Good descriptive writing depends heavily on observing and recollecting vivid moments. Unlike narrative writing, you need to be an observer rather than a participant. Character and event should not take priority.
The general characteristics of descriptive writing include: rich, vivid, and lively detail
  • use of sensory imagery
  • figurative language such as simile, hyperbole, metaphor, symbolism and personification
  • showing, rather than telling through the use of active verbs and precise modifiers

1) Topic Selection:
· Choose a place, person or object that lends itself to vivid description.
· Focus on the temporal (for example describing the changes in a building as the day progresses), or the spatial (for example moving through a desert)
· Try to present the commonplace in an interesting and unusual manner. Bill Bryon, a leading author describes London according to the Map of the Underground (click here for the extract)

2)Expanding on your observations:
· Here’s an extract describing cricket (from "In A Sunburned Country", by Bill Bryson, first edition, hardcover, pages 105 - 108): in a humorous manner:
After years of patient study (and with cricket there can be no other kind) I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the game that the introduction of golf carts wouldn't fix in a hurry. It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect. I don't wish to denigrate a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as players -- more if they are moderately restless. It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning.

Imagine a form of baseball in which the pitcher, after each delivery, collects the ball from the catcher and walks slowly with it to center field; and that there, after a minute's pause to collect himself, he turns and runs full tilt toward the pitcher's mound before hurling the ball at the ankles of a man who stands before him wearing a riding hat, heavy gloves of the sort used to to handle radio-active isotopes, and a mattress strapped to each leg. Imagine moreover that if this batsman fails to hit the ball in a way that heartens him sufficiently to try to waddle forty feet with mattress's strapped to his legs, he is under no formal compunction to run; he may stand there all day, and, as a rule, does. If by some miracle he is coaxed into making a misstroke that leads to his being put out, all the fielders throw up their arms in triumph and have a hug. Then tea is called and every one retires happily to a distant pavilion to fortify for the next siege. Now imagine all this going on for so long that by the time the match concludes autumn has crept in and all your library books are overdue. There you have cricket.

The mystery of cricket is not that Australians play it well, but that they play it at all. It has always seemed to me a game much too restrained for the rough-and-tumble Australian temperament. Australians much prefer games in which brawny men in scanty clothing bloody each other's noses. I am quite certain that if the rest of the world vanished over night and the development of cricket was left in Australian hands, within a generation the players would be wearing shorts and using the bats to hit each other. And the thing is, it would be a much better game for it."

· Focus on a moment: rather than a series of events (this would make the story a narrative)

· Create a dynamic piece of writing: Use descriptions that move the story forward. Don’t just list things, make sure they are descriptions that help tell the story.

· Be observant: Don’t go into detail about the “blue sky” and the “white clouds.” Readers know what color the sky is, so don’t describe it for them. It’s the oddities that paint a scene. If you are describing a diner, don’t write about the booths and the counter. Mention the ketchup stain on the window or the cheeky writing in the men’s bathroom. Also avoid clichés, for example, starting your story with the ‘Golden sunlight streamed through my bedroom curtains’
  • Be specific. If you see a tree swaying in the wind, describe exactly what you observe so that the reader can see what you see. Say what kind of tree is swaying. Adverbs and adjectives can also help bring your writing to life. For example, with just a few details the simple sentence "That tree is swaying in the wind," can become "That enormous evergreen is swaying wildly in the powerful wind." Or, "That pine tree is bending back in the strong wind.

· Authenticity: Careful description makes a scene more believable for readers. This is also why it’s important to use details in your writing.

· Show me what you told me: If you write something vague go into the details that show the reader what you mean. Don’t expect them to undestand abstract thoughts, they need concrete examples to move the story forward.
  • Expand choices of nouns, verbs, and adverbs to improve writing as well. Discuss how the person walked: did he saunter, did he stride down the corridor, did he tiptoe quietly round the corner? Attention to choice of adjectives and adverbs can make your writing lively without using pretentious words.


IV) Revise your writing
Read your writing to yourself or to a friend. Did you include enough detail? Were you specific in your descriptions? Do you like what you've written? Is there something you think could be better? Here are some guidelines to revise:
  • Don’t be literary or lyrical: If it makes you feel like Arundhati Roy inside you are probably being too self-conscious and that comes across in the writing. Aka, it’s crap. Don’t let the reader know you are being descriptive, it should sneak its way in.
  • Be sure that each word or phrase you use is exactly the way you want to say it. Everything you write is important so be sure that it's the best it can be.
  • Vary the way you begin your sentences so that they don't all sound exactly the same. For example, don't start every sentence with "Then" or "So." Avoid sentences like this: "Then I did my homework. Then I ate dinner. Then I went to bed." Start sentences with transition words like "After," "Next," and "Finally" to make sentences more direct and more interesting. For example, "I did my homework. After that I ate my dinner. Finally, I went to bed."
  • Vary your sentence structure (for further help on this aspect, visit
  • Use a thesaurus to find new and specific words. For example, instead of the word house, a thesaurus may suggest more specific ideas such as home, cabin, mansion, cottage, etc. But be careful not to overdo it or your writing with sound pretentious. Word choice must be appropriate to the context. For example, if you are describing green cough syrup then using ‘emerald’ and ‘jade’ to describe the colour isn’t appropriate as they make the medicine sound precious rather than disgusting. Be imaginative with your description- the green could be compared to alien excrement!

"Good," "bad," "went," and "said." Other worthy candidates for banning include: "nice," "walked," and "then." Instead, for example, discuss how the person walked: did he saunter, did he stride down the corridor, did he tiptoe quietly round the corner? Attention to choice of adjectives and adverbs can make your writing lively without using pretentious words.