Descriptive Writing and Vivid Verbs Describing in Detail

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Describing in Detail:

Part of becoming a good writer is being able to describe things well. You need to make your subject come to life for your audience. You can do this by using concrete nouns, vivid verbs, and clear, colorful modifiers1. You can also include sensory details – how your subject looks, feels, tastes, smells, and sounds.

And that’s just the beginning. When you write descriptions, you might compare your subject to others or you might share a story about your subject.

Writing a description is like painting a picture with words. You use vivid descriptions to help your audience see what you see, hear what you hear, and feel what you feel.

Far, far north on Earth, a small band of men struggles against icy blasts of wind. The howling Arctic gales drove needles of ice into their faces. The bitter east wind was like a sharp sword, slicing right through the thick fur parkas. It was 60 degrees below zero, so cold that the men’s noses, cheeks, and toes turned black with frostbite. But Robert Peary and Matthew Henson were determined to be the first men to reach the North Pole – or die trying.

In the paragraph above, the topic sentence sets the scene. Details give the sights, sounds, and feelings. The best details are saved for last. Make sure you use good sensory language including descriptive adjectives, adverbs, and vivid verbs.

Writing Descriptions:

Prewriting (Planning and Organizing)

  • Subject: Select a subject that can work for a descriptive essay. For example, describing your entire neighborhood would take too much work; instead, select a subject that focuses on one person, place, thing, or event in your neighborhood.

  • Audience: You also need to think about who your audience will be for your description. Will the subject you choose interest your audience?

  • Voice2: Think about your audience and why you are writing this description. Is it to help your audience understand your subject better? Is it to make them think seriously about it? Or is it simply to make them smile or laugh?

  • Explore: Do a freewriting3, listing everything that comes to mind about your subject.

  • Focus: Review your freewriting and decide which specific part of this subject about which to write.

  • Gather: Gather more information about your subject: size, shape, color, sound, and so on. Also, gather details about how your subject is like (or not like) other people, places, things, or events.

  • Organize: Decide which details you want to use in your essay and how you want to use them.

Writing the First Draft

  • Beginning (Introduction): To get your reader’s attention, you need to write a first paragraph that says something interesting or surprising about your subject. It should also name the main idea, or focus, of your writing. (If you are just writing a paragraph, this will be one sentence.)

  • Middle (Body): Write your description as freely and naturally as you can. Follow your outline or graphic organizer, but so not be afraid to add something new as you go along. The middle of your writing should include lots of specific details. You can use as many paragraphs as you need to make your description complete. (If you are just writing a paragraph, this should be done in three to five sentences. Any more and you should consider making your paragraph an essay.)

  • Ending (Conclusion): The final paragraph should summarize your writing or somehow bring it to an effective end. You might write about why your subject is important of what you think your subject will be like in the future. (If you are just writing a paragraph, this will be one sentence.)

Revising and Editing (Improving Your Paragraph or Essay)

The questions below will help you revise and edit your first draft. Remember, you can ask someone else to read and react to your writing.

  • Does my opening paragraph introduce my subject and get my reader’s attention?

  • Do I have enough details in the middle of my writing to make my subject clear and interesting to my reader?

  • Did I compare my subject to similar subjects?

  • Are my paragraphs clear and well organized?

  • Does my essay end with a summary or end with an interesting point?

  • Did I check for spelling and grammar errors?

Describing a Person:

Writing about another person is often called biographical writing. Write about someone you know well, or someone you would like to know well. You can gather details in a number of ways. List details that describe your subject. Remember important thinks he or she has done. Compare your subject to others. Share a story that helps describe your subject. Explain why your subject is important.

Describing a Place:

Writing about a place can be part descriptive and part narrative writing. Write about a place that has played an important role in your life. It can be anything from a house you once lived in to a camp you went to one summer. If possible, visit this place and describe what you see, hear, smell, and feel. If you cannot visit the place again, recall personal experiences related to it. Also compare it to other places.

Describing an Object:

When you write about an object, tell your readers how it looks, how it works, and why this object is special to you. Write about an object that you know well. You may have a special stuffed animal, a favorite baseball glove, or a useful gadget of some type. List details that describe the size, shape, and color of your object. Recall an interesting story (anecdote) related to the object. Compare it to other objects. Ask yourself why this object is (or was) important to you.

Sensory Word Bank

Sight Words

Oblong Four-sided Twisted Flat Crimson

Aqua Mulberry Vivid Canary Ebony

Sound Words

Roar Hum Rasp Thunder Twitter

Tweet Blast Scrape Rumble Deafening

Taste Words

Sour Bitter Nutty Bland Spicy

Sweet Salty Hot Savory Delicious

Smell Words

Sweet Rotten Mildewed Moldy Spicy

Stale Musty Fresh Perfumed Pungent

Touch Words

Smooth Icy Slippery Cool Slimy

Wet Dry Rough Breezy Bumpy

Vivid Verbs:

As writers, we often get stuck in particular patterns of writing, and one of these patterns is using the same verbs over and over again. One way to solve this problem is by replacing your general verbs with vivid verbs.

Vivid verbs are useful for a variety of reasons. First of all, they make your writing more interesting and enjoyable for the reader. Secondly, vivid verbs have more specific meanings than the general verbs they replace. However, you must be careful when replacing a general verb with a vivid verb to ensure that the vivid verb does not significantly alter the meaning of the sentence. Always consult a dictionary if you’re unsure of a word’s exact meaning.

The following table reveals several examples of general verbs and the vivid verbs that you can use to replace them. Keep in mind that each vivid verb has its own distinct meaning.

General Verb

Vivid Verbs


abhor, abominate, avoid, condemn, deplore, despise, detest, disapprove, hate, loathe, resent, scorn, shun


consume, devour, dine, feast upon, gobble, ingest


admire, adore, appreciate, cherish, be fond of, worship


dart, dash, jog, lope, scamper, scurry, sprint


address, critique, define, establish, evaluate, examine, formulate, identify, propose, recommend, , report, suggest, urge


amble, hike, march, plod, saunter, stroll, stride, trek, trudge


employ, labor, toil, slave

Let’s take a look at some examples that show how replacing general verbs with vivid verbs make sentences more interesting and more specific:

EX As the students walked through the park, the breeze blew the leaves on the trees.

EX As the students ambled through the park, the breeze lifted the leaves on the trees.

In the revised sentence, the verb “ambled” connotes relaxation and pleasantness, while the verb “lifted” connotes a gentle action. Here the use of vivid verbs conveys a pleasant tone. Now, let’s look at another example:

EX The harder James worked, the more he disliked his job and the customers he served.

EX The harder James toiled, the more he detested his job and the customers he served.

In the revised sentence, the verb “toiled” denotes hard labor, while the verb “detested” denotes intense dislike. Here the use of vivid verbs conveys a more negative tone. Also note that not all of the verbs in the example sentence were replaced with vivid verbs; the writer chose to leave the verb served because it seemed specific enough for the situation. Vivid verbs are best used in moderation; replacing more than two or three general verbs in one sentence could make the sentence difficult for the reader to understand.

The examples above demonstrate how using vivid verbs can significantly improve your writing by making it more enjoyable and more specific. In effect, vivid verbs are a great tool to use when you want to make your meanings clear to the reader.

1 Modifiers: a word or group of words that describes another word or idea.

2 Voice: the way a writer expresses idea. The most effective, believable writing is written is an honest, natural voice.

3 Freewriting: writing quickly to discover new ideas.


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