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Descriptive Writing: Show Don’t Tell

An overview of descriptive writing.

Any good creative writer knows the best way to keep a reader interested in a story is with descriptive writing.

Descriptive writing uses sensory detail to vividly portray a person, place, or thing. It should cause the reader to visualize the topic, and enter into the writer’s experience. Though used mostly in fiction it can be used to enhance any genre.

The cardinal rule for new writers is to show, and not tell the story. If descriptive writing is applied to characterization, action, and settings it will breathe life into your work. A good story should never be static but dynamic in details.

Before you jump into descriptive writing take time to prepare yourself. Descriptive writers need to learn how to make their five senses work for them, over and above what is required for daily living. Be aware and curious of your surroundings. The more sensory detail you absorb from your own experiences, the richer your writing will become.

                       LIST OF PRACTICE EXERCISES

Before you start using descriptive writing try these exercises to develop your skills.

1.Sharpen your senses: Be a people watcher. You may be surprised by the things you never noticed before, even in good friends. Characteristic vocal inflections, gestures used or other forms of body language, distinctive details in appearance and behavior can all be used in descriptive writing.

2.General observation: Observe and then describe an event in detail.

3.Take a memory: Use a memory from childhood and write a short detailed story about it.

4.Read descriptive writing: Find some examples of descriptive writing. Then take another piece of paper and explain what elements made these a good or bad example.


These are examples of a plain sentence and then one using descriptive writing. All examples are written by PR Mace.

Example # 1                   

The morning sun came through the blind to shine on the couple in the bed.

The brilliant rays of the morning sun slipped through the blinds to illuminate the couple in the bed.  

Example # 2

She smelled rice pudding when she walked into the kitchen.

The warm rich cinnamon smell of rice pudding greeted her as she walked into the old-fashioned kitchen.

Example # 3

She felt the wind on her face, and watched the leaves blow away.

The cool fingers of an autumn breeze carried her face upward. She watched red, gold, and a few dry brown leave float away on the current of air.

Example# 4

The angel came down from the sky.

With a flap of his magnificent golden wings the angel descended from the pale denim sky.

With these instructions and a few examples you should be ready to embark on the world of descriptive writing. Good luck and have fun.

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