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Subjective Description

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If a swan is beautiful, that is your opinion. It is also a simple subjective description. A subjective description is the use of opinions to create an image in your mind. The difference between a subjective and objective description isn’t always clear, but it can be explained with examples. The subjective description has a unique purpose and use in writing.

Definition and purpose of subjective description

A subjective description is a kind of description. A description is the use of words to create an image in your mind. Where an objective description uses fact to create this image, the subjective description uses opinion.

The purpose of subjective description is to create an emotional representation of the subject in the reader’s mind. You can use subjective description to align the reader with your ideas

The prince was pretty.

Let’s pretend that this example comes from a story, and in this story there is no factual description of the prince. His height, his physique, and the way he smiles is a total mystery. Each reader will therefore imagine him as whatever they imagine a pretty prince to be. For the writer, the goal is achieved. In their story, people treat the prince as pretty—and now the reader, regardless of physical preferences, will treat the prince as pretty as well. The story’s narrative and the image created by the reader emotionally align.

When the goal is emotional alignment, subjective description is often a writer’s go-to tool.

Subjective description Prince Charming example StudySmarterPrince Charming? flaticon.

The difference between subjective and objective description

Most stories you’ll read include a mixture of subjective and objective descriptions. To pinpoint whether a description is objective or descriptive, first isolate the descriptions. Follow the trail of adjectives, concrete nouns, action verbs, metaphors… anything that creates an image in your mind. Then, decide whether the descriptions are based in fact or based in opinion.

The stained 1987 Amiga computer glowed like sunlight.

"Stained" is a factual description of the computer, so it is an objective description. Although it is vague, the reader’s mental image of “stained” is not highly emotionally dependent.

1987 Amiga computer” is a concrete noun—something that can be perceived using the five senses—so it is an objective description. It is a real thing with a real appearance.

Glowed like sunlight” is a subjective description because it is an opinion. Objectively, only sunlight glows like sunlight. A 1987 Amiga doesn’t objectively glow like sunlight, or else it would be the sun and could blind you!

If a description can be verified with a picture, you know it is an objective description. Since you can verify a 1987 Amiga using a picture, you can comfortably identify it as an objective description.

Figurative description: “Glowed like sunlight” is a figurative description in addition to being a subjective description. A figurative description creates an image in the reader’s mind by associating two more objective sources, in this case the 1987 Amiga and sunlight. While the two sources of a figurative description are usually objective, the resulting image is always less objective than either of the sources, because a term such as “like” puts the focus on the reader. It is up to the reader to determine how the Amiga glows like sunlight. The mental action of determining an association between two totally different things is a personal analysis, which makes it subjective.

A subjective description is interpreted, whereas an objective description is transcribed. If a description is interpreted by the brain, it is more up to the interpreter what the image looks like:

The ox was strange.

If a description is transcribed by the brain, it is more up to the writer what the image looks like:

The ox had three eyes.

How to write subjective descriptions

Now that you can identify a subjective description, try your hand at writing one. The way that reading helps your writing, and writing helps your reading. If you can comfortably use subjective descriptions, you will better identify them in passages because you know their ins and outs.

How to Write a Subjective Description in an Essay

In most essays, you will use objective descriptions because essays tend to deal with facts, not opinions. A thesis statement requires evidence to support it, and your opinion is an extremely weak form of evidence. Don’t use subjective description to alter your reader’s opinion. Instead, use subjective description to open your reader up to change by supplying an emotional cue.

Subjective descriptions can be a quick way to engage your reader's emotions or memories, and thereby prime them for your argument.

In most desert regions, the prospect of sustainable agriculture is frightful.

In itself, frightful doesn’t mean anything. What is frightful is subjective, but readers will certainly begin to imagine what frightful might be. Additionally, when readers begin to read the evidence, they will associate that evidence with something frightful.

This example of subjective description would be a good way to introduce a thesis regarding the need to change our approach toward sustainable agriculture in the desert. After all, if the prospect of sustainable agriculture in the desert is “frightful,” it should probably be changed.

The dangers of subjective description: Subjective description has its uses, but always doublecheck yourself when you employ them in an essay. When writing or reading about politics, recognize that many "facts" come with a bias, and are thus subjective. It is destructive to wield opinions as facts in any arena. Again, if a piece of evidence is highly contended, it might not be a fact. If in doubt, consider whether the piece of evidence is itself scientific or if it is a conclusion. A conclusion can be drawn from facts, opinions, and total ignorance, whereas real evidence is found from competent studies.

How to Write a Subjective Description in a Story

You will often encounter subjective descriptions in novels and short stories. As such, you will often see them appear in excerpts on timed tests. Whether you are preparing for such a test, writing a school-related composition, or simply honing your passion for words, you will find that mastering the subjective description is a tremendous asset in the field of the humanities.

When To Use Subjective Description

If your piece of writing is broadly intended to entertain, subjective description is your friend. However, descriptions can be overused even in the richest novels. To determine if you should use a subjective description for your topic, consider:

  1. Have you been describing the facts recently? If in the last few paragraphs you have been stating exactly how things appear, you should consider using a subjective or figurative description for a change of pace.

  2. Would objective description be cumbersome? If stopping to objectively describe the alien mothership gets in the way of the story, use a subjective description instead:

The alien ship appeared like a solar hawk, radiant and divine, with weaponry sharp like talons.

