Descriptive writing is the art of painting pictures through the use of words. Without key descriptions, it is virtually impossible for a reader to imagine the worlds a writer has created in the way it was intended. Scenes, characters, experiences – descriptive writing turns these things into reality, even if they are completely fictional.
If you’re looking to improve this skill in your own work, then here are some descriptive writing exercises which are proven to help you improve in this area.
#1. Your Favorite Place
The trap many writers fall into is that they create descriptions based on assumptions instead of facts. The dialogue of characters or the attitudes of people become part of the place description and this confuses the reader because they don’t get a real picture of the scene. Go to your favorite place and thoroughly describe the setting. What are the colors, structures, and smells you experience there? This is what needs to go into your description.
#2. Character Profiles
What’s your favorite movie? Picture that film for a moment. Now which character is your favorite in that movie? Picture that character. Get a strong mental image of the character in your mind. Now write what you see, describing the character from head to toe. Physical descriptions are important, but so are the gestures that the character has. Remember: there is a difference between “actions” and “gestures.” No action, no dialogue – just descriptions – for this exercise.
#3. Time Travel
Can you remember a time when every home had a rotary phone? Do you remember a time when going onto the internet meant you logged into an AOL chat room to meet new friends? Or maybe technology has always been your thing and you can’t wait to see what the next invention happens to be. For this exercise, travel backward or forward in time and describe what life is like there. Look at future gadgets and how they’ll help people. Describe life without these technologies. This exercise will help you create realistic worlds in every writing genre.
#4. Story Editor
If you’ve read any fictional story in the past 5 years, then there’s a good chance it’s pretty light on descriptive content. New writers might not even include descriptive content because it is missing so often from even some of today’s best-selling works. Get into a book that you’ve ready recently and update two pages in it. Look for places where descriptive writing could help paint a better picture for the reader and then add it in yourself.
#5. The 100 Word Challenge
Your characters use tools. They drive cars. There are unique settings to which they must journey. Choose 5 things and write a short description for each one as if you were selling it on eBay, Amazon, or some other e-commerce site. Keep the description to 100 words or less. This exercise is designed to help keep the story moving forward even though you’re providing descriptive writing about specific elements.
#6. Seek and Ye Shall Find
Go visit an old bookstore, thrift store, or similar location in your community. If you don’t have one, maybe find an older book you don’t care so much about in your home. Then read through two chapters of the book with a highlighter in hand. Look for sentences or paragraphs that are descriptive in nature within that work so you can see what published detailed descriptions look like. You’re not looking for individual adjectives or adverbs here. Long passages only.
#7. From a Different Perspective
Yes. Writers must write what they know. Where writing tends to go wrong is that the writer also tends to create content based on their own perspective. Each person has a different perspective, so this means descriptions need to change based on the targeted audience. Imagine writing a description of the solar system. If the work was intended for the scientific community, then you’d use many technical terms to get your point across. If the work was intended for children, you’d need to describe it in such a way that the child can understand the point you’re trying to make.
Choose something that is difficult to describe and then force yourself to write it from a different perspective. This will help you be able to diversify your descriptive writing so that you can be engaging to several different audiences.
Descriptive writing exercises may have fallen out of favor with modern writing, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. If you can create meaningful descriptions for readers, then you can pull them into your stories and never let them go. Give these a try, see how your writing develops, and then keep practicing so you can become a description master.