Figurative Language and
Descriptive Writing
Crystal Hurd
John S. Battle H.S.
Adapted from Eric Fish
Hints for Descriptive Writing
COLORS: When using colors to describe an
object in your essay, avoid non-descriptive
colors like blue, brown, yellow, etc. If you
think about it, there is no such color as
"blue." If you don't believe this is true, go into
a paint store and ask for "blue" paint; the
salesperson will hand you swatches
containing 100 different shades of blue. Blue
is a category of colors ranging from seafoam green to midnight blue to baby blue
and you must be precise about which color
you are talking about. In other words, no one
has "blue" eyes. He or she may have eyes of
Caribbean blue, but no one has just "blue"
eyes. The same thing goes for blonde hair,
red lips, brown eyes, brown hair, etc. Be as
precise as possible with colors.
Figurative Language
FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE: The idea behind using figurative
language is to describe something as accurately as possible
and to create an image and a sense of surprise or delight in
the reader's mind. To say a certain food "smelled bad" is not
descriptive. To say a certain food "smelled really bad" is not
descriptive either. Words like "really" and very" are simply not
descriptive (what is the difference between something
smelling "really" bad and something smelling "really really
really" bad?). Now, to say a certain food "smelled like a pile of
sweaty jock straps that had been left in an warm incubator for
six months" gives the reader a more accurate sense of the
writer's distaste for the food being described and creates a
certain image in the reader's mind.
You should also notice that nearly all poetry and religious texts
rely on figurative language. How else can a human being
relate something that words cannot express except by relying
on images and ideas created through figurative language?
You should also notice that good insults rely on the use of
figurative language!
Examples of Figurative Language
Simile--when two unlike things are compared to each
other using "like" or "as."
You look like 5 miles of bad road. (compares a person to
a road)
"Our love is like a red, red rose . . ." (compares love to a
rose)
Her laugh made her sound like a pig choking on a hairball.
He is as dumb as a coal bucket. (compares a person to a
bucket)
The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the
wind driveth away. (Psalm 1)
Metaphors
Metaphor--when two unlike things
are compared directly to each other
without using "like" or "as."
The Lord is my shepherd. (compares
God to a shepherd and us to sheep)
That woman isn't exactly the coldest
soda in the cooler. (compares a
woman to a soda)
He is a male chauvinist pig.
(compares a man to a pig)
The field of daisies was a yellow
carpet on the earth. (compares flowers
to carpet)
Personification
Personification--assigning a
human trait to a non-human
object
The toilet was calling my name.
(toilets don't speak)
My car prefers Exxon gas. (cars
don't have "preferences")
The tree jumped in front of my
car! (trees don't "jump")
My printer hates me. (printers
don't hate)
Hyperbole
Hyperbole--deliberate and
obvious over-exaggeration
I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.
He is so stupid he takes an hour
and a half to watch 60 Minutes.
He hit me so hard my whole
family fell down.
Synesthesia
Synesthesia--a deliberate confusion
of the senses used for effect.
That stench hung in the air like a
purple fog. (stench has no color)
"Amazing grace how sweet the sound
. . ." (how is a sound "sweet?)
That tie is so loud it is busting my
eardrums.
Verbal Irony
Verbal Irony--when the words say
one thing but mean another.
Sarcasm tends to rely on verbal
irony.
When the driver pulled out in front of
me I screamed, "Thanks a lot! We
need more drivers like you on the
road!"
Thanks for the twenty hours of
homework Professor Smith!
When my boyfriend stole my rent
money and took my car to Florida, I
realized he was a real keeper.
Descriptive Assignment #1
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For this assignment you will describe either the nastiest food dish you have
ever eaten or the best food dish you have ever eaten. Your description
should be limited to one food (green beans or oysters or macaroni and
cheese, etc.). Do not describe a buffet or an entire meal with multiple foods.
For the first part of this assignment you should write 20 full sentences that
describe this food in precise detail. Don’t tell a story; stay focused on the
food. Make sure you compose 20 precise, clear, descriptive sentences.
Don’t be afraid to pull out your thesaurus to look up descriptive words.
Some requirements:
Food employs all five senses: sight, sound, smell, texture (touch), and taste. Be
sure to use at least one sentence for each sense.
At least 5 of your sentences should employ figurative language. Be creative
with your use of figurative language.
Remember to be precise with the names of colors. There is no color called
“blue” or “green” or “red” or “brown.”
Do not use the words “very,” “really,” or “it” in your sentences.
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Figurative Language and Descriptive Writing