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How To Use Descriptive Writing Effectively

By Expert Author: Ralph Adams

First of all, what is 'descriptive' writing?
Descriptive writing adds interest and necessary details to your writing. Comparisons are often used, to help the reader imagine what you are writing about, such as: What does her perfume smell like? Which orchestral instrument did that noise from your neighbour's shed sound like?
Descriptive writing adds light, sound, colour, fragrance and tactile pleasure to your writing.
These are commonly added by using adjectives or adverbs; but this reveals a problem: adjectives and adverbs have become unpopular. Get rid of them, we are told! Readers don't want them any more.
Well, yes and no.
If you don't use any descriptive language at all, your writing will be drier than an overcooked piece of toast.
I believe readers want to inhale deeply the exquisite fragrance of roses, caress the soft skin of a newborn child, tune in to the morning birdsong near the campground, savour the onions with their sausages, and admire the spreading panorama of the morning sun's rays over the water.
The aim is balance.
Today's readers do not have the same patience for extensive descriptions as in older days. While they want to truly experience what you are describing, and sense it in every way possible, they are unlikely to want ten pages describing the taste of onions, for example.
The fact is, all of your readers have an imagination, so they don't need ten pages to describe a sensation. You should be able to describe that sense with just enough words to help them imagine it (or something very like it) themselves.
Adjectives influence nouns, and adverbs influence verbs; your action words. Adverbs are recognisable because they commonly end in the suffix -'ly'.
One or two adjectives are usually plenty to describe something (that is, a noun) briefly, if you are talking about a thing, whether that thing is real or abstract (such as feelings).
When it comes to action, adverbs may be nearly or completely avoidable, because you can probably use a verb that conveys that action. For example, you could tell about a rhythmic, formal-style walk - or you could say a person marched. Obviously the word 'march' conveys the same idea, but with less words.
So - to summarise -
Try to use active verbs that minimise the need for adverbs.
When describing a thing, abstract or real, you are more likely to need some adjectives. Try to find adjectives that say as much as possible in a short space, unless an extensive description is necessary to your story or article.
Your work as a writer is to find the descriptive words that take your reader with you, but doesn't leave him yawning at the end.

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