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How to Write Descriptive Sentences

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 4 min read

Whatever you’re writing—be it a fairy tale or a personal descriptive essay—you’re going to need to use descriptive writing in it. How do your main characters look? What is the setting like? Answering questions like these may seem like a straightforward task, but writing descriptive text can actually be a real challenge. Get it right and it will paint vivid images and hold your readers’ attention; get it wrong and you run the risk of boring or confusing your readers.



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What Is Description?

Description is what an author uses to depict a character, setting, or scene in a way that creates an image in the reader’s mind. It’s the way that authors bring characters to life and create imaginative settings. Well-crafted descriptive writing draws readers into the story and provides essential details to propel the action forward.

7 Tips for Writing Descriptive Sentences

Getting ready to work on your next project? Here are a few tips to hone your writing skills and get the descriptive language just right:

  1. Cut out obvious descriptions. One of the most common traps that new writers fall into is using predictable words to describe something—for instance, writing a sentence like, “The blue sky was dotted with white, fluffy clouds.” For the most part, when someone hears the word “sky,” they’ll picture it blue, and when they picture clouds, they’ll picture them “white” and “fluffy.” Adjectives like these are unnecessary and can bog down your writing. Simply cut those descriptive words out of the sentence. “The sky was dotted with clouds” conjures the exact same image and is shorter and more focused.
  2. Use surprising words. Once your sentences are free of any obvious descriptive details, you have the space to pepper in some more interesting words. Pushing your descriptions in new and surprising directions will help your sentences be memorable for readers. For instance, if you want to describe a rainy day, the easy way to describe it would be to mention “the stormy sky”—but something a little more unique could be “the angry sky” or “the boiling sky.” Brainstorm common adjectives and other describing words and use them in unique ways to keep your writing fresh and interesting.
  3. Remember sensory details. A common adage for good descriptive writing is “show, don’t tell”—and sensory information is a great way to make that happen. Sprinkling in specific details that appeal to readers’ five senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell) will bring your scenes to life and make them feel richer and more interesting.
  4. Make use of figurative language. One of the most powerful literary devices that writers have is figurative language, which goes beyond literal definitions in order to describe things in a more interesting way. Comparisons like similes (using “like” or “as”) or metaphors (saying one thing is something else) can help paint instant pictures of your characters or settings; for instance, “His nose was a gnarled root growing out of his face” can pack a lot more punch than saying “His nose was twisted and misshapen.” Other types of figurative language include onomatopoeia, which uses words that sound like what they mean (e.g., “the pitter-patter of raindrops”), and hyperbole, which is a form of exaggeration (e.g., “he rang the doorbell a million times”).
  5. Think about who is doing the describing. In most points of view, you’ll be writing from a character’s perspective—either using “I” and “me” in first-person or “they” and “them” in third-person. It may not seem obvious at first, but point of view is a descriptive element that can help you build a believable world for your story. To use POV properly, make sure that you’re thinking about your character’s perspective as you describe so that the description feels true to the way they would speak.
  6. Be wary of over-description. To create effective descriptive writing, less is more. Try to limit yourself to one or two interesting details the first time you introduce a character or setting, and readers will fill in the rest. For instance, if you say “The cabin room was sparse except for the looming stuffed grizzly in the corner,” readers can fill in the details for themselves without you needing to describe the floorboards, the windows, the bedsheets, and what your character had for dinner last week. This will help readers remember each character or setting better than if you had an entire descriptive paragraph for each.
  7. Read good examples of descriptive writing. If you start to feel stuck when trying to write vivid description, look up a few of your favorite books or short stories and see how other writers do it. Pay attention to what they do that you like—whether it’s only writing their description in simple sentence structure or making sure that the following sentences include strong action to counteract the description. Then, sit down and try to replicate their tactics in a simple writing activity to see where it takes you.
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