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Descriptive Writing

Descriptive Writing

Writing descriptively is one way that you can make your stories more interesting. This page details a number of techniques that you can use to make your writing more vivid and interesting for your reader.

Remember, your description should always be relevant to the story, help engage the reader and move the plot forward. Use these techniques sparingly and never overwhelm your reader with unnecessary description.

METAPHORS

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which something is described as an unrelated object. Metaphors are often easy to spot because they are not literal. Writer Orson Scott Card once said that metaphors “have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.”

Examples

“It would not come to him, it lay just beyond the breakers, in the deep water, in the dark, slippery moving kelp of the mind.” – Truth by Peter Temple.

“The road made a bend, and beyond it the gunslinger clucked the mule to a stop and looked down at Tull. It was at the floor of a circular, bowl-shaped hollow, a shoddy jewel in a cheap setting.” –The Gunslinger by Stephen King.

“All the world’s a stage and men and women merely players.” – As You Like It by William Shakespeare.

“Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket.” – George Orwell.

SIMILES

Similes, which are a comparison between two dissimilar things using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’, can help you describe things in an evocative manner.

Examples

“The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once.” – A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

“Bina accepts a compliment as if it’s a can of soda that she suspects him of having shaken.” – The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon.

“Look at you. You are like a house falling down.” – The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon.

“She stood like a patient ox, aware that the joke was on her.” – Carrie by Stephen King.

“…the boy’s spirit was soft and cold, like ice-cream.” – The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.

“Fishing boats were coming in along the breakwater for the night, their diesels throbbing like blood.” – Cloudstreet by Tim Winton.

“…he snorted like a frightened horse through his nose.” – The Turning by Tim Winton.

“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.” – The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

“…there was a dry click, like a small icicle breaking.” – The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

PERSONIFICATION

Personification is when something non-human is given human characteristics.

Examples

“Some tinfoil was sticking in a knot-hole just above my eye level, winking at me in the afternoon sun.” – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.

“The old house was the same, droopy and sick…” – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.

“Fat chimneys retch dirt into the sky and even now in the deep night.” – China Mieville, Perdido Street Station.

“The rotting buildings lean against each other, exhausted.” – China Mieville, Perdido Street Station.

ADJECTIVES

Using a thesaurus can help you to identify words that make your work more expressive and interesting. Remember that effective description is not about using a string of unusual adjectives, it’s about using language appropriately and sparingly.

THE SENSES

Try to appeal to all of your readers’ senses – including sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.

DESCRIPTIVE WRITING ACTIVITY

Word Length: 400 words

Think about a place that you’re familiar with. It might be your house, the street you live on or a part of your school. Complete two piece of writing describing this location. First, describe it in a happy and pleasant way. Think about the adjectives, similes, metaphors and other language techniques you might use to achieve this. Now, describe the same location as if it’s the opening of a horror story.

Descriptive Writing Techniques Test

Complete this short test on the above descriptive writing techniques.