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Descriptive writing: The art of painting pictures with words

Descriptive writing: The art of painting pictures with words

Descriptive writing is a powerful tool that allows writers to transport readers into a world of vivid imagery. It goes beyond mere storytelling; it's about painting pictures with words. Whether you're an aspiring author or a student sharpening your writing skills, mastering the art of descriptive writing is a valuable skill. 

In this article, we'll dive deep into the world of descriptive writing, exploring its techniques, importance, and how to craft captivating descriptions that transport your readers into your narrative.

What is descriptive writing?

Descriptive writing is a literary technique that employs sensory details to create a mental picture for the reader. It paints scenes, characters, or objects with words, appealing to the reader's senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. It goes beyond merely telling; it shows.

The power of vivid imagery

Descriptive writing is all about making the reader feel like they are part of the story. It involves using sensory details to create a mental image. When a writer effectively employs descriptive techniques, a reader can hear the rustling leaves, smell the fragrant flowers, and see the sun setting over a tranquil lake. Let's dig deeper and find out how famous writers use the five senses in their writing so you can learn from them too.

Engaging the senses

- Sight 

The primary purpose of descriptive writing is to visually transport the reader. It involves painting scenes with colourful details that make the reader see, in their mind's eye, exactly what the writer wants to convey. This is how Oscar Wilde uses sight to create a vivid and evocative atmosphere in his book, 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'.

"It was a chilly November afternoon, and the sky was hanging heavy with grey clouds. In the middle of the room, illuminated by a shaft of sunlight, stood the portrait of a young man."

Could you picture the sky and the light falling on the young man's portrait when you read that statement? That's the power of descriptive writing.

- Sound 

Descriptive writing captures not only visual but also auditory experiences. The rustling of leaves in the wind or the soothing melody of a song can be vividly conveyed through words. Let's look at how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used sounds to set the atmosphere for his story in the book "The Hound of the Baskervilles".

"As night fell on the desolate moor, the mournful howling of a distant hound pierced the stillness, a chilling sound that foretold the ominous mystery awaiting Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson."

Notice how the author skillfully employs sounds to convey the eerie ambience in the narrative. Can you think of ways you can use sound in your descriptive writing to build your story? What's more, you can even use words to describe different types of silence, like how beautifully the author Louis de Bernières describes silence in the book "Birds Without Wings."

“The couple sat side by side on cushions on the floor, quietly eating breakfast from the low table. They munched in happy and enjoyable silence, of the kind that grows like a vine through the long years of a good marriage, so that when everything that needs to be said has already been pronounced, it is mutually understood that there is an intimate silence that has its own loquacity.”

In your writing, consider exploring the nuances of different types of silence. Is there a distinction between the silence born of anger and the silence stemming from a lack of words? How might you articulate and convey the emotions associated with each form of silence?

- Smell

Words can evoke scents. A skilled descriptive writer can make the reader smell the aroma of freshly baked bread or the salty tang of the sea breeze. Consider this statement written by Haruki Murakami in his book, "Kafka on the Shore",

The fresh smell of coffee soon wafted through the apartment, the smell that separates night from day."

He could have simply stated, "The character brewed coffee," but that wouldn't capture the essence of the aromatic coffee scent filling the apartment, would it?

- Taste

Descriptive writing can even make the reader taste the sweet honey on warm toast or the bitter bite of a lemon. In his book 'The Kite Runner,' Khaled Hosseini beautifully portrays the experience of sipping mint tea as follows:

"The mint tea was akin to a rejuvenating breeze confined within a cup, gently soothing my senses with every sip."

To practice, you can focus on figuring out different ways of describing a single dish.

- Touch

The sensation of touch can be brought to life through descriptive writing, from the softness of a baby's skin to the rough texture of tree bark. Think about this passage from J.R.R. Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings':

"Frodo felt a soft touch on his face. He put out his hand and felt the touch again, and then gently explored the ground under him. He slipped his hand over the chain and touched one of the metal rings. Nothing happened."

In this excerpt, the author doesn't just tell us that Frodo touched things; instead, he skillfully shows us the unfolding events following each touch, immersing us in the story.

Now that we've seen how descriptive writing can enhance your writing, let's focus on the practical steps to implement it effectively.

Techniques for effective descriptive writing

1. Use vivid adjectives and adverbs

  • Select precise adjectives and adverbs to enhance descriptions.
  • Instead of "beautiful," try "breathtaking" or "mesmerising."

2. Appeal to the senses

  • Describe sensory details: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures.
  • Engage readers by triggering their senses.

3. Show, don't tell

4. Create a strong setting

  • Establish the environment and atmosphere to set the mood.
  • Transport readers to the story's world through rich settings.


Descriptive writing is a potent tool in the writer's arsenal, enabling them to create lasting impressions through vivid imagery. Whether you're narrating a story, selling a product, or educating an audience, harnessing the power of descriptive writing can set your content apart.

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