How to Use Descriptive Language to Make Your Writing Memorable

Posted on March 14, 2014


ImageMy wife always calls right before I get home from work with a list of items to pick up at the store. I know by now that no matter how many times I repeat the list over in my head I will forget the flour or the eggs, so I always ask her to text me the list. Still I have to check my phone for each item while I’m shopping. It seems like our minds just aren’t designed to remember facts and figures. For example, study the list below:

  1. Butter
  2. Milk
  3. Flour
  4. Eggs
  5. Cheese
  6. Beef Jerky
  7. Bottled Water
  8. Toilet Paper
  9. Vinegar
  10. Salt

One hour from now, you won’t remember the list; but what if I told you a story?

The first thing that Todd noticed when he entered the house was his favorite recliner. Right in the middle of the beige cushion lay a half-melted stick of butter. It had a greasy sheen from sitting out all day. A dark stain spread over the suede fabric like an oil slick. Great, he thought, now it was going to smell like one of the chairs from the movie theater.

If I went on to incorporate all ten items on the list into the story, it would be easy to recall the story and pluck out each item.

            The reason this works is because we have created a sensory experience around the items on the list. It is the descriptive language that actually creates an experience in our minds. Studies have shown that when a person reads about doing an action, not only does the area of the brain that deals with language activate, so does the area associated with the action. If writing is descriptive, our brains can’t distinguish between actually experiencing an event and just reading about it. A written account of smelling a dozen roses that describes the colors, smells and textures will stimulate the same brain activity as if you really held a dozen roses in your hands.

            As writers, we need to take advantage of this phenomenon. With the words we write, we can create experiences in our readers’ minds that their brains can’t distinguish from reality. Readers won’t remember the information that you tell them; they will remember the experiences that you give them. Anchor what you want your readers to remember to a sensory experience. If it is a building, what were the odors, the textures, the ambient noises within the building? If it is a person, what did he feel when they met, what did her perfume smell like, what flavor lip-gloss was she wearing when they first kissed? Each of us wants our words to be remembered; if we didn’t, we wouldn’t put them on paper.

            As an exercise, expand each of the following sentences into a full paragraph. Make sure to use all five senses in your descriptions.

            It was love at first sight.

            He was afraid of the dark.

            The pizza was amazing.


Write well, write often and write to be remembered. 

Scott Hoenstine, Writer and Editor, Asta Publications

Asta Publications has a long history of helping writers tell their stories and get published. Since 2004, Asta Publications has helped hundreds of authors bring their book concepts to life and we are ready to help you too! Our dedication to our authors is unmatched. We deliver first-class products and services that are accurate, high quality, and exceed our authors’ expectations.

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