for writers and readers….

Description Writing Exercise: an extract from BACK TO CREATIVE WRITING SCHOOL

EVERY SATURDAY for the month of January I’m going to share some exercises from my popular writing guide Back To Creative Writing School – I want it to be a creative kickstart for the new year and a celebration that 2020 is finally over. I hope you find it useful.

Good description is never just description – David Lodge

If you look around where you are right now, reading these words, you can see a thousand things you could describe from the colour of the floor covering to the dust motes dancing in the air above your head. Shut your eyes. You can probably hear 20 sounds. Perhaps a motorcycle is revving outside and further away a young child is crying. Perhaps your chair creaks when you shift position. Can you smell anything?

If you tried to tell all of this to a reader the description would be the size of a novella (that’s about 20,000 to 50,000 words ) and it would also be deeply, deeply boring.

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

You need to be selective and tell the reader only what they need to know. Remember that you are the reader’s eyes and ears, you are their skin, their nostrils, their mouth. The few details you reveal have to have significance. And so do the words you use.


Write a short description of where you are right now – it doesn’t matter if it is a park bench or your kitchen – and do it in two distinct ways because you’re not just creating a word picture of the physical space, you’re also evoking a very specific atmosphere .

Write in the first person for both passages: I said, I walked etc.

The details you select are important and so too are the words you use. The grimy windows in the first description could be misty with dust in the second.

Write between 200 to 250 words for each descriptive passage. Do a word count and cut back if you’ve gone over. You don’t want to overload the reader with a flood of images.

1) Describe where you are as if the ‘I’ character is revisiting a place where they were once held hostage

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Don’t mention being imprisoned: describe the prison. No intro – dive in.

Look around. What would be important to someone desperate for a way out but too scared to make an escape attempt? A prisoner must experience many emotions, including extreme tedium. Are there tiny details they would have noticed as they sat and waited while others controlled their lives?

2) Describe the same place as a sanctuary where the ‘I’ character once found shelter

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Again, don’t mention why your character needed a sanctuary. Instead concentrate on making the reader feel that this is a safe place. You might choose the same details you used in the first exercise or you might decide that other features would be more important.

Remember you are writing about the same place, but in one it is a prison reeking of bad memories and in the other it is a refuge exuding a sense of safety.

If you enjoyed that exercise, there’s a pretty good chance you will like the rest of the book.  It’s recommended by creative writing lecturers and been praised by bestselling novelists AND absolute beginners. It also has over 150 five star reviews on Amazon UK and now has nearly 200 ratings.
Ok, I’ll stop there (but I will just mention it’s available both as an ebook and in paperback – £3.99 and £6.99 in the UK).

Amazon UK     Amazon US      Amazon CA      Amazon IN
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2 comments on “Description Writing Exercise: an extract from BACK TO CREATIVE WRITING SCHOOL

  1. josiedarling2014
    January 2, 2021

    Thanks so much Bridget.
    I will do your exercises as they are always great, and forward to friends.
    I hope you are well and have a happy new year.
    Love from Josie xx

    Sent from my iPhone

    • bridget whelan
      January 2, 2021

      Thank you Josie. Do you realise that you were one of my first ever students? I probably hid that at the time…it will be 16 years ago next month!

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