english language descriptive writing
To be plausible, the descriptive writer has to constrain the concrete, evocative image to suit the reader’s knowledge and attention span. “Her eyes were brighter than the sapphires in the armrests of the Tipu Sultan’s golden throne, yet sharper than the tulwars of his cruelest executioners” will have the reader checking their phone halfway through. “Her eyes were sapphires, bright and hard” creates the same effect in a fraction of the reading time. As always in the craft of writing: when in doubt, write less.
To be evocative, descriptive writing has to unite the concrete image with phrasing that evokes the impression the writer wants the reader to have. Consider “her eyes shone like sapphires, warming my night” versus “the woman’s eyes had a light like sapphires, bright and hard.” Each phrase uses the same concrete image, then employs evocative language to create different impressions.
Keep it minimal and something that can be imagined by all, otherwise, you will overwhelm your reader if there is information overload. Image in mind, make some brief notes or even a sketch so that you can physically see your imagination on paper.
You could start from a wide angle and then zoom in to a significant detail. In reverse, you could start with a small detail and zoom out to reveal the greater context.
When we children came home from school, we were left to our own devices. Against the stark backdrop of rusty brick and faded adverts, whole worlds unfolded…
Choose description if you want to show off your writing style. Good description is sensory writing (think: taste, touch, smell, sound, sight). You need to put the reader in the moment your are describing.
Mr Grimshaw’s the reason we go there, really. I don’t know what it is exactly, but he’s just fascinating to watch.
“Thank you for your assistance, kind gentlemen”, he says, still panting slightly. “Would you care to pop in for a spot of tea? It’s been so long since I’ve had any company.”
Teacher Laura Torres created a lesson plan that uses images to jumpstart vivid writing: Three Descriptive Writing Picture Prompts.
The RAFT strategy encourages descriptive writing by encouraging students to think through the writer’s Role, the Audience, the Format, and the Topic. The Writing Fix offers guidance for building a RAFT writing prompt that challenges students to think deeply about history.