how to write descriptively
Good writing happens instinctively – you do it without particularly thinking about it. So don’t think that you’ve got to consciously work examples like those above into your own novel.
If you don’t want the reader to say “Huh?” you must always “follow metaphors through” once you’ve introduced them. Like this…
Students use their five senses and a graphic organizer to brainstorm ideas for writing a report on a recent school event and to help them think about interesting words to include in their report. See the lesson plan.
The Writing Fix provides a lesson plan for using Roald Dahl’s The Twits as a mentor text to teach descriptive writing.
I remember being really happy about that, because for once I managed to describe a character in a way that sticks in my mind. Between “deformed Ben Affleck clone” and “late-model Camry,” I have a strong impression of what this guy looks like, even if it’s kind of cartoony. Obviously, use in moderation, unless you’re going for a full-on gonzo tone. A self-loathing POV character can describe him- or herself with alot of vitriol, though.
Make it dynamic rather than static. This is a huge one. Things change, and no person or place has been the same forever. Often, the best description tells a story. Like: “Judging from his bulk, he’d been a bodybuilder once, but then he’d run to seed.” Or: “Someone had obviously bought a simple two-storey mock Tudor house and tried to add extra turrets to it, after which a second owner had tried to add some Japanese-style rice-paper screens to the front room.” Description that takes you through the evolution of a person or thing is more memorable than a static snapshot.
Who needs all that detail? At some point, you probably thought, Stop telling me what Elijah is wearing; I don’t care anymore.
- Did someone walk across the room, or did they stumble across the room (maybe in a drunken haze)?
- Did someone laugh at a funny joke, or did they giggle, or chortle, or guffaw?
In descriptive writing, the author does not just tell the reader what was seen, felt, tested, smelled, or heard. Rather, the author describes something from their own experience and, through careful choice of words and phrasing, makes it seem real. Descriptive writing is vivid, colorful, and detailed.
The mystery novelist Raymond Chandler was one of American literature’s masters of descriptive language. This sentence from The High Window strikes the perfect notes to embody its subject: