Often students are asked to complete a descriptive writing assignment. This might be a descriptive paragraph, story, or even an essay.
Even when not writing a specifically descriptive article, description comes into play and can add a lot of depth and clarity to anything you write. Here are a few tips to help you get started and to help you add volume to your descriptions.
When writing a description, remember that you are trying to create a picture in the reader’s mind. But this might not be the best definition because when we recall things, we don’t only remember the visual bits. I am sure that you have had the experience of a certain smell bringing back memory. Perhaps, you have heard a song or even just a familiar random sound that triggered a specific memory for you.
- Use your five senses
Just think of your senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste and how they relate to the item or scene you are describing. You might say, “Well, I can’t use all five senses when I’m describing ___________.” While this might be true in some circumstances, if you think about it, you can often incorporate most, if not all, of them.
For example, if you are describing the scene above, obviously you can write about what you see; however, you might hear birds, feel the gravel or grass beneath your feet, smell the wildflowers or lake or ocean, and taste smoke from a nearby fire.
- Use vivid adjectives and specific details.
Choose adjectives that accurately describe your scene or item but also adjectives that are not “overworked.” Adjectives such as “big,” “cool,” and “nice” are used too often and offer no clarity in the reader’s mind.
If you are having difficulty thinking of synonyms, use a thesaurus. If you use a thesaurus, make sure that you choose a synonym that relates to what you are describing. Not all synonyms are equal, and the connotations of words are important. Compare the following sentences in which I have used synonyms from a thesaurus.
Choose specific details over vague ones. Instead of saying that there were many people at the party, tell the reader how many, who hosted the party, and the kind of party.
There were many people at the party.
There were ninety people at Greg’s birthday party.
Perhaps the vase you are describing is not red. It could be rose, burgundy, or scarlet.
A red vase sat on the table.
A scarlet vase rested atop the vintage chestnut end table.
- Organize your ideas
Use a logical order to present your ideas so the reader can easily follow your train of thought or sensory experience, shall we say. There are many methods of organization. If your ideas are mainly visual, you may want to give your description a spatial organization. When describing an incident, you may wish to organize your description in time (chronological) order. Often, you can organize your thoughts in order of significance.
Give descriptive writing a try. It can be a lot of fun. Choose something around you or go to a favourite location and try to describe it. The object can be as simple as an ornament, toy, or machine. You could describe your living room, the garden, or a park. The smaller the object or scene, the less likely you will be able to use all your senses in your description, but incorporate those you can. Don’t stop until you have exhausted your examination. Often, we work with initial impressions only and don’t look deeply into the everyday items we use. Look carefully and thoughtfully so that you can draw more out of yourself. It can be quite therapeutic as well!
Don’t worry about the quality or the value of every sentence. Later, you can look back and edit with a mind to these things. You might be surprised at how much more writing you will get as you practise.
Let me know how you make out, or send me a sample of your writing.