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.
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.
- 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."
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.
- Sensory Details: Using details based on the five senses to describe something in detail. This allows the reader to experience the story as we experience the real world. What does the grass smell like? What does the breeze feel like? How does her voice sound? Details make a difference. Ex. Her voice was shrill and piercing. It rose above the murmur of the crowd.
- Metaphor: A comparison of two unlike things in which the author states that one thing IS the other. Ex: The crowd was an avalanche crashing toward her.
- Simile: A comparison of two unlike things in which the author states that one thing is LIKE or AS the other. Ex: He was as tall as a mountain.
- Sensory Writing: When the author focuses on providing the reader a sensory description (sight, smell, hearing, touch) of the events in his/her work. Ex: The summer evening was still and quiet, with just a handful of crickets in the distance out in the direction of the gold and red lines the setting sun left behind on the horizon.
- Hyperbole: A way of placing emphasis on something by exaggerating some quality of it to an extreme/impossible degree. Ex: It was the worst headache anybody has ever had!
- Personification: When the author gives human characteristics to non-human characters/objects in his/her writing. Ex: The dog smiled back up at her, hope in his eyes.
- Onomatopoeia: When the author chooses to use words in his/her writing that sound the same as their meaning. Ex: The sploosh and splash of the waves rocking against the boat was melodic.
When trying to write descriptively, authors should make sure to re-read and re-write. Re-read for places where the wording can be changed or elaborated upon to create a more detailed image for the reader, and re-write those sections using some of the above examples or other forms of descriptive writing. Authors should also be intentional when choosing the words/phrases to focus on, as these will be the areas that focus readers' interest.
Descriptive writing is writing that aims to paint a picture of a scene or event in the minds of the reader. Authors use descriptive writing to create vivid images that are focused on sensory details and detailed descriptions. Descriptive writing contrasts with concise writing, the goal of which is to convey meaning in as few words as possible. There are several specific techniques that authors use in descriptive writing, including metaphor, simile, sensory writing, hyperbole, personification, and onomatopoeia.
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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.
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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