5 Tips to Paint Your Stories With Descriptive Language
Imagine a pair of books sitting on a mahogany desk in front of you. On your left is a leather hardback novel of vermillion. You feel its rough texture as you run your fingers on its front page. You gingerly lift the cover, revealing its contents, creamy and vanilla-scented as you get a whiff of its pages. You read the first few words: “A curious cat went through the desert.” Your heart sinks as you are filled with disappointment. How could such an enchanting book be so dull? Your eyes dart to the paperback next to it, its alabaster cover shining under the fluorescent light. “Perhaps this novel might be more promising?” you inquire as you begin to unveil the first page: It reads: “The feline’s inky tail swishes in the air as fast as lightning as it slinks through the desert’s sand-covered ground, its head full of questions.” Wrapping the paperback firmly in your arms, you leave the desk with unwavering confidence since you have made the right choice.
So how exactly do we elevate our stories so that you are able to immerse your readers into your world? This article will highlight five tips that will get your narratives to tickle the imagination of your readers.
1. Setting: Plunge your readers into your world with the five senses
Before: I was sitting in the coffee shop when my archnemesis walked in!
You would assume that this would be the climax of the story, however its simplicity makes it rather anticlimactic. In order to enhance this scene, you are recommended to utilise the five senses to your advantage: sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing. Since we, as humans, use the faculties to process and understand our surroundings, this technique will make your reader feel as if they were there with the character of your story.
For sight, you could use phrases like “I was surrounded by [object]”, “[object] covered the ground”, “[object] hung above my head”, and “[object] zoomed past me”. To activate the reader’s touch, you could write “The [object] felt [adjective] to the touch” or “I could feel the [adjective] texture as I ran my fingers along the [object]”. As for smell, you could be descriptive by illustrating “The scent of [object] wafted through the air” or “I took a whiff of the [adjective] scent of the [object]”. So as to switch on the reader’s taste, you are suggested to write “The [adjective] flavour of the [object] danced on my tongue” or “I licked my lips, tasting the [adjective] remnants of the [object]”. In order to tap into hearing, you may write “The sound of [object] filled the air” or “I listened intently to the [object]”. With these recommended sentence structures, you can take your settings to the next level.
After: I was surrounded by wooden tables, people sitting around them with their cups of coffee. Soft carpet covered the ground and a golden light hung above my head. Waiters balancing the orders of customers on trays zoomed past me. My coffee cup felt warm to the touch and I could feel the paper texture as I ran my fingers along the sleeve of my cup. The scent of freshly baked goods wafted through the air. I took a whiff of the sweet scent of my latte. The bitter flavour of my drink danced on my tongue. I licked my lips, tasting the sweet remnants of the doughnut I had just finished. The sound of glass knocking on wood filled the air as I listened intently to the chattering around me. Out of the blue, the peace broke when my archnemesis crossed the threshold into the coffee shop.
2. Emotions: Let your readers sympathise with your characters through idioms
Before: I felt both sad and happy to have found out my school permanently closed down.
If your school were to actually cease operating, this response would be rather underwhelming considering A) Yay! You have no more boring English lessons! (We’re kidding. Languages are the best.) B) On the other hand, you won’t be seeing your favourite teacher anymore! Oh, the horror! So as to achieve a heightened level of emotional description, use idioms pertaining to feelings to boost your writing so that your reader can better understand how your character feels.
To describe happiness, you could write “A smile spread across my face”, “I was on seventh heaven” or “I was on cloud nine”. To illustrate excitement, we suggest “I was bouncing off the walls”, “I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” or “I was raring to go. To express sadness, you may consider “I was down in the dumps”, “My heart sank” and “My head hung low”. To represent shock, you could write “My jaw dropped”, “My eyebrows shot towards the ceiling” or “My eyes were wide”. To evoke anger, you could write “Steam came out of my ears”, “I clenched my fists into tight balls” and “I went bananas”. To conjure up fear, you could write “Chills ran down my spine”, “My blood ran cold” and “My hair stood on end”. To put nervousness into words, write “I felt butterflies in my stomach”, “I had a lump in my throat” or “I played with my hair”. To paint exhaustion in words, write “I could barely keep my eyes open”, “My eyelids were heavy” and “My focus kept drifting”.
After: Although a smile spread across my face, my heart sank to have found out my school permanently closed down.
3. Speaking verbs: Verbs have feelings too
Before: I asked, “Do you have sandwiches?” The waiter said, “We don’t. You ask this question every time you come here.” I replied, “It’s the first time I came here.” He said, “You were literally here last night. I can ban you from returning.” I said, “Please, don’t! I’m hungry and this is the only restaurant in town!” He said, “There’s a convenience store down the street.” Suddenly, my family walked into the restaurant. He saw that we were a family of identical nonuplets. I said, “Perhaps you have mistaken me for one of my siblings.”
While this interaction is evidently absurd, we can only guess how the characters in this situation feel. It can also seem rather repetitive to reuse the word “said” multiple times throughout a story. We suggest that you to throw the word “said” on the scrapheap and to fill your vocabulary bank with our recommended speaking verbs to take your dialogue to the next level.
