Writing Tip: Use Vivid Description

What is good writing?

Even though the correct answer is that whether a piece of writing is good or not rests entirely with the reader, many people think that good writing is effective writing. And it’s true.

Good writing follows a flow. Good writing is focused. Good writing is written for a purpose. Good writing is grammatically correct and readable. And…

Good writing uses vivid description.

And I hear you saying: “what is vivid description anyway?”… So here we are!

Vivid Description – What it is

Vivid description is writing which makes you feel as if you are standing there, right there where the author has just described something. Vivid description appeals to the senses — eyes, nose, ears, skin, etc. You use vivid description when you describe something, whatever it may be. And… yeah, you knew it, here’s a note (seems I can’t do without one):

Note: – Vivid description is undesirable in some cases. Too much of a good thing is usually a bad thing (once again!).

How to use vivid description

If you want to use vivid description, then you want to play with all the senses. Don’t just say the wind is fast. Compare it with something that the readers are familiar with. As an example, compare these two sentences:

The wind was very fast.

The wind was as fast as a train.

Which example is better? For most, it’s no. 2.

Rather than leaving the details to the reader’s imagination, why not list them out in your writing? It is incredibly annoying to imagine something based on what has been written only to discover that our image is wrong. (Read this post to see why novels and films differ when writing character description for it). In contrast, if we had the proper details, wouldn’t we imagine better? Wouldn’t we have a clearer image of what the author is saying?

Yes, we would. That’s when vivid description comes in.

Description is necessary but boring, and so you have vivid description. Concrete details. Everything the reader would want to know, and nothing more. You explain it, they understand it, and your writing is okay.

But what if you want your writing to be more than just ‘okay’?

Then you have to write for the senses. Hit your writing with some scent for the nose and make the reader feel as if he’s there with you sniffing. Play with noise. Play with feelings and sensations. Make the writing wash over the reader, as if it’s not there at all, as if he/she is seeing the event or whatever you are describing.

When the reader has that feeling, then you know that your piece was a success. Then you know your work has paid off. Then you know you’re ready to see results, and all from applying a very simple writing tip: just use vivid description.

Concrete Details and Active Voice

When you are using vivid description, it’s better to use the active voice, and for a good reason. The thing is, when you use the passive voice, as for example: “The door was opened by the man” rather than “The man opened the door” your writing loses a bit of its punch. It loses the “vivid” part of vivid description, and along with filler words, can completely weaken your writing. My advice: stay clear of it!

Note: – This applies almost everywhere, but not in exceptions. Is your writing project a scholarly or academic one? Law? Advertising? Then this advice does not apply to you; passive voice and filler words are actually recommended. But not all the time. :-)

When you use active voice on the other hand, your writing becomes concise and more readable. You reach closer to the goal of having the reader feel that he’s there with you when you describe something. Concrete details means the complete opposite of becoming a fancy writer: more punch, more strength, more vigour. Better results.

Brilliant Writing = Brilliant Description

Brilliant writing is an art form. Only few writers pen down something which may be called brilliant, and they make it look easy. For the rest of us… but the art is learnable. As usual, the main thing you should do is: (drumroll) practise!

When your writing is brilliant, your description automatically becomes brilliant. You don’t need to worry because of it; you need to worry because of your writing. Improve how you write and you’ll improve your description.

As with narrative and dialogue, try not to use too much description. It bores us. It bores the heck out of us, and even if you’ve got vivid description, it won’t help if you keep at it. Mix it up — I guarantee you will see positive results! Try it today. Experiment with various techniques. You may want to use some quotes, lists, charts or anything else to break up the description. All are recommended, so you can use any of them which you like.

Conclusion

If you’ve got a description, it’s most likely languishing in your writing, scorned as “boring”. You’re worried. What do you do as a solution? The answer: make it vivid. Make it exciting. End of story.

Oops, let me swallow that last sentence. It certainly isn’t the end of story. Share tips and tricks of your own. Disagree? Got feedback or criticism? Then share it in the comments: that’s what it’s there for. To get updates on the latest articles in the Writing Tips series, subscribe here.

Comments

  1. Danielle says

    You really don’t know academic writing if you think we can get away with using the passive voice. Good writing doesn’t use it, be it academic or otherwise. If anything, concrete writing of our subjects get our points across better. Being specific means that others can better understand and use what we write, the passive voice takes that away from our writing. Do your research, don’t make assumptions–it just makes you look silly. Trust me, the first thing you hear in many upper level/graduate courses is don’t use the passive voice.

    • says

      There are always exceptions to rules. Choosing which voice to choose depends on the subject matter. If the doer is more important, then use active voice (in most cases it’s better I agree). But for those specific times where the action matters a lot more than the doer, you’ve got to use passive voice. That’s what the grammar books say, and I didn’t make that up by myself.

Trackbacks

  1. […] it looks more professional. Don’t go overboard with adjectives and adverbs, particularly when strong verbs do the job better. Use active voice instead of passive voice, unless you have a legitimate reason […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>