When you help your audience solve a problem through a book, you’ll need to use descriptive writing to connect with them. Problems are by nature experiential – people tend to feel them deeply. Since these feelings are uncomfortable, they become a motivating factor to search for a solution. The more pain a person feels, the higher their urgency for a solution.
And here lies a dilemma: when solutions are delivered through a book like yours, they’re one step removed from experience. Your information won’t be “experienced” immediately because it must first be read and then processed by your reader’s critical mind – yet in order to make a difference with your readers your solution needs to be experienced, not just understood intellectually.
How do you solve this dilemma? By using descriptive writing techniques to bypass the critical brain and create a direct channel to your reader’s experiential mind.
What Is the Purpose of Descriptive Writing?
You know when you go to see a really good movie, how you feel transported to the world that the movie is depicting? And then when you exit the theater, your mind is still “living” in that world for a little while, making the reality of the present moment clash with the fiction in your mind?
A good movie is able to make you feel the “experience” of being transported in time through the use of visual details, by using the colors and sounds of that space and time in a very powerful way.
This is the purpose of descriptive writing techniques in the book world. You want to engage the reader’s imagination with the use of descriptive language in order to transport them to a place and time where you can offer your solution and its effects in an experiential way.
You can achieve this by making use of specific language structures that encourage your readers to suspend their disbelief and bypass the filter of their critical mind.
What Are the Elements of Descriptive Writing?
Over the centuries, thousands of popular fiction writers, from Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling, have perfected a number of descriptive writing devices that are very powerful for conjuring up images in people’s minds. We’re going to focus on three of them below as they apply to your nonfiction book.
Use of Descriptive Words
The primary aim of descriptive writing is to paint a picture in your reader’s mind. In order to do so, you use words that are rich in detail; words that contain more information than just a mere concept.
What you’re looking for are words that are colorful, vivid and detailed, not average and overused everyday words devoid of personality.
The purpose of descriptive writing is to breathe life into the pictures that you’ll be painting in your reader’s imagination in order to bring about a specific mood. You want to stay away from generic terms and instead focus on words that are specific and precise. You also want to use strong action verbs and avoid passive verbs.
For your reference, here are some examples of different kinds of descriptive words that you can use as prompts:
Examples of Descriptive Adjectives:
Examples of Descriptive Adverbs:
Examples of Descriptive Gerunds:
Use of The Five Senses
In order to paint a picture in your reader’s imagination, you need to use descriptive words that engage their five senses. You want them to be able to experience feelings.
When you engage your reader’s imagination in order to present your solution experientially, you want to make them be able to taste the food you are describing, feel the texture of the upholstery, hear the music on the radio, see the multi-colors of the forest, smell the scents of the lilies, feel the anguish of the problem, and so on.
You want to transport your reader to the world you’re creating on the written page so that they can “experience” what it is to find relief from their problem through the use of your solution. Simply describing your solution will not get the job done; they have to experience it in their mind’s eye.
Figures of Speech
Another powerful descriptive writing technique is the use of figures of speech to paint a picture by drawing a comparison with an object or situation that is more vivid in the reader’s mind than the use of everyday words.
Here are some figures of speech that are commonly used in descriptive writing:
Metaphors are used to paint a picture in the reader’s mind by replacing a common verb or noun with another one taken out of context, making the statement more expressive.
He was fishing for compliments.
Similes are used to paint a picture by drawing a direct comparison between a common word and a word taken out of context, with the goal of evoking rich visual imagery in the mind of the reader.
That baby was as cute as a kitten.
Analogies are used to paint a picture by highlighting the similarities between two different things, with the goal of stimulating the reader’s imagination.
Life is like a box of chocolates.
Personification is a figure of speech where an object is described as if it had human characteristics.
My computer throws a fit every time I try to use it.
Hyperbole is a figure of speech that uses exaggeration for emphasis.
Do you feel like you have a million things to do today?
Onomatopoeia is a figure of speech where an action word approximates the sound it would make in real life. This can be used as an effective technique to engage one or more of your reader’s senses.
Time just keeps on ticking.
Descriptive Writing Uses to Stay Away From
Finally, let’s discuss some situations where the overuse of descriptive writing will backfire:
- Using metaphors, similes or analogies too close to one another will undo the picture you are trying to paint and make your text sound amateurish.
- Overusing descriptive words such as adjectives, adverbs, and gerunds will make your writing feel “heavy” and unappealing.
- Same goes for the overuse of onomatopoeia and hyperbole.
When it comes to figures of speech, always strive for balance.
Descriptive writing techniques can be a very powerful ally to writers. When used correctly, they can make your nonfiction book feel as memorable and experiential as a good movie.
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, marketing, printing and distribution.