What makes good descriptive writing?

Sensory Description

This is another great tool that will help you to establish sense of place and sensory description: here


Imagery is a powerful tool in a writer’s arsenal. Whether you decide to make explicit comparisons (through simile) or implicit comparisons (through metaphor), you can draw upon a range of connotation already held by other things to enhance to depth of the subject you are describing.

Look at this description of setting from Rebecca:

“Nature had come into her own again and, little by little, in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long, tenacious fingers. The woods, always a menace even in the past, had triumphed in the end. They crowded, dark and uncontrolled, to the borders of the drive. The beeches with white, naked limbs leant close to one another, their branches intermingled in a strange embrace, making a vault above my head like the archway of a church.”

Rebecca, Chapter 1

Figurative language has been applied effectively to personify Nature, branches hanging over the road become “long, tenacious fingers”. They are “long, tenacious fingers” which make them come alive and add an element of supernatural threat. This is not a simile using ‘like’ or ‘as’ which distances the reader from the description. The immediacy and detail is effective in making the reader’s skin crawl as if they are surrounded by these encroaching branches.


This is continued in an extended metaphor of “crowded” with a zoom in on the specific beech trees and their “naked limbs”. Daphne DeMaurier also spends a great deal of time, multiple pages, only describing this setting. Here we have almost a paragraph dedicated to only the trees. By focusing in on one particular element in this way, the writer creates a richer environment. The trick is selecting the appropriate detail in your narrative to zoom in on.


Here is some useful emotional vocabulary bank to develop your characterisations. Try to avoid cliché or basic descriptions that include ‘Happy’ or ‘Sad’ in particular. The top row for each emotion is the most intense of the synonyms that represent a similar emotion. As you move down the rows, the feelings will be less intense. For example, ‘Exuberant’ and ‘Elated’ are much more intense emotions than ‘Contented’ or ‘Satisfied’.


Ambitious vocabulary

Awaken English Tier 2 Vocabulary Hub


Read back your work. This is an incredibly simple and effective technique to help improve the accuracy and quality of your writing. Quite often as we are writing our mind races off ahead of itself in excitement when thinking of all the detail we could include and the infinite worlds we could create in our writing. Reviewing your work after every couple of sentences or paragraphs, depending on your preference, will make sure that you stick to your original objective; that your work makes sense and is structured clearly.

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