What it is. Why we need it. How to do it.
First of all, what is descriptive writing? Simply put, it is a piece of text that depicts a scene.
It is something that helps the reader to paint a picture of what you are talking about, effectively drawing them into your writing. In a novel this is invaluable as your reader is given the ability to imagine the world you are creating. They can picture places, people and things. Description helps to pad out your characters, adding further dimensions. It provides the means for an entire world to be created without any need for actual images.
Furthermore, where would travel articles be without description? Pictures can be used but they can only go so far in portraying the atmosphere and character of a place. If you actually want people to part with their money to visit some foreign and exciting land, they clearly need to be told exactly what their future holiday destination is like.
Even advertising agencies need descriptive writing. Would you be more likely to buy ‘a car’ or ‘a turbo-powered sports car’? Description makes money because it sells products.
So, how does one go about trying to write a descriptive piece of text?
- Try to include all five senses (taste, touch, sight, smell and sound). Don’t force it if it won’t fit. After all, there isn’t anything to taste in a musty old classroom, but the woods in autumn might provide a windfall of crisp, sharp apples.
- Use figurative language. Similes, metaphors, personification, alliteration, onomatopoeia and hyperbole. Similes and metaphors both have the effect of comparing one thing to another, possibly something fairly dull to something slightly less mundane. An example of this is often found in car adverts, comparing a vehicle to a jaguar or any other large cat/mammal. Personification can make a piece more approachable and friendly. Beaches where the sun ‘smiles down upon you’, and airline services that ‘embraces you with their classic hospitality’ somehow come across as slightly more personal and interactive. Alliteration, onomatopoeia and hyperbole are all different ways of emphasising your text and increasing its impact. Avoid using too much hyperbolic language though as it can come across as slightly off-putting and intimidating.
- Use premodifiers, and postmodifiers. In fact, any kind of adjective you can think of. Again, don’t overuse them, but adjectives in moderation are a key way of describing something. Even the word ‘red’ in ‘the red car’ tells your more information about what the car looks like.
- Choose one point of view, and stick to it. To stop your narrative from jumping all over the place and confusing the reader, just try to keep the entire description coming from the same place. So in your story, don’t switch from Sam’s view of the room to Lucy’s.
- Use the correct register for your piece of writing. You wouldn’t want a ridiculously informal piece of writing in a formal travel guide, would you? Or an overly formal piece of writing in the middle of your short story for kids.
Have a look over your piece once it’s finished, correcting any mistakes as you go.
Enjoy writing it, when more feeling goes in, more comes out.