Descriptive Writing Tips


A) Stay focused. You have to transport the reader to a new place.  Have the point of view remain in one place so reader can settle into this new environment.  When you do move, start a new paragraph.  And don’t forget to stop again and describe with the five senses so the reader can catch up and absorb the setting. 

B) Focus on the five senses.  Get used to describing with the five senses so you can give a vivid image and still sound natural.  Sometimes, we can’t include all five senses, but try to do more than just sight.  Not everything has a taste, but if the reader can feel the heat of the flames and smell the leaves burning, she can almost taste it.

C) Show, don’t tell.  Don’t tell the readers that it’s December; instead let them catch the snowflakes on their tongues and feel the chill of the icicles melting in their hands, let them hear the jingle of the Christmas bells, cider bubbling in the pan.  Don’t tell them the season, let them taste the butter on the rolls and smell the eggnog in the cold glass. 

You can often identify when you’re telling instead of showing because the sentences contain a state-of-being verbs such as is, are, am, or was.  This is usually a bad sign.

D) Use the active voice.  Omit needless words.  As with the previous tip, state-of-being verbs (was, is, are) often reveal the passive voice.  Instead of saying There was a bunch of snow lying on the ground just say Snow covered the ground. This helps make your writing direct and convincing.  Less is more.  Also, avoid using the word not.  It was not very cold can be changed to It was warm.


E) Describe with action.  Don’t just say she has long dark hair.  Instead, brush her brown hair behind her ear. 

F) Use specific words instead of general ones.  Instead of talking about a car, talk about a ’69 Barracuda, the fresh paint cherry-red, the 340 Mopar rumbling under the hood.  Instead of a dog, talk about a black lab, or maybe a fuzzy brown ball of a mutt–the size of a football.

G)  Endings are important. If you have a good simile, put it at the end of the sentence so it stands out.  If you have a great sentence, make it stand out by putting it at the end of a paragraph.  And finish your piece with something strong.  Light the fuse; keep it burning.  Make sure the reader hears the wick sizzling, smells the gunpowder, feels the sparks.  End with a BANG.    

Rewrite the following sentences.  Work alone or with a partner.

  • It was around noon that summer day.   (Show don’t tell.)


  I could tell that Sally was feeling sad.  That made me sad too.   (Show don’t tell.


There were a bunch of people knocking at the door.   (Use the active voice.) 


The lemonade was not cold.  (Use the active voice.) 


My friend walked his dog to the store. (Use specific words)


The car was going down the street.  (Use specific words)


Now, apply these concepts to your previous writing (page 8 – 9), both your own and your partner’s.


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