Spiderman reading a book by Road Trip with Raj on Unsplash

Tips for writing a descriptive essay

EssayJack

EssayJack

The key to a good descriptive essay is to really dig into the five senses as they relate to the subject of your essay.  A well-crafted descriptive essay will allow you to share a picture of something as vividly and as genuinely as you can and to transport your reader into an experience where they feel that they are actually seeing, hearing, or experiencing it themselves. For example, if your essay is about a trek in the forest you’d focus on the senses of touch, smell, hearing, and sight, maybe not so much on taste.

 

 

WHEN TO USE DESCRIPTIVE WRITING
One thing to consider is that learning to write descriptive essays is a skill that will come in handy as descriptive sections form the backbone of many other types of essays. For instance, you may write longer research papers, but at first, you must describe the topic in some detail before engaging in the researched portion of your analysis. That descriptive section will be weak or strong based on how well you master writing descriptive essays.

 

So while descriptive essays on their own aren't always assigned, many other types of essays have descriptive components, and so learning how to do this well will always serve your writing goals!

 

A descriptive essay while can seem simple can prove to be difficult, especially if you struggle to find the words or vocabulary to create that picture for someone. One way to overcome this is to read as much fiction as you can. This will allow you in the first instance to replicate the style of the authors you read and later on find your own style.

 

Adjectives, comparisons, imagery are all useful when writing a descriptive essay. But don’t get too carried away - always remember to stick to your word count and topic. These two parameters will help you ensure your language is as clear and concise as possible without missing out on the details needed to immerse your readers in the experience you are trying to create.

 

 

FORMING YOUR INTRODUCTION

The first paragraph is really important for a descriptive essay. It’s like the beginning of a book, if it doesn’t pull the reader in they’ll just put the book down.

 

The opening sentence is your “hook”. It’s like a trailer for a movie, just enough information to pique the viewer’s interest. Then like any other essay you go into a short background section where you can give a brief explanation which sets the stage for your description.

 

 

IMMERSE THE SENSES

To plan for your descriptive essay, try brainstorming a list of phrases and words that can be used to describe your particular topic under each of the five senses. This way you start creating or recreating the experience in your mind along with the right words to convey it to your readers.

 

Don’t let all those English literature classes go to waste, use literary tools such as metaphors, similes, personification, and descriptive adjectives. There is no limit to how much descriptive and figurative language, as well as concrete images you may use to describe the subject (except the word limit!). There are a variety of tropes that can help you paint a picture with your words. Show don't tell; as famous Russian author Anton Chekov once put it: 

 

"Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on

broken glass.”

 

Lamp light at night by Artem Kovalev Unsplash

 

 

BE SPATIAL IN YOUR DESCRIPTION

Often a good way to start writing a description about something is to imagine it in detail in spatial terms. For instance, think about moving from top to bottom or left to right or bigger details to zooming into tiny details in your description. Imagine that your writing is a camera lens and you the director. If your reader is like the viewer of the movie you are creating with your words, then you don't want to whip them all over the place describing a table, then popping to the other side of the room to talk about the window, and then back to the plate on the table, and then up to the lights in the ceiling, but rather move from cracking the door open to looking to the table with the plates of uneaten food under the dim light of the bare bulb hanging above the table, casting shadows that blend with the light creeping in through the open window.

 

In descriptive writing, it is always good to close your eyes and visualise what you are describing in detail in an organised manner. For instance, if you describe a face, provide details in a methodical way, otherwise, you'll end up describing the face in such a way that it sounds like a Picasso painting, where the mouth is by the eyebrows and the eyes by the nose! 

 

 

TRY THIS EXERCISE

Want to put what you've just read about into practice? Try describing an object or a picture in 3 steps:


  1. Begin to write a description of what you see in that picture. This will be the very basic big-picture description, with no flowery language or too many details. Just a quick description of what you see. For example, if we used the picture below you'd have something like this: "At the seaside. There is a drink in a mason jar on the table. There are some boats in the water in the distance.
  2. Now, go back and re-write this paragraph by observing and adding more details to it. Remember the two key rules: immerse the senses, and be spatial. Bring to life the details like the condensation on the jar, the colour of the drink, the sunset, the boats, etc. with the help of literary devices. 
  3. Then, if you want, weave a little story into it and you have a descriptive piece of writing, and maybe even the beginnings of a story!

 

Drink at sunset by Jason Briscoe Unsplash

 

 

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