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Descriptive Writing: Elements that create imagery

If you are asked to describe a perfect day at the beach, then a particular experience or images of the topic may come to mind. Either one, your aim is to explain what makes the day at the beach ideal. Descriptive writing evokes emotions from the reader by creating sensory imagery.

You may describe the weather, water, food and people in detail while appealing to the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. There are 5 key elements to focus on when doing descriptive writing.

Elements of Descriptive Writing

1. Aspects of an image

A descriptive piece requires you to describe an image in your head but at the same time there is a lot going on in that one picture. You need to choose at least three aspects of the image to describe for a simple five-paragraph descriptive essay.

At the scene of a fire, you can describe the actual fire that is blazing, the colour, movements, actions and something it resembles. The house that is falling apart can be another focus, the age, size, design, purpose and history.

You may describe the expression on people’s faces while looking at the fire, those who are deeply affected and others who are there to spectate. The environment is also a strong aspect as it is filled with smoke, on-lookers and sorrowful screams.

2. Language

A combination of literal and figurative language is crucial to descriptive writing. Literal language requires knowledge of many adjectives, synonyms and antonyms. Figurative language is hidden meaning through the use figurative devices such as simile, irony, metaphor and onomatopoeia.

These word tools make your description even more colourful. Instead of telling the readers about the image, you can show them. You can make a comparison to the image you want to describe using the simile “the water was warm like a blanket” or metaphor “the golden medallion in the sky”.

You may show contrast with the irony “she brought us to the beach every weekend but would never bathe because of her fear of sharks”. The use of onomatopoeia in descriptive writing livens up your words as in “splashing of waves”, “thumping of the ball against feet”, and “high-pitched screams of joy in the water”.

3. Sensory details

Describing an image revolves around appealing to the five senses. At the scene of a beach, you describe the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feels without naming the images for the reader.

“The golden medallion in the sky” is the sun that you see.

“The roaring beast violently beats against the innocent mountains” is the waves that you hear.

“The fishy wind embraces our nostrils” describes the smell of the atmosphere.

“The salty blanket slides on my tongue” describes the sea water that is not only compared to something that is comforting but appeals to the sense of taste.

“The scorching grains beneath my feet” is the sand that you feel.

4. Emotions evoked

Descriptive writing requires you to evoke emotions in the reader by describing various moods that occur while painting a picture in your head. These moods must be described using many adjectives, synonyms and antonyms to make your description effective.

At the scene of a fire, the mood of the persons most affected is traumatised, sorrowful, depressed and worried. The on-lookers are sympathetic, concerned, comforting and sensitive. The firefighters are commanding, determined, aggressive and exhausted.

Other than adjectives, you can show actions that describe feelings. “The orange demon grabbed every memory” evokes a nostalgic emotion and “Tears flowed uncontrollably” describes sadness. By describing the feelings of others in an image, you evoke a similar emotion in your reader.

5. Structure

The structure of your essay is essential especially when you are given a word count and you are being timed. If you are preparing for an exam, there are 5 main factors to focus on which can be written in 5 paragraphs for your descriptive essay.

Descriptive – 5 paragraphs

In this suggested structure, each paragraph has 3 parts to cover. You may write 1 or more sentences for each part as long as you stay within your given word count.

Paragraph 1: Introduction

  • Hook
  • Context
  • Thesis statement

Paragraph 2: Body

  • Topic sentence e.g. appearance
  • Sensory details
  • Actual details

Paragraph 3: Body

  • Topic sentence e.g. environment
  • Sensory details
  • Actual details

Paragraph 4: Body

  • Topic sentence e.g. emotions
  • Sensory details
  • Actual details

Paragraph 5: Conclusion

  • Paraphrase of thesis statement
  • Summary of paragraphs 2, 3 and 4
  • Closing statement

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