Descriptive writing calls for acute attention to detail, as well as creativity and intense use of imagination. It is one way that a writer can practice adding detail to their writing without fear of going overboard, or swaying off topic. Perfecting this fine art provides many benefits to you the writer, as well as the audience you are trying to reach, and is generally easy to achieve and craft successfully.
What is Descriptive Writing?
First I will start by explaining what exactly descriptive writing is. Descriptive writing is a style of writing that allows the reader to gain a closer view of characters, scenes, or objects by providing detailed and vivid descriptions. With practice, a talented descriptive writer has the ability to capture the reader’s attention and emotions, making the reader feel as if they are part of the story, and it is evolving right before their eyes. There are certain elements of descriptive writing that one must cultivate in order to bring the reader ‘inside’ the story and enable them to visualize the scene clearly in their minds.
Good descriptive writing is comprised of four elements; Sensory Description, Figurative Language, Precise Wording, and Careful Organization.
Sensory Description – Descriptive writing uses all of the five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch and smell) to pull the reader into the story and allow them to experience the same sensations as the characters inside their minds. For example a writer who is good at using descriptive writing may describe a log home by first describing the wood it is made from, the smell of it, the look of it, and the feel of it. They may then describe the setting around the cabin, the way it smells inside or the sounds that surround it in the night. The idea is to “show” the details rather than “tell” them, allowing the reader to visualize them in their mind.
Figurative Language – Figurative, or Illustrative language is used to produce ‘imagery’ by comparing the described setting or object to something else that the reader is easily able to visualize and associate in their mind. There are many ways to use figurative language, and it is a talent that should be practiced until perfected. Metaphors are used when you wish to connect or compare things equally, where similes are used to compare two objects while keeping them separate. Other forms of figurative language include: hyperbole, which exaggerates an object to add effect. Puns, which add a humorous tone to a words different meanings, and personification which takes an abstract object and relates to it as a person. Figurative language is an important part of descriptive writing, and something that can always be expanded and improved upon with practice.
Precise Wording – One of the main points of descriptive writing is the use of timing. A good descriptive writer has the ability to make the reader feel as if the event being described is happening ‘right now’. This is done through the use of active verbs, rather than commonly used passive ones. It is also important that the writer carefully select precise modifiers, nouns and adjectives to describe objects and settings. Rather than the general nouns that one normally uses, the writer should be aiming for more specific words that allow the reader to feel like they are part of the action. All adjectives, adverbs and other words should be chosen with care.
Careful Organization – Organization is probably the most important part of descriptive writing. The writing needs to be organized with some sense of purpose, be it: chronological order, importance, or in balance with the relations involved. Whichever way the writer chooses to provide the information in must be done in a well thought out, organized fashion, that is easy for the reader to follow and understand. Lengthy descriptive pieces may involve intricate planning and preparation before you even begin to write your first draft, but it is very important to the flow and functionality of the information, and should be taken very seriously. Practice is the only sure-fire way of improving upon this ability.
When and Where Descriptive Writing Can Be Used
Descriptive writing is found commonly throughout every genre, and can be incorporated in to every piece of writing in some form. It is most commonly seen in the form of “first person” because many writers find it easier to describe something that they are actually seeing, for example: “I heard the footsteps on the creaky wooden floor boards. I could smell the aroma from his pipe, and the strong scent of his cologne before he reached the top of the stairs. The smells mixed together and reminded me of stale garbage on a hot summer day, that scent that fills your nose and never ceases.” Learning to describe these senses from a characters point of view takes more practice, but is a talent that is well worth the effort. Try adding some descriptive detail to your next blog post, or personal story, you can also easily incorporate this style of writing into an essay to help make your point more clear to your reader.
How Can Descriptive Writing Be Practiced?
The only way to practice is to jump right in feet first. Below are a few basic descriptive writing prompts to get you started. Don’t stress about the outcome, the best way to start is by closing your eyes and visualizing how the scene or prompt makes you ‘feel.’ What do you see? Smell? Taste? Hear? Use precise words, and as many details as possible. Allow the words to flow as if you were telling a friend. The goal is to make the reader see, hear, and feel the way you did at that exact moment. Try the scenes and ideas below in a short descriptive paragraph or essay, and feel free (as always) to share the results of your writing in the comment section below.
Descriptive Writing Prompts
- a waiting room
- your favorite treasure
- your dream house
- a dark closet
- a long hallway
- an accident scene
- a child’s secret hiding spot
- the morning commute on the bus or train
- an item forgotten in the back of the refrigerator
- your favorite food
- a cemetery or funeral
- a small town (seaside or mountain top)
- a storefront window
- an inspiring view
- the most relaxing place on earth
- your wedding day (or dream wedding)
- your partners hands
- a special feeling
- your greatest childhood memory
- your mother (or mother-in-law)
- a porcelain doll
- the scene at work when something went wrong
- a bad date
- a dark alley
Try one of these prompts out, or create your own. Check back often to share ideas and get inspired by other peoples writing. I will be posting my own shortly. You can keep them as short, or as long, as you like. The idea is just to see where the image takes you, and to touch on a talent that may be hidden inside your writing soul.
(Check out About.com’s Examples of Descriptive Writing here before you begin if you are looking for inspiration)
Descriptive writing can easily improve your writing and make it more pleasurable to read. It can add pages and pages to your written work, and can change the entire outlook of a single piece of writing. It is one of the best ways to show your talent for writing, as well as your passion. I strongly urge you to challenge yourself with these prompts regularly no matter which genre you prefer.
I look forward to reading your results… and remember descriptive writing is wonderful because there is no ‘right or wrong’. There are simply different perspectives on the same ideas.
Until Next Time…
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