Descriptive writing is like poetry. It speaks to all of the senses for a truly captivating experience for your audience. Yes, we can use visuals to show people what we’re talking about in broadcast news, movies, blogs, vlogs, and newspaper articles, but even the best images are lost if they don’t have some descriptive copy to accompany them. In fact, the visuals have almost become a crutch to some in our industry. It’s the media outlets that don’t have visuals that really know how to utilize everything else at their disposal to make their product sing. They create beautiful imagery using the magic of wordplay, describing things so vividly – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, moods, conditions outside (cold, rainy, damp, muggy, dry, sweltering). Do a little experiment with me. Close your eyes for just a few moments and observe. Are you doing it? Okay, good. What did you hear, feel, sense? If you have the heat or air conditioning on, you might have felt that against your skin. If you’re at work reading this, you likely felt a little strange, thinking others were watching you close your eyes, and you might have heard all of the noises that make the office you come to everyday come to life. Perhaps, they are sounds you don’t even pay attention to any more during your normal day. When I did this exercise with a new employee in our newsroom, I was shocked to learn how I was able to tune out the loud police scanners. However, when I took my sense of sight away, there they were blaring with garbled, static-filled bits and pieces of conversations that only someone who routinely listens to them can really discern. See what I did there? You can hear those police scanners, loud and crackly can’t you? It’s the power of descriptive writing. This is what I wrote when I did this exercise at home one afternoon:
I can’t remember how long it’s been since my house was this serene. The normal chaos is quiet. The only sounds are the hum of the fans in my old, cantankerous laptop. The dusty ceiling fan whirs as it cools off my angel-faced son. That sneaky sandman has him. Off in the distance, the lawn worker’s leaf blower buzzes as crews carry out the business of beautification in the Florida heat, the kind of heat that sticks to you like a heavy, wet bathing suit. But it’s not bothering me. I’m tucked away inside with no care for the outside world. Click-click-click. I break the sweet silence, fingers fluttering over the keyboard. The A/C just kicked on. It sounds tired – perhaps fatigued by incessant use. The cold air from the vents brings goosebumps as it kisses my arms and caresses my face. The pungent smell of garlic tickles my nose. I quickly shovel warm, salty pasta into my mouth and gulp an ice cold pop. I am painfully aware this precious moment is fleeting. Click-click-click. Almost done. My breath quickens. Can I wrap this up before … *sigh* the baby is crying.
Did I transport you to my home? Could you feel, hear, taste, smell, and touch everything I described? If I wrote it correctly, you did. Your turn. Jot down a description of your surroundings. I’ll wait. How’d you do? Good!
Another exercise I challenge you to do on your own—listen to NPR. Hear how the writers use all of the tools they have available to them to transport you from your car to the scene they want you to experience. I’m just using NPR as an example, but there are masters of wordplay in every medium. So let’s get to it.
- Why do we use descriptive writing?
- It helps tell the complete story.
- It makes the medium come to life with vivid imagery.
- It helps viewers, readers, and listeners relate to the story by appealing to the senses of smell, taste, sound, sight, feel.
- It helps your audience engage in the communication you are providing.
- What does descriptive writing look/sound/feel/smell like?
- It requires an excellent vocabulary. Learn to love words if you don’t already.
- It screams creativity.
- How do we do it?
- Think outside the box.
- Watch the video.
- Put yourself into the story.
- Use the thesaurus.
- Similes/metaphors work.
- Give complex/unfamiliar issues some context or a point of reference that people will understand.