Review: Descriptosaurus by Alison Wilcox

Descriptosaurus by Alison Wilcox is a vocabulary and phrase toolbox to help teach creative writing which is widely used among 11-plus tutors.

The hefty 260-page book costing around £26 is divided into three categories – settings, characters and creatures.

Each section is broken down into a multitude of topics – each with words, phrases and example sentences which can be woven into a piece of creative writing.

Forget about 11-plus students, this tomb could be used by aspiring authors it is that extensive.

One of the topics in the character section is appearance where you will find hundreds of words and phrases to describe face, eyes, hair and clothes and more.

“Shoes with flapping soles,” “loose faded jeans,” “psychedelic smock top,” are a few examples.

There is a chapter on adverbs – which are once again usefully grouped – for example there is a section on “cold, evil, sly, arrogant” adverbs and another on “angry, aggressive, irritated, impatient” adverbs.

Wilcox also includes lists of connectives – connectives for moving the action on a few days, weeks, months, others for changing the time of day and moving on to the next. There are also hints on connecting action scenes and then concluding the actions.

At the back of the book there are resources to help with story construction which could be photocopied and used at home.

A lot of thought has obviously gone into the lists of words and phrases – they are inspiring. If I ever had to write about a room or a garden, I could do worse than reach for this book in which Wilcox has done most of the legwork.

“Children need to take the magpie approach when doing the creative writing task,” said one English teacher.

“They need to borrow ideas and descriptions.”

This books which is in its third edition could help children do just that.

My only issue is clichés do abound in this tomb – peaks are perilous, booms are deafening, air is “thick with choking fumes” and snowdrops grow in clumps.

I wonder how many times this phrase of Wilcox has appeared in 11-plus creative writing papers: “It was a colourful, cosmopolitan city. The street markets filled the air with an exciting mix of smells and sounds from around the world.”

Children left to their own devices come out with the most descriptive phrases. I heard one child say he “looked like a flower pot” after his sister cut his hair in lockdown.

While this book’s vocabulary lists and phrases are useful, I would be wary of exposing children to the ready-made sentences, even though I am sure the author never intended for them to be lifted out of her book and used in an exam.

Don’t be fooled, any examiner of the 11-plus creative writing paper will be able to spot any set phrase or sentence a mile off.

Descriptosaurus by Alison Wilcox, Routledge, £26.99

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