A common creative writing task on all entrance exams, is to write a short story or descriptive paragraph in response to an image. We use this type of exercise with all ages, however, right up to A Level, as it is an effective and enjoyable way of developing a student’s writing skills.
Below are three sample paragraphs, each responding to a different image (link here to National Geographic’s online photography galleries, an absolutely wonderful resource). Each sample paragraph would also work well as the opening to a short story, so they can be used as starting points for ‘continue the story’ exercises; another common entrance exam task. The rules are that you must have a first person narrator who is present in the scene and responds to it, but that their personality and appearance are not the focus. You need to locate them in the scene, but should not include a narrative or back-story – the most important thing is describing the setting. Oh, and you only have five minutes to write each paragraph!
Gentle waves like rippling iron washed towards me, cresting into a frothing, bubbling ridge as they reached the shore and dissipated. The sand was damp beneath my bare feet, and I shivered as the sun’s warmth faded from the sky. It hung above the horizon, a glowing orb of fire that seemed to threaten humanity. Beneath it a city squatted, silhouetted skyscrapers like the ribs of some long-forgotten shipwreck, temporarily revealed by the fickle tide.
Bertha yawned widely, revealing crooked sallow teeth like jagged tombstones. The stench of her breath engulfed me for a moment and I gagged, instinctively patting her wrinkled neck to reassure her. Saffron bristles gave way to leathery skin, and her brightly-coloured harness jangled as she shook her head, disgruntled to be walking beneath the scorching midday sun. Behind us a cluster of pyramids protruded from the lifeless desert, tombs to long-forgotten kings now ignominiously abandoned.
Clouds swirled around the mountain’s foothills like an ocean of mist, waves lapping against the titanic hull of an immense container-ship. Black rock was ridged and scarred, forcing its way upwards into a glittering peak of snow and ice. Our little plane roared onwards, the night’s shadows fading reluctantly as the carmine blush of dawn seeped over the horizon.
By Jade Everingham