To say something with joy, speaking verbs you can use are “beamed”, “bubbled”, “piped”, “quipped” and “sang”. To express dialogue with sadness, you can write “moaned”, “choked”, “sighed”, “gurgled” and “wept”. To speak angrily, write “fumed”, “snapped”, “reprimanded”, “muttered” and “badgered”. To showcase surprise, write “blurted”, “gaped”, “gawked”, “gasped” and “spouted”. To demonstrate fear, say “spluttered”, “stammered”, “quaked”, “gulped” and “shuddered”. If the speaker is explaining something, write “clarified”, “illustrated” and “advised”. To have your character argue, use “refuted”, “countered”, “defended”, “claimed” and “declared”. To criticise something, utilise “judged”, “interpreted”, “concluded” and “figured”. To imply something, use “alluded”, “connoted”, “hinted” and “suggested”. To seek information, say “probed”, “perused”, “queried”, “questioned” and “demanded”. To reveal the truth, your character could have “admitted”, “imparted”, “divulged”, “disclosed” and “volunteered” information.
After: I queried, “Do you have sandwiches?” The waiter moaned, “We don’t. You ask this question every time you come here.” I blurted, “It’s the first time I came here.” He snapped, “You were literally here last night. I can ban you from returning.” I spluttered, “Please, don’t! I’m hungry and this is the only restaurant in town!” He suggested, “There’s a convenience store down the street.” Suddenly, my family walked into the restaurant. He saw that we were a family of identical nonuplets. I countered, “Perhaps you have mistaken me for one of my siblings.”
4. Colours: Paint with words and not just colours
Before: There stood my father with red cheeks and his face painted white. I could see his familiar blue eyes and black hair with grey highlights. His clothing was yellow, the top of his head was green, and his feet were brown. My father attended my graduation dressed as a banana!
The number of colours the human eye can distinguish is approximately one million so describing an object with the colour yellow is somewhat vague, especially considering the variety of shades of yellow that are available. In order to pinpoint the precise colour you want your reader to imagine, you need to expand your colour palette vocabulary. This technique is not as hard as chasing rainbows. Your story can be compared to a painting. You need a diverse range of colours, or in this case colour vocabulary, in order to paint a vivid picture to those who are lucky enough to read your work.
Let’s start with the rainbow. A red rose can be replaced with a “crimson”, “scarlet”, “vermillion”, “ruby” or “cardinal” rose. An orange carrot can be substituted with a “tangerine”, “saffron”, “coral”, “ochre” or “apricot” carrot. In place of yellow hair, you could say your teacher has “amber”, “canary”, “flaxen”, “citron” or “straw” hair. Instead of eating green vegetables, you could be consuming “sage”, “emerald”, “jade”, “viridescent” or “olive” vegetables. It would be boring to swim in the blue ocean. Try swimming in the “sapphire”, “azure”, “cobalt”, “cerulean” or “aqua” ocean. Take off your purple socks and put on “lilac”, “mauve”, “amethyst”, “orchid” or“lavender” socks instead. Do not stroke a pink flamingo. Would it not be nice to pat their “bubblegum”, “rosy”, “fuchsia”, “magenta or “blush” feathers instead? Moving on to the neutral colours, instead of smiling and showing your white teeth, grin from ear to ear and display your “porcelain”, “alabaster”, “milky”, “cream” or “ivory” teeth. The sky should not be black at night. It would be more glamorous to have a “charcoal”, “ebony”, “sable”, “raven” or “obsidian” sky at night. When we grow old, our hair does not simply turn grey. Our hair becomes streaked with “leaden”, “granite”, “smoky”, “silver” or “ashen” highlights. Do not start your day with a piping hot cup of brown coffee. Try taking a sip of some “chestnut”, “russet”, “mahogany”, “cinnamon” or “chocolate” coffee instead.
After: There stood my father with vermillion cheeks and his face painted alabaster. I could see his familiar cerulean eyes and raven hair with leaden highlights. His clothing was amber, the top of his head was viridescent, and his feet were mahogany. This was my graduation. And my father was dressed as a banana.
5. Similes and metaphors: Be as bright as a button and clever like a fox
Before: A clown who was funny invited me to play a game. It seemed rather boring and the rules were unclear but the game was easy. I won a shirt which was uncomfortable because it was not my size. He gave me a slightly bigger shirt and it fit. He suddenly confessed his love for me and I realized the guy was nutty.
Using simple and direct adjectives can give your writing clarity, however it can come off as rather plain. To spice up your story, you can combine these basic adjectives with concrete images. We have gathered a few examples of similes and metaphors to reinforce your knowledge, although keep in mind that the actual list is seemingly endless.
Without glasses, some people would be as blind as a bat. Your parent or friend who keeps working overtime is as busy as a bee. In a race, you would have to run like the wind. If you have an energy drink before bed, you might not be able to sleep like a baby. If you do not talk behind people’s backs, you might be as honest as the day is long. A sick patient might look as pale as death. Your grandparent might be constantly spouting stories that are as old as the hills. You and your best friend are like two peas in a pod. Maybe you might know them like the back of your hand. If you have writing techniques that can elevate your stories, you might say that those methods work like a charm so that you can create descriptive imagery that is as pretty as a picture.
After: A clown who was as funny as a barrel of monkeys invited me to play a game. It seemed like watching grass grow and the rules were as clear as mud but the game was as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. I won a shirt which was as comfortable as a bed of nails because it was not my size. He gave me a slightly bigger shirt and it fit like a glove. He suddenly confessed his love for me which was as deep as the ocean and I realized the guy was as nutty as a fruitcake.
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