PITSHAME: Armpit-based, GCSE English, Descriptive writing techniques!

This is just a bit of a silly one.

Every English teacher has their way of teaching descriptive writing and they’re all good but there is a special form of torture in the GCSE English exam which some of you might want a hand with. I mean why do you have to produce a piece of either descriptive writing or narrative writing with a hefty slice of “you need to describe the shitake mushrooms out of this” under timed conditions? Using a biro and paper? In a sports hall?

What kind of post-apocalyptic world are we preparing you for? One where computers don’t exist but literary composition does? Is it going to be like The Hunger Games but with short stories?

I think we need to know.

That said I had a few students a while back who loved using AFOREST as an acronym for persuasive writing techniques and wanted something similar for descriptive writing.

So here it is.


Perry Como sings: “I’ll never forget, the smell of your sweat, from under your armpits – Magic, Moments, when two hearts are caring!”

Ladies and Gentlemen. I give you.


  • Personification
  • Imagery
  • Tone
  • Simile
  • Hyperbole
  • Adjectives
  • Metaphor
  • Emotive Language

If you can use each one of these in your exam then you are on your way to doing just a little bit better than without (and there’s some more techniques in further down).


  • Personification: The fart crept slowly and stealthily around the room.
  • Imagery: The silence shattered into noisy pieces.
  • Tone: Mournful, wistful, nostalgic etc. Don’t just think about being happy or sad. Unless emotions are a new experience for you and you want to try them out for a change.
  • Simile: Like/as – he was as noisy as a ten ton fire-engine and just as inconspicuous.
  • Hyperbole: Most. where I live there is more dog poo per square foot than anywhere else on the planet.
  • Adjectives: Descriptive words. And make them good ones. Show off your dazzling vocabulary.
  • Metaphor: The thing described is something else. Quite frankly her mother’s cooking was a death sentence, an insult hurled in the face of those she professed to love, a car crash on a plate.
  • Emotive: The colours screamed at me

Concrete and abstract writing.

Too many weak pieces of writing rely on abstract ideas. Get concrete on it to give your writing punch.

  • Abstract: It was a nice day
  • Concrete: The cloudless sky promised heat later in the day.
  • Abstract: It was a good lesson.
  • Concrete: The examples in the lesson suddenly made everything clear and logical.

Use senses!


I know that you have been told this since day dot but remember to use all five senses. Touch includes temperature and texture.

You also have senses about whether things fit, are right or wrong, are familiar or not. Describing those feelings will bring your writing to life.

Use the weather.

Simple this one –  but pathetic fallacy helps to create atmosphere and tone. It always works. Rainy for depression, stormy for drama and sunny for positivity.

We. Are. That. Simple!

Think like a camera!

This is where it pays to write as though you are using a variety of lenses and angles.

Create close-up detail, look down from above, pan across the scene.


There are a couple of ways to do this:

1: Be precise – get the technical word in.

The man wore a suit and hat. The stranger’s face was half hidden under his fedora and his pinstripe suit looked expensively well-cut.

2: Or use detail to set the scene.

It was the sort of café where dried blobs of crusted ketchup sat under your hands and the toilet wall was covered in obscene scrawls in wobbly biro or carved out paint.

What narrative perspective are you going to use?

First person present.

I look at the door. It is heavy and peeling.

First person past.

I noticed that the door was old, heavy and peeling. It looked solid and reliable though.

  • Pros: Easy to get emotive language in.
  • Cons: Hard to change viewpoint.

Third person past.

It was a painfully ordinary looking street with rows of cookie-cutter clapboard houses painted in, what were supposed to be, jaunty pastel colours. From above they looked like a line of liquorice allsorts.

  • Pro: Easy to change viewpoint, location and focus.
  • Con: Needs a strong narrative voice to become emotive.



Whose viewpoint are you using? Perhaps you could use a new/novel viewpoint (a pigeon’s view of a market for example).

Practice Time!

A few years ago I suggested a set of brilliant titles for descriptive writing. They included “The crack house”, “A squashed cat” and , possibly very moving, “The Most Disgusting Toilet In The World” (note the use of capital letters).

They were ignored and the students got, “A beach in winter”, “A busy market” and “A Toyshop” as their titles.

Their kung-fu was weak.

Here are some titles that you can use to try to push your writing in more imaginative directions.

Think about interpreting the title. Place? Time? Does an alchemist have to be medieval? Does a warrior need to be someone in armour (or someone who physically fights, or who is male)?

You don’t need to be too clever about it but choose something that you want to write about (and so describe well).

It doesn’t need to be realistic either (Sci-fi? Fantasy?)

  • The Alchemist’s Laboratory.
  • The Crime Scene.
  • Hell.
  • Below deck during the storm.
  • The Lair of the Vampire.
  • Backstage.
  • The City Dump.
  • The Warrior.
  • Surgery.
  • The Fading Star.
  • The Oracle

Oh and please like, comment, leave feedback or follow me. This will help me improve my service to you and make this a more useful thingamabob!


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