  1. Are details required? Sometimes you might forego a description altogether, if enough has already been said. Don’t repeat yourself, and keep your eye on the action.

Saying nothing at all: This technique of saying nothing at all is commonly employed in the horror genre. A writer may avoid describing a monster’s physical appearance entirely and only recount its actions. This is the ultimate way to create a subjective description for a reader, as anything could be out there doing something scary. The reader perceives their own subjective horror. When a writer limits their descriptions to action verbs, the world becomes alien and psychological. This extreme limit on description is also used in surrealism to create purely mental realities. Without the context of sensory descriptions, characters can appear to exist and act outside the realm of normal space and time.

Accomplishing Your Purpose with Subjective Description

The purpose of subjective description is to create an emotional representation of the subject in the reader’s mind. To do this, consider the emotional aspect of your subject before ever putting pen to paper.

For instance, if you are describing a baseball diamond, you could launch right into objective descriptions about its size and shape and subjective descriptions about how fun it is to play baseball there. However, what if you really want this scene to communicate your summer nostalgia for baseball diamonds?

subjective description baseball game StudySmarterMemories about the game, flaticon.

In the event you want your scene to strike a certain emotional chord, it is important to know so at the start, so that you can tailor your descriptions to put your reader in the correct frame of mind. If you are clear about your emotional purpose, then you can tailor the details to fit it, thereby creating a more complete image of what you intended.

Word Choice and Subjective Description

When creating a subjective description, your word choice is important. Because subjective descriptions are more complex for readers to digest, due to the reader needing to interpret them, it is especially important to use audience-appropriate vocabulary.

Think of it this way. If you describe someone as having an overbite, a reader who doesn’t know the word misses out on a detail. If you describe a smile as refulgent, a reader who doesn’t know the word misses out on context. Because subjective descriptions trade in emotions, if you fail to touch that emotion in your reader, the point of the image fails.

Unless you want to challenge your reader, you would be better served describing a smile as “big and white” rather than “resplendent” if your audience isn’t likely to understand that a resplendent smile emotes happiness and beauty.

Examples Of Subjective Description

In each of these examples, the subjective description is underlined.

When she stepped onto the burning hot pitcher’s mound, the dust drifted upward like the smoke of a firework on the 4th Of July.

The violin vibrated sweetly.

Swift as a cloud, my husband arrived at my porch that breezy midday.

The conditions in Mesaville are deplorable.

The matron was not pleasant, rather more like a titanium effigy.

Subjective Description - Key takeaways

  • A subjective description is the use of opinions to create an image in your mind.
  • The purpose of subjective description is to create an emotional representation of the subject in the reader’s mind.
  • Most stories you’ll read include a mixture of objective and subjective descriptions. To pinpoint whether a description is objective or descriptive, first isolate the descriptions. Then, decide whether the descriptions are based in fact or based in opinion.
  • In most essays, you will use objective descriptions because essays tend to deal with facts, not opinions.
  • You will often encounter subjective descriptions in novels and short stories.

Subjective Description

A subjective description in writing is the use of opinions to create an image in someone's mind.

The purpose of subjective description is to create an emotional representation of the subject in the reader’s mind.

Consider what emotion you want the reader to feel regarding your subject. Then, write a description that will evoke that emotion in the reader. 

No. Subjective description does not use facts or evidence. Objective description uses facts and evidence.

You will often encounter subjectives descriptions in novels and short stories. If your piece of writing is broadly intended to entertain, subjective description is your friend.

Final Subjective Description Quiz

Question

A subjective description is the use of _____ to create an image in your mind. 

Show answer

Answer

Opinions

Show question

Question

The purpose of subjective description is to create an _____ representation of the subject in the reader's mind.

Show answer

Answer

Emotional

Show question

Question

Most stories you'll read include a mixture of _____ and _____ descriptions.

Show answer

Answer

Objective, Subjective

Show question

Question

To pinpoint whether a description is objective or descriptive, first _____ the descriptions.

Show answer

Answer

Isolate

Show question

Question

In an essay, are you more likely to use objective or subjective description?

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Answer

Objective.

Show question

Question

"You will often encounter subjective descriptions in novels."


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

The underlined word is a subjective description. "The lion roared in a kingly manner."


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True. A "kingly manner" is not an objective manner. It is interpretable what a kingly manner might be, especially with regard to a lion.

Show question

Question

The underlined word is an objective description. "The matron was not comely."


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False. This is subjective because comeliness is a matter of opinion.

Show question

Question

Why should you consider your readers' emotions when writing a subjective description?

Show answer

Answer

Because you want your subjective description to impact your readers' emotions.

Show question

Question

"Write a subjective description not when you need to, but when you want to."


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False. Descriptions can be overused even in the richest novels.

Show question

Question

Is a figurative description an objective or subjective description?

Show answer

Answer

Fundamentally it is a subjective description.

Show question

Question

"If a description can be verified with a picture, you know it is an objective description."

True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

The underlined word is a subjective description. "The dirty goat jumped the fence."

Show answer

Answer

False. In this instance, a real goat is dirty, so this is lightly objective. If someone who launders money were to be described as "dirty," that would be subjective.

Show question

Question

You can use subjective description to align the reader with your _____.

Show answer

Answer

Narrative

Show question

Question

"Subjective descriptions can be a quick way to engage your reader's emotions or memories, and thereby prime them for your argument."

True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

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