Literary techniques

How to use descriptive language techniques effectively

Descriptive language is used to help the reader feel almost as if they are a part of the scene or event being described. Description is useful because it helps readers engage with the world of the story, often creating an emotional response. It can help a reader visualise what a character or a place is like.

There are a number of literary techniques that can make descriptions more vivid and creative. Here are some examples:

TechniqueExamples
Simile - compares one thing with another using 'as' or 'like'. The trees stood as tall as towers.
Metaphor - uses an image or idea to represent something else.The circus was a magnet for the children.
Personification - a metaphor attributing human feelings to an object.The sun smiled at the hills, ready to begin a new day.
Onomatopoeia - words sound like the noises they represent.The autumn leaves and twigs cracked and crunched underfoot.
Alliteration - repetition of a consonant sound in a series of words.The seahorse spiralled, seeking safety and solace.
Assonance - repetition of a vowel sound in a series of words.He sneezed and wheezed, could hardly breathe.
Oxymoron - a phrase combining two or more contradictory terms.There was a deafening silence
Antithesis - putting two opposite ideas together to highlight contrasts.‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ (Neil Armstrong)
Parenthesis - a phrase that adds extra detail.Jess, who was fifteen, loved her English lessons.

Example

In the example below, look at how the writer uses literary techniques to create a vivid description.

The ground crumbled like icing sugar under my feet as I heaved towards the summit. The trees below were dots to my squinting eyes. The sun was relentless and beat down on my back as I wiped drips of salty sweat from my neckline. The deafening silence of the chasm below filled me with dread. Suddenly, eagles came into view, breaking the silence, screeching in hunger.

Analysis

The writing opens with a simile to show the texture of the ground. The sun is personified: it is described as ‘relentless’, giving it a ruthless personality. The silence is described as ‘deafening’, an oxymoron that helps emphasise how unbearable the situation is for the character. Pathetic fallacy has also been used here - the uncomfortable heat mirrors the character’s struggle as she continues on her journey. These literary techniques make the writing more interesting and draw the reader into the details of the scene.