know before you write your paper.
Know why you’re writing the essay
Like any assignment, a descriptive essay has a specific purpose.
Is your purpose to simply describe something, or are you supposed include your feelings and comments about something? Not sure how to include either of these? Read more about objective and subjective description.
Know what details to include
Description is obviously important in a descriptive essay but don’t include details simply for the sake of including them. These unnecessary details slow down your writing and bog down your readers.
Here’s an example that includes too many unnecessary details.
I walked up the three steps on my front porch, put my key in my newly painted front door, and opened it casually. My jaw dropped to the floor when I opened the door. Eight of my best friends were packed tightly like sardines in the corner, each holding colorful Happy Birthday signs. They jumped out and yelled “Surprise! Happy Birthday!” as I walked in the room.
This paragraph provides too many irrelevant details. Do readers really need to know how many steps are on your front porch, or do they need to know your door was freshly painted? Of course not. These details aren’t important to your description of this event, so leave them out.
Warning: Avoid cliches! Expressions, such as “my jaw dropped to the floor” and “packed like sardines” are overused and not original or creative.
Know (and use) your senses
No, this doesn’t refer to common sense (though I do recommend you always use common sense). Here, senses literally refers to your 5 senses: sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell.
It’s easy to include sight in description, but don’t forget the other senses. Including the other senses creates more vivid imagery. It will bring your descriptions to life and help your readers imagine what you’re describing.
Think about describing a bakery. Through your description, you can show readers an image of the physical space and describe the donuts, but if you can capture the sweet aroma of baked goods wafting through the air, you’ll create a much more effective description.
Now that you’re hungry for donuts, and now that you have a better understanding of how to write a descriptive essay, the fact remains that you still need something to write about.
Here are 20 topics to help spark your creativity.
20 Fascinating and Unusual Descriptive Essay Topics
Remember, you want to avoid topics that you’ve written about since the third grade and boring topics that are too obvious.
Try one of these topics, instead!
5 Fascinating and Unusual Descriptive Essay Topics about Places
Sure, you could describe your bedroom, your dorm room, or even a classroom, but that’s not very original, so write about something a little more unusual, like one of these 5 places.
- A construction site: Think of the sounds of machinery and smells of construction materials. You might even be able to describe conversations between workers.
- A waiting room: Consider the mood of the room and how people interact. How do strangers interact when placed in a quiet room together?
- A gas station restroom: I hate to ask, but is it possible to describe how this room might smell?
- A cemetery at dusk: The time of year, the weather, and the light will be important in your description of a cemetery. Is the mood somber or creepy?
- A line at an amusement park ride: Think about how the temperature and the length of the line might play an important role in your description. Does a 90 degree day and a 30 minute wait change the mood of the people in line?
5 Fascinating and Unusual Descriptive Essay Topics about Objects
Your first thought might be to describe your television, your couch, or anything else immediately in front of you, but really, how fascinating can a couch be? Why not write about something a bit more interesting, like one of these topics.
- The contents of your purse or wallet: Describe what the items look like, but also describe their importance or significance. Do you carry any sentimental items?
- A painting or picture: Describe the subject of the painting or photograph. Do the background images have any significance? What is the history behind the painting or picture?
- Your favorite toy from childhood: Can you describe to readers why the toy was your favorite? What is the toy made of? Is it soft and cuddly or made of plastic or steel?
- The street in front of your home: Paint a clear picture for your readers by describing the street itself, what surrounds the street, and who uses the street? What noises are associated with the street? Are there any distinctive smells or sights?
- A tattoo: Colors, lines, and concept will play an important role in describing a tattoo. If known, you might also include a description of the tattoo’s meaning.
5 Fascinating and Unusual Descriptive Essay Topics about Experiences
You’ve likely graduated from kindergarten, middle school, and maybe even high school. You might be tempted to write about this experience, but unless it was truly unique, consider skipping those boring ideas and go with a more unusual topic like one of the five listed here.
- A frightening, funny, or embarrassing subway ride: Describe how frightened you were when you were trapped in a dark subway car for hours. Perhaps describe how embarrassed you felt when you broke the heel of your shoe running to catch the train. Or, describe how a subway performer changed your day.
- Feeling alone in a room–not knowing anyone at the party, in a new school, or in a class: Think about the emotions you felt. How can you describe this to others so they, too, feel how you felt in that instant? Did the shape of the room or placement of the people contribute to your feelings?
- A visit to an emergency room: Describe the sounds of doctors, patients, and medical devices to your readers. Describe your thoughts and feelings. Consider how you might describe the chaos or calm in the ER at any given time.
- Getting lost in a strange new place (a city or even on your campus): Combine the panic you might feel along with a clear description of the sights and sounds around you to help readers understand your emotions and see your surroundings.
- Meeting up with a long-lost friend (or ex-boyfriend/girlfriend): Consider how you might describe the person. Does he or she look different than when you last met? How did you feel when you first saw your friend or ex? Does the place where you met play a role in your description?
5 Fascinating and Unusual Descriptive Essay Topics about Processes
Yes, making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich might be considered a process, but these types of how-to processes read more like directions, rather than a description of a process. Choose a topic (like one listed below) that allows for more discussion and description.
- How to survive your first year of college: Think about all of your experiences and try to narrow them down to a few key points that college students must know in order to survive. You might describe the best ways to study, how to meet new people, how to avoid feeling homesick, or even how to avoid the freshman 15.
- How to train for a marathon: This description not only involves the physical aspect, but also involves the mental aspects of training. Describe how you feel during each.
- How to study for an exam: Describe a few important study strategies. Consider how you learn best and how you might help others follow your same techniques.
- How to break up with your boyfriend/girlfriend: Is it ever okay to break up on Facebook, Twitter, or via text? What should you say to your soon-to-be ex?
- How to protect your privacy online: Describe a few key steps anyone can use to protect his or her privacy. Look for simple, low-cost solutions anyone can try.
From Descriptive Topic to Descriptive Essay
After you’ve chosen from the many possible descriptive essay topics for your paper, remember: know why you’re writing the essay, know what details to include, and use your 5 senses.
With these three tips in mind, it will be easy to turn your fascinating and unusual topic into a superb essay.
If you’re looking for extra help turning descriptive essay topics into an essay, here are a few resources to set you on the right path.
For help with basic essay structure, read How to Write a 5-Paragraph Essay Outline.
Read more tips on structuring your descriptive essay here.
Do you remember when teachers told you to show, not tell? They’re right! Click here to learn more about using this strategy in your own descriptive essay.
If you’ve written a killer descriptive essay but just can’t decide how to end it, read 12 Essay Conclusion Examples to Help You Finish Strong and How to Write a Killer Essay Conclusion.
When you’ve finished your essay, don’t forget to have one of our editors review your paper.
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