Using sensory language for describing settings

When we describe settings in our writing, it’s important to consider not only what you can see, but to use all your senses to give a full description of the sounds, scents, textures and even how it makes you feel.

Young Writer, Isobel, is here to give you the full lowdown on how it’s done. Notice how she takes you through, step by step, building from one simple sentence to a whole paragraph of descriptive writing.

Over to you, Isobel…

Using all your senses to describe settings - Storymakers

So, you want to describe something. Great! Let’s just assume, for simplicity’s sake, you already have a picture or something you can describe it from.

Take this image here. Now, how do you describe this setting? The obvious thing is to start with what you can see.

The forest was dark and misty. The trees were bare and the moon was bright.

Even from just that small sentence, you can already see the problem. A brilliant way to improve any description is to add some sensory language. This means adding words or adjectives to show not just what you can see, but what you can feel, smell, taste and hear.

The forest was dark and misty, cold and silent. The bare trees were damp and the moonlight was bright.

You can feel the difference in them, can’t you? Using sensory language can really help to convey mood and setting, as well as the overall feeling of a scene. Now, let’s add some more description with an embedded clause.

The forest was dark and misty, cold and silent. The bare trees, branches thin and spindly, were damp and the moonlight was bright.

Fourthly, let’s add some imagery. We’re going to use a simile (saying something is like something else) and a metaphor (saying something is something else). In the passage, we’re also going to use some personification (saying something inanimate is doing something like a living thing).

The forest was as dark as coal and misty, cold and silent. The bare trees, branches thin and spindly, loose threads, were damp and the moonlight danced between them.

Let’s add a few more sentences using everything we’ve done so far to make them super descriptive.

The forest was as dark as coal and misty, cold and silent. The bare trees, branches thin and spindly, loose threads, were damp and the moonlight danced between them. The air was still and eerie, like the surface of a lake at midnight. The night sky was cloudy, blanketed in a thick layer of ashy fog. The dead leaves on the ground crunched underfoot. The beam of my flashlight sputtered out, last breath leaving it, and I was left in darkness.

But we aren’t done. Every sentence in the paragraph above begins with “the”, and it isn’t very exciting to read. So we’re going to use some different styles of sentence openers, such as Ing-Words, Imagery, Prepositions and Timephrases.

Around me, the forest was dark as coal and misty, cold and silent. Reaching up, the bare trees, branches thin and spindly, loose threads, were damp and the moonlight danced between them. Like the surface of a lake at midnight, the air was still and eerie and blanketed in a thick layer of ashy fog, the night sky was cloudy. As I walked, the dead leaves on the ground crunched underfoot. Sputtering out, my flashlight took its final breath, and I was left in darkness.

So, we’ve come from two short and relatively uninteresting sentences to a paragraph chock-full of language techniques, dynamic sentence starters and immersive sensory imagery.

For more writing exercises, see the Storymakers blog.

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