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Creative Writing Technique: Writing Vivid Descriptions

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September 2011

By Dave Hood

Writing a good short story requires that you craft a believable story and also a dream inside the mind of the reader. Including vivid details helps do this. Read any good short story, such as Jack London’s “To Build a Fire,” and you’ll see that it includes vivid details.

Composing a poem is about sharing a meaningful event or experience, and evoking an emotional response. Read a good narrative poem, and you will see that it includes vivid details or description.

Whether you write prose or poetry, you must add vivid details or descriptions to your creative writing. Otherwise, your writing will be ordinary, non-descriptive. You’ll have written forgettable writing–writing that won’t evoke emotion, stir the spirit, touch the soul of the reader.

When you add detail to your creative writing, you are showing the reader, not telling them what is happening, what the narrator is seeing, feeling, tasting…and so forth.

Here’s a good example of how poet Mary Oliver has added detail to make her poem come alive:

Wild Geese

By Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting 

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.


Techniques of Description

What are the techniques of description that you must use in your creative writing? There are several techniques that you can use, including:

  • Sensory details– which appeals to the sense of sight, smell, touch, hearing, taste. Example: It smelt like rotting food in a garbage can…It looked as if someone had taken a baseball bat, swung it widely, trashing the place….It tasted like stale, mouldy bread.
  • Concrete and specific details, not general and abstract. Example: Peter Wright, a student in grade 12, wrote a prose poem about social networking on Twitter.
  • Authentic details. Your details ought to be original. A good way to start is by freewriting and learning how to think “outside of the box.” In other words, you need to learn creating thinking skills, such as changing perspective, asking why, brainstorming, seeking out alternative ways of describe something.
  • Precise details, getting it “just right.” Use a dictionary and thesaurus.
  • Don’t be literal. Instead use figurative devices, such as simile, metaphor, symbol, allusion, personification.

When Should You Use Vivid Descriptions?

You need to use them to write prose, such as a short story or personal essay, and to write poetry. Use vivid descriptions for the following:

  • to describe the abstract in concrete terms (poetry or fiction)
  • to describe the unfamiliar (poetry or fiction)
  • to make the reader believe it actually happened, which helps create a dream inside the mind of the reader. (Fiction)
  • To make setting, character, inciting incident, conflict, obstacles and setbacks come alive in the story. (Fiction)
  • To write a scene in a narrative poem or short story. A scene in creative writing is like a scene in a film. A scene includes time and place details (setting), action, dialogue (not always), and vivid description.
  • To create word-pictures in the mind of the reader (Fiction and Poetry)

What to Avoid

You should avoid using the following types of detail:

  • Trite details (boring; not fresh or original)
  • Clichés (Language that has been overused in speech and writing)
  • Abstractions, which appeal to the intellect, not the senses. Use concrete and specific details instead. Example: Don’t say he was kind. Say” He smiled, opened the oak door, allowed me to enter the church first.
  • Vague details. You must be precise and specific.

One of the most important attribute of a good piece of creative writing is that it includes vivid description, such as sensory details, concrete and specific descriptions, figurative language, like simile and metaphor.

Whether you write prose or poetry, you’ll need to include vivid descriptions in your creative writing—to make it come alive, to make your writing believable, to make your writing memorable in the mind of the reader.

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