The ability to use descriptive writing techniques is an essential skill for every writer to master, whether you’re a student, a blogger, or a copywriter. Vivid descriptions can transform your paragraphs from vague and boring to engrossing and memorable!

Like any other skill, of course, it takes time and practise to master, but there are ways to speed up that process and instantly transform your writing. 

Before we delve deeper into techniques, feel free to check out our online English Literature and Language school, where you can find a variety of courses, like these ones for example: 

Basic Descriptive Writing

Advanced Descriptive Writing

Basic Essay Writing

In the previous post, we talked about the Creative and Descriptive Writing Prompts, which combined with this article, will give you a good insight into descriptive writing pieces and perhaps even the confidence to try writing one yourself! 

One of the best ways to improve your descriptive writing is reading a lot – and ‘stealing’ the techniques that expert writers use in their writing. However, we also encourage you to try and come up with your own techniques by following the tips below: 

Add layers to your descriptions with metaphors and similes. 

We’ve already written about the 5 Most Important Language Devices, and we’re suggesting you check it out as well because it has a deeper explanation of what metaphors and similes are.

If you already use metaphors and similes in your writing, that’s fantastic and we’ll look at some creative ways to make them even more powerful in this section. 

So, how are we going to do that? 

First, you can use a simile to deepen your descriptions or better explain a complex concept or an idea. 

For example: “To get the most out of  this exercise, lie on your back, place your hands under your shoulders and then lift your chest off the floor, as if you were a cobra.” 

You can easily say that description = explanation if you look at the sentence above, and in some ways it is! The way we’ve used the simile is to place an image in the reader’s mind of how the exercise is done, using another device and technique that’s important for descriptive writing: imagery.

Second, you can use similes and metaphors to weave your personality into your writing.

For example, say you enjoy cooking, but you also love playing the piano, you might write something like: “I love playing the piano, but I also love cooking, which made me realise that those two are alike in a lot of ways. Just like you need to practise the piano every day if you want to improve your skills, you also need to cook every day, and even make a couple of burned meals, in order to be better in the kitchen.”

Third, you can use metaphors and similes to evoke a specific feeling in your readers. 

You may have noticed that on our website we have a phrase that says: “Teach yourself, the future belongs to you.”. This phrase uses ‘the future’ metaphorically.

A commercial for bicycles might say: “Unlock a bike. Unlock your city.”, which is basically just a play on words that’ll catch the readers attention. The verb ‘Unlock’ is used literally at first, and then figuratively when it is repeated.

It is important, however, to use metaphors and similes like salt and pepper. A little sprinkle and they’ll season your writing, but if you use too many of them your writing will be either too salty or way too spicy. (Did you notice the metaphor we used in this paragraph?) 

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Make descriptions delight the five senses with sensory words. 

Sensory words are the next tool you want to use to help readers become immersed in your story. 

Sometimes sensory words sparkle, sometimes they clang, other times they’re bristly. Sometimes they’re bitter, other times delicious – but in the end, they are all necessary. 

Sensory words are descriptive words that apply to the 5 senses. 

We’ve talked about the 5 senses in the previous post, because answering to them is the crucial part of descriptive writing. And here’s an explanation: 

  • Words related to sight or appearance (however, these can also include words related to motion): gleaming, tarnished, sparkling, shadowy, dancing, dazzling, tiny…
  • Words related to touch: velvety, sharp, icy, blunt, comfortable…
  • Words related to sound: roar, sizzle, murmur, whisper, echo, cracking, soothing, snoring, loud…
  • Words related to taste: bitter, refreshing, spicy, delicious, salty, sugary…
  • Words related to scent: musty, fragrant, sweet, smelly…

In short, sensory words will engage tremendously your readers’ five senses – they will make your reader see, touch, hear, taste and smell your descriptions if you use them correctly. 

There are so many ways to practise and improve your writing, so check our post on 5 Image-based Descriptive Writing Prompts to get more ideas!

Zoom in on your descriptions with a list of details. 

Let’s take a look at Fitzgerald’s book “The Great Gatsby”, and give you an example straight away: 

“He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-coloured disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft reach heap mounted higher-shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange with monograms of Indian blue.” 

Fitzgerald could have ended the sentence after “he took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them”, but he wanted to deepen his description explaining further what kind of shirts Gatsby was wearing, and he began to visualise them. 

The Takeaway

  • Add layers to your descriptions with metaphors and similes – but don’t overuse them!
  • Use sensory words and tickle readers’ five senses with them – make them imagine as if they were a bystander in your story.
  • Don’t be afraid to use descriptions on top of descriptions, just like Fitzgerald did.

These 3 techniques are simple and straightforward. You can start using them straight away to add zest to your descriptions. When you transform bland paragraphs you’re better able to hold the attention of your readers, and thus you’re more effective with sharing your message with the world. 

Thanks for reading! If you found this helpful, make sure to check out our website where you can find various English Literature and Language courses.