Expat Sat: Writing Prompt #5: The Fine Art of Description

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.

This is #5 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So listen up, my nomadic pals. Then grab your keyboards and start writing.


I’ve been talking to students in my college writing classes about description. Actually, I’ve been making them describe just about everything around them (favorite food, person they love, a person eating, a place that feels like home, their own knee, a sound on the street, etc.). Yesterday, I passed around a couple of Ziploc bags full of cinnamon. I told students to sniff, then write. After the obligatory jokes about the teacher passing around an illegal substance to snort, some beautiful, funny, unexpected writing occurred.

The morning after the cinnamon exercise, I caught a Tweet by @unbravegirl (on Twitter) about moon cakes in China. She said, “I think I would like moon cakes more if they tasted like cake. They’re more like moon newtons.”

What a spot-on description of moon cakes.

All this talk about description, of course, got me thinking about all of you. No matter what you’re working on–fiction or nonfiction–you need to be able to write a spot-on description. And so, here’s your writing assignment for the week.

Writing Assignment: Pick one spice or dish that is particular to the country in which you are now living. Eat it. Sniff it. Touch it. Turn it over. Rub it between your fingers. Roll it around on your tongue. Toss it against the wall…see it if bounces. Eat it with chopsticks. Eat it with a knife and fork. Eat it with your fingers. Tap it with a carrot stick. Compare it to some other dish you ate in some other country in some other period of your life. Then when you’ve exhausted all food play, write about it.

Tip: Try writing sense by sense: see it, listen to it, smell it, touch it, taste it. (Note: If, like me, you have ESP, read its mind and move it without touching it.)


Image: Dino De Luca / FreeDigitalPhotos.net