How to Write a Sense-of-Place Essay

A sense-of-place essay describes the importance of a setting.
... Jupiterimages/ Images

From backyards to childhood homes to first apartments, places play a significant role in shaping our memories. In a sense-of-place essay, authors paint a vivid picture of an important place in their lives for readers. Unlike a narrative essay, sense-of-place essays are shorter and focus on providing an in-depth look at a particular setting rather than telling a story. Using specific detail, conveying emotion and reflecting on the place's importance will help you effectively share your favorite settings with readers.

1 Brainstorming

A good way to begin thinking of topics is to make a list of meaningful places from your past. You might find yourself recalling family gatherings at your grandparents' old farmhouse, your elementary school classroom or a lakeside beach where you went swimming as a child. You can then select a place that holds particular significance or vivid memories for you, and make another list of everything you remember about it, such as sounds, particular smells or prominent colors and textures.

2 Imagery

The Purdue Online Writing Lab states that good descriptive essays instill "a sense of familiarity and appreciation" in readers. In a sense-of-place essay, this is accomplished through imagery, the portrayal of sensory details. You can use your list of important aspects of the place for ideas of what to bring to life in your setting. If you were writing about your grandmother's kitchen, for example, you might write about the smoky scent of turkey dinner, while a description of your backyard could include the stained glass appearance of sunlight streaming through the trees.

3 Tone

A sense-of-place essay also makes readers feel the emotion associated with your chosen setting. This is done through tone, the portrayal of the author's attitude toward the subject. Description plays a key role in establishing tone. For example, if you were describing your favorite amusement park, the details of bright colors, up-tempo carnival music and children's laughter would convey a carefree tone, while a graveyard would carry a somber tone with details of cold, gray headstones and faded silk flowers.

4 Reflection

A good way to end your essay is by reflecting on why the place you've chosen is so important to you. Discussing what you learned there, what the place means to you and its impact on your life will complete the picture you've created. In an essay on your grandmother's kitchen, you might talk about how being there taught you the value of service to others, while an essay about your backyard might illustrate your nostalgia for the innocence of childhood. By the conclusion, readers should clearly understand the significance of this place in your memory.

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.