Kiwis Lay Eggs?!
Yes, Kiwis lay eggs. To you or I, this is a very simple sentence with a very simple concept but to a child or an unfamiliar reader, a Kiwi could be the fruit, and not necessarily the bird. Sometimes, the absence of a narrative visual description can cause the imagination to ‘run wild’, and end up with something quite unlike the topic, as seen in the picture to the right.
“An X-ray photo of a gravid female kiwi, taken fifteen hours before laying, shows this: a skull, with its long beak; a graceful S-shaped neck; an arched backbone; a pair of hunched-up femurs; and at the center of it all, a huge smooth ovoid – her egg – like a moon during a full solar eclipse.”
The above quote is taken from David Quammen’s chapter ‘The Kiwi’s Egg’ in the book ‘The Reluctant Mr. Darwin’. Here, Quammen has used a scientific description of the pregnant Kiwi bird with the use of a metaphor to aid the reader’s imagination. The pregnant Kiwi bird itself, is a metaphor to depict Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection. Below, I have included a narrative visual description showing the X-ray of the gravid Kiwi bird on the left, and the size of the egg compared to a human adult’s hands. Are both effective in the portrayal of the Kiwi bird’s egg? Is one description more effective than the other?
A scientific description can be defined as a formal piece of descriptive literature, where as a narrative visual description is a story that can be explained using primarily visual means, like photographs.
So, how does a writer choose what style to use? Can they use both?
The writer must know their target audience. One cannot write anything without the target audience in mind. If you were writing an article for a science journal such as Science Magazine, then you would be more inclined to utilise scientific descriptions in aid of explaining your theories or research. However, if you were writing a children’s book to explain the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly, for example, then you would surely use a narrative visual description to aid the child’s mind.
There may also be instances, where both descriptions can be used to convey the correct image for the reader’s imagination, and personally, I think this is the most beneficial way to convey anything. It is like a game or Charades or Pictionary; when you are the one acting, writing, or drawing, you always wish you could combine them all to make it easier for the others to guess.
Quammen, D (2006). The Kiwi’s Egg: 1842-1844. The Reluctant Mr.Darwin (pp 52-55). New York: Atlas.
Photograph: ‘Kiwi: the Bird and Fruit’ by jace56 through Worth1000.com, Aviary.
Photograph: ‘The Kiwi’s Egg’ by http://kiwi2011.wikispaces.com, Creative Commons.