Descriptive language

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.

Here are some techniques and examples of how they can be used:

TechniqueExamples
Simile - a descriptive technique that compares one thing with another, usually using 'as' or 'like'. The trees stood as tall as towers.
Metaphor - a descriptive technique that names a person, thing or action as something else.The circus was a magnet for the children.
Hyperbole - a use of obvious exaggeration for rhetorical effect.The sun scorched through the day.
Personification - a metaphor attributing human feelings to an object.The sun smiled at the hills, ready to begin a new day.
Pathetic fallacy - a type of personification where emotions are given to a setting, an object or the weather.The clouds crowded together suspiciously overhead as the sky darkened.
Onomatopoeia - words that sound a little like they mean.The autumn leaves and twigs cracked and crunched underfoot.
Oxymoron - a phrase combining two or more contradictory terms.There was a deafening silence
Emotive language - language intended to create an emotional response.A heart-breaking aroma of death filled the air as he surveyed the devastation and destruction that had befallen them all.

Example

In the example below, look at how the writer uses descriptive techniques to create a vivid setting for the reader and how the weather reflects the mood of the text.

The ground crumbled like sand under my feet as I heaved another step towards the summit. Looking below, the trees were dots to my squinting eyes in the midday heat. Beating down upon my back, the sun was relentless as I wiped the drips of salty sweat from my neckline. The silence of the chasm below was deafening; suddenly, eagles broke the silence and screeched above me in hunger.

Analysis

The writing opens with a simile to show the texture of the ground. The sun is personified as it is described as ‘relentless’, giving it a ruthless personality. The silence is described as ‘deafening’, an oxymoron that helps to emphasise how unbearable the situation is for the character. Pathetic fallacy has been used here - the uncomfortable heat mirrors the character’s struggle as she continues on her journey. These descriptive techniques allow the reader to feel as if they are there and pull them into the story.