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Writing Well

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Word Watch

Descriptive writing uses vivid images to illustrate a specific experience, person, or place.

Write Angles

Descriptive writing is more than scattering a few adjectives and adverbs like rice at a wedding. Rather, it means using vivid words and images to convey meaning.

As you can see from this passage from Poe's short story, descriptive writing uses sensory details to paint a word picture of a person, place, scene, object, or emotion. Descriptive writing is an important part of any writing—even technical pieces. That's because in addition to helping readers grasp emotions, feelings, and characters, effective descriptive writing helps explain and persuade.

You can use descriptive writing in the following ways:

So Write, Already

Follow these guidelines when you write descriptive pieces:

  1. Start by deciding on a method of organization. Spatial organization, for example, works especially well if your details are mainly visual. If you're describing an incident, consider chronological order.
  2. Then select a point of view, the vantage point from which you will relate events or details.
  3. Clearly identify the subject (no guessing games, please).
  4. Use details to create a strong mood or feeling about the subject.
  5. As you write, draw on all five senses: sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell.
  6. Consider including figures of speech, those imaginative comparisons that evoke feelings in your readers. Figures of speech (or figurative language) is covered later in this section.

A Master at Work

The following passage describes a pivotal scene from George Orwell's famous essay “Shooting an Elephant.” Orwell, the pen name of Eric Blair (1903-1950) is famous not only for his grim novels Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1948), but also for his passionate defense of the integrity of the English language. “Shooting an Elephant” focuses on the use and abuse of power. Notice how Orwell draws on the sense of touch and hearing as well as sight:

Many novice writers rely most heavily on sight when they're writing a descriptive essay or poem, but smell and taste are actually far more evocative.

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

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