Descriptive Writing Techniques and Examples

Brett Grell, Andrew Sedillo, Sasha Blakeley
  • Author
    Brett Grell

    Brett Grell has been in education for over 23 years. He taught high school English for 12 years before moving into curriculum development as an administrator. He has an EdS and MA in School Superintendent and Education Administration from University of Nebraska at Kearney, and BA in English and Secondary Education from Knox College.

  • Instructor
    Andrew Sedillo

    Andrew Sedillo has taught Language Arts, Social Studies, and Technology at a middle school level. He currently holds a Bachelor's of Arts in Education, Master's of Arts Educational Learning Technology, and a Graduate certificate in Online Teaching and Learning.

  • Expert Contributor
    Sasha Blakeley

    Sasha Blakeley has a Bachelor's in English Literature from McGill University and a TEFL certification. She has been teaching English in Canada and Taiwan for seven years.

Explore what descriptive writing is. Learn the definition of descriptive writing using several examples. Understand some descriptive writing techniques that can help the writer to take their writing to next level. Updated: 10/13/2021

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What is the Definition of Descriptive Writing?

Descriptive writing is writing in which the author's intent is to create a vivid image of what he/she is describing in the mind of the reader. It relies on the author using detailed descriptions that convey the sensory details of what he/she is describing, often with the use of specific techniques. Descriptive writing uses vivid language to create the overall effect that the reader is present in the story.


Detailed descriptions help the reader feel present.


Descriptive writing directly contrasts with concise writing. Where descriptive writing requires the author to spend a great deal of time and words painting a visual picture for the reader, in concise writing, the author's intent is to use as precise language and as few words as possible to convey their meaning.

For example:

  • Concise: He saw she was wearing a red dress.
  • Descriptive: The dress was the red of every man's middle-aged crisis sports car, and parts of it reflected the lights in the room like the sun off of the hood. For him, they were two lost dreams.
  • Concise: His favorite number is six.
  • Descriptive: He couldn't imagine betting any number other than six, even though it seldom won for him. Especially now, as the cigar smoke filled the air like lonely clouds. Six, his grandfather had told him, was the perfect number. He suspected that it was only because his grandfather was the last of six children, but he never bet on anything else. Grandpa never lost in the end.
  • Concise: Their feet got wet when they walked on the beach.
  • Descriptive: When the waves came in and their feet got wet, she squeaked like she used to when they were young and she was surprised. The water erased twenty years in an instant.

The meaning of each pair is generally the same, but the effect of the writing is different. In concise writing, the reader receives the essential information quickly. In descriptive writing, the reader is more able to picture the scene.

Descriptive Writing Examples

See how the author attempts to paint a picture through each of the following descriptions.

  • "I couldn't hear my own screaming thoughts. The siren outside my window was a needle, a dagger, a sword through my ears and my mind."
  • "He felt the bark of the tree, smooth as though it almost wasn't there, and leaned in to feel the temperature. One side was cool and the other warm - like his pillow back home - and he knew the sun hadn't set long ago."
  • "She ran her hand through his moppy hair. It shone like the sun and was freckled with bits of leaves that had collected there when he leapt into them."
  • "The air smelled like it did when a breeze blew through the laundry hanging in the backyard when she was a child and spent summers with her grandparents."
  • "We were lost in a fog that has settled heavy and soupy on us just after the sun set. It felt thick to walk through and seemed to creep under into your clothes and lungs."


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Authors paint a picture with their words.

Descriptive Writing Techniques

These examples make use of several descriptive writing techniques, including metaphors, similes, sensory writing, hyperbole, personification, and onomatopoeia. These descriptive writing techniques are specific ways to use language to help a reader imagine something in great detail.

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Descriptive Writing: Extra Practice

This lesson explained to you how descriptive writing can change a short, under-developed piece of writing into a detailed and descriptive masterpiece. Use the following activities to practice your new skills.

Identifying Descriptive Writing

One of the most useful things that writers can do is to read a lot. This will expose them to various writing styles and help them develop their own voice. Take a look at some of the books that you've read recently. See if you can find a descriptive passage in one or more of them. Read the passage carefully. Which senses does the passage evoke? Does the author make you feel like you're really in the scene, experiencing the action with the protagonists?

Examples of books with strong descriptive passages: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

Practice!

Just like the example given in this lesson, this activity will give you the opportunity to tell a story in two ways. Think of something interesting that happened to you recently, or make up a new story from scratch. First, write the story with as few details as possible, just the bare bone facts. Read the story back and think about how it would sound to someone who didn't experience the real thing. Now, rewrite the story using lots and lots of detail. Think about all five senses as you write. Include metaphors, similes, and other figurative language in your writing. Read the second version back and see the improvement! Don't forget to reread and edit your work to make it as good as it can be.

What is descriptive type of writing?

Descriptive writing is writing in which the author uses vivid language and detailed description to create an image in the mind of the reader.

How do you start descriptive writing?

Take your original piece of writing and add sensory details to help the reader visualize the details of your piece.

What is an example of descriptive writing?

An example of descriptive writing is the use of metaphor and simile. Metaphor: My sister is a thunderstorm. Simile: My sister's voice is like a crash of lightening.

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