Author's Corner

Descriptive writing: Get in the weeds


When it comes to descriptive writing and the familiar mantra of “show, don’t tell,” much has been written about how to become an expressive writer. Scribes are warned to stay away from bland and uninspired words, like old or pretty.

descriptive writing

(Flickr: Luke Jones)

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Writers are tasked with creating a picture — a rich word portrait — when describing a scene.

Descriptive writing

But, what does that mean and how is this done? One way to grow your own skills at writing with spirit and creativity is to study how other author’s have successfully done it.

Read: Paint a word portrait and punch up your prose

Behold this masterful description offered by Barbara Kingsolver in “The Poisonwood Bible”:

“Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened. First, picture the forest. I want you to be its conscience, the eyes in the trees. The trees are columns of slick, brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason. Every space is filled with life: delicate, poisonous frogs war-painted like skeletons, clutched in copulation, secreting their precious eggs onto dripping leaves. Vines strangling their own kin in the everlasting wrestle for sunlight. The breathing of monkeys. A glide of snake belly on branch. A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen. And, in reply, a choir of seedlings arching their necks out of rotted tree stumps, sucking life out of death. This forest eats itself and lives forever.”

So rich, so lush and gorgeous.

Kingsolver could have easily provided a tired portrayal of the forest with words like “green,” “alive” and “dense.” Instead, she demonstrates how this forest is “filled with life” with her expressive use of verbs and phrases — strangling, breathing, biting, sucking and clutched in copulation.

Go back through your current writing project and consider whether or not you have done your due diligence to show and not just tell. In fact, pull out a simple line of copy from your narrative and see if you can’t craft it into something magical today.

Feeling courageous? Share your new and improved passage below!

Kerri S. Mabee is managing editor at and founder of Breeze Media & Communications. Learn more about her at



Kerri S. Mabee

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