What are good ways to describe a war scene?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In preparation for writing on a war scene, one may wish to peruse the writings of professionals for examples. Such works as Here is Your War and Brave Men by World War II's correspondent Ernie Pyle, who gives "up-close and personal" descriptions of battles and poignant recounting of the actual experiences of soldiers, afford many details and ideas for writing. His famous line "War is Hell" aptly sums up his work. Here is a passage from Brave Men in which Pyle describes the Navy heading to battle in which he uses personfication most effectively,

We sailed on past the stone breakwater with the waves beating against it and out onto the dark blue of the Mediterranean....Almost out of sight great graceful cruisers and wicked destroyers raced on our perimeter to protect us. Just at dusk a whole squadron of vicious little PT boats, their engines roaring in one giant combination like a force of heaving bombers corssed our bow....We moved on into the enveloping night that might have a morning for us, or might not.

Of course, a renowned novel on the horrors of war is that of Erich Marie Remarque, who describes the hideous trench warfare of World War I in All Quiet on the Western Front. Interestingly, Remarque interposes poetic prose with riveting imagery in his descriptions of battle that mix horror with poignancy:

The brown earth, the torn, blasted earth, with a greasy shine under the sun's rays, the earth is the background of this restless, gloomy world of automatons, our gasping is the scratching of a quill, our lips are dry, our heads are debauched with stupor--thus we stagger forward, and into our pierced and shattered souls bores the torturing image of the brown earth with the greasy sun and the convulsed and dead soldiers....(Ch.6)

In both these works, there is a combination of the objective, but graphic detail of a tableau of war, accompanied by human sentiments for those shattered and destroyed by war's ravages. Indeed, the contrast between objective depiction along with evocative portrayal of the conditions of the human soul invites the involvement of the reader to become involved with the text.

Certainly, the format of a descriptive essay is desirable for the writer. Here are some important considerations for the writing of such an essay, ones exemplified by Pyle and Remarque:

  1. Include enough detail to create a mental image for the reader
  2. Use sensory imagery
  3. Place objects and sights in relation to each other
  4. Establish an importance of order in the descriptions