Descriptive writing can be hard to write. It is not a story and it has no plot line. You are imagining closing your eyes and seeing a picture. Yet, you are inside the picture and can sense smell, sounds and feelings. It is often written in the third person.

Effective description works because it helps a reader feel a part of the scene being described. If you look closely at how this kind of writing is created, you’ll find many references to one or more of the senses such as what can be seen or heard. This is called sensory description. This use of the senses allows the reader to enter the scene more effectively by involving them directly and by evoking a more emotional response. It works because it creates imagery in the mind.


Imagery is a very important feature of descriptive writing. The most common way by which a writer can create imagery is through the use of figurative language, typically through the use of metaphor, simile and personification.

A simile is the comparison of one item with another. Usually the words ‘as’ or ‘like’ are used to bring the two ideas together.

For example:

The temperature was hot.

could become,

The temperature was hot like the sun.

However, be careful. You must make your simile effective. How could you make ‘The temperature was hot like the sun’ effective? Think about when the sun is at its hottest: the desert, midday, summer etc. Now, change the simile:

The temperature was hot like the midday, desert sun in midsummer.

A metaphor is a comparison in which something is said to be something else:

  1. The man was a cheetah racing down the track.
  2. The sound drummed on her head.
  3. The vultures tore through the school canteen.

Why use a metaphor?

  1. You can make the ordinary strange and interesting, making your writing more exciting to read.
  2. Your reader is forced to think and interpret when you show them something through the use of imagery, rather than telling them literally.

This is when the word sounds like the word that it is representing. Sound is the key sense that is described with onomatopoeia. Think about: bang, crash and whoosh. With each of these words, you can hear that sound.

Alliteration is repetition of a sound at the beginning of a group of words. An example might be:

The fierce fox fixated on the field mouse.

With alliteration, you must consider the hard sounds and the soft sounds in English. Consider the sound produced:

Lovely vs collided

The ‘l’ sound is soft and gentle whereas the ‘c’ sound is harsh and abrupt. You must consider the tone that you are attempting to create.

Personification is providing an inanimate object with animate features.

Consider a tree moving in the wind:

  1. The leaves dancing
  2. The trunk stood still and upright
  3. The flowers waving

All of these are characteristics of humans, rather than of trees. They provide interesting imagery.


Look at the example text. What language techniques can you spot within the paragraph?

The creature buzzed loudly through the air, its delicate wings fluttering in the sparkling sun. Although feared, the contrast of the sunshine yellow and jet black stripes over its plump body made the creature beautiful. However, its sting hovered down, warning those who bravely dared to go near that it was dangerous.


Within the exam, you might be provided with a picture as a stimulus. You can use the picture in whatever way is useful; however, do not be afraid to steer away from the stimulus material.

Complete one of the following questions:

  1. Describe an important event in your life.
  2. Describe a train journey.
  3. Describe your favourite holiday destination.

Do not forget to self-assess for descriptive language features.

what is a simile?
What is descriptive writing?
What narrator is usually used?