Tips on descriptive writing

In order to successfully complete the required writing assignments for both GCSE and A’ Level English, you will need to understand how to use a variety of descriptive styles.

This lists below give examples of the most important elements in the writer’s toolkit.

1) Simile

A simile is a word or phrase that likens one object / person / animal to another object / person / animal.

e.g. Rain drummed against the window like a machine gun.

e.g. The freezer was as cold as the Arctic.

2) Metaphor

A metaphor is word or phrase that is applied to an object with which it wouldn’t normally be associated.

e.g. The sky was a patchwork quilt of deep greys and blues.

e.g. The tree was a skyscraper in the landscape.

3) Change of focus

The ability to change focus from the describing of one thing to another when writing a story, description, or a narrative, gives depth to a piece of work.

A focus change is best used between a group of paragraphs to provide the reader with a rounded picture of the scene or situation you are trying to describe.

4) Personification

Personification is when a writer gives human qualities to something non-human.

e.g. Shadows danced.

e.g. The door groaned.

e.g. Rain screamed in anger.

5) Pathetic fallacy

Pathetic fallacy refers to a scene which mimics human emotion.

e.g.  Emphasis can be added to a sad atmosphere by using phrases such as “the clouds cried” rather than simply stating “it rained”.

e.g. Emphasis can be added to a cold environment by using phrases such as “even the earth shivered” rather than simply stating “it was a cold day.”

6) Range in paragraph length

Having a variety of different paragraph lengths within a piece of writing can make it more interesting and engaging. The occasional short single sentence paragraph can give emphasis to a sudden change in atmosphere.

e.g. Suddenly, the storm stopped.



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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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