“Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story.” –Stephen King
Stephen King wrote about description in stories. But the same advice is correct for descriptive essays. Get your readers engaged by making them sense and connect with everything you’ve written in your essay. How can you do that? Begin with descriptive essay prompts that inspire you to write more.
Then add important details and characteristics or features about the person, place, object, or experience in your essay. The more detail and elements you add to a descriptive essay, the better it will be.
So, check out these descriptive writing topics and find the one that will work best for you.
How to Select a Descriptive Essay Prompt
Before you select a descriptive essay topic, see if you can show and not tell your readers about the characteristics, actions, and emotions in that essay.
Maybe you’ve heard writers say, “Show Don’t Tell.” This motto is an approach some writers use to make their writing more descriptive. The word “show” means to portray or illustrate feelings and actions. And “tell” is when a writer says what the emotions and actions are.
For example, “The black poodle snarled and growled.” (showing) vs. “The black poodle was angry and fierce.” (telling)
In the example above, the first sentence shows that the black poodle was angry because it snarled and growled. The second sentence says or tells us that the dog was angry and fierce.
Use the “Show Don’t Tell” approach in your descriptive essay by asking these questions about the 5 senses:
- What did you see?
- What did you hear?
- What did you touch?
- What did you smell?
- What did you taste?
You probably won’t have answers to all these questions. (Or at least if you write about a mountain, I hope you can’t describe how tastes.) But write “Show Don’t Tell” content wherever you can in your essay.
12 Creative Descriptive Essay Prompts
The 12 descriptive essay prompts here, give you the freedom to develop your content in different ways, and with a lot of sensory details. They are divided into 4 categories: person, place, object, and experience. Each type has 3 descriptive essay writing ideas. For each writing prompt, brainstorm how you can develop that essay.
Descriptive WritingTopics About a Person
# 1 Describe the strangest person you ever met
Strange people are easy to remember, and if you remember a different, odd, or unique person, you’ll have a lot of information you can write on. Before you choose this topic, brainstorm a few ideas about this person.
Questions to develop this essay topic: What seemed strange about this person? What characteristics did he/she possess? How did you feel about this person?
# 2 Describe a person you envied.
Envy or jealousy is a powerful emotion. When you focus on a person you were jealous of, there are reasons and characteristics for why you felt that way.
Questions to develop this essay topic: What traits or characteristics did this person have? How did that person look? How did this person act? What made you envy him/her?
# 3 Describe an inspiring friend or family member.
We remember people who inspire us. And people love to read about inspiring individuals. If you describe an inspiring person, think about the impact that a person made on you.
Questions to develop this essay topic: What did this person do that was inspiring? How did that person act toward others?
Descriptive Writing Topics About a Place
# 4 Describe a spooky or haunted place.
If you describe a scary place, include a lot of sensory details. Spooky and haunted places are memorable.
Questions to develop this essay topic: What did this place look like? Where was it located? What did you see, hear, smell, or feel at this place? Did you find someone or something that scared you? Why is this place, spooky?
# 5 Describe a place you loved as a child.
People love to know things about another person’s childhood. A great way to show who you are is to describe a place that was important to you. If you select this writing topic, make sure you remember this place well.
Questions to develop this essay topic: How did this place look? What did you do at this place? Was anyone else at this there? How did you feel about the area?
# 6 Describe a beautiful location in nature.
You could describe a mountain, body of water, campground, desert, etc. Or any other place that is outdoors and part of nature.
Questions to develop this essay topic: What did this place look like? How did you feel when you were there? Did you hear, smell, taste, or touch anything at the location? Was there anyone else with you? What did you do at this place?
Descriptive WritingTopics About an Object
# 7 Describe a lucky object.
It can be any lucky object, a good luck charm, an heirloom object, etc. Select something you believe brings you good luck.
Questions to develop this essay topic: What are the characteristics of this object? How is it used? What makes this a lucky object?
# 8 Describe a piece of art.
It can be a photograph, painting, sculpture, etc. There are a lot of sensory details you can include in a descriptive essay about a piece of art.
Questions to develop this essay topic: What does this work of art look? Can you touch it? If so, how does it feel? What are the emotions you have when you see this sculpture, painting, photograph, etc.?
# 9 Describe an object used in your favorite sport or hobby.
If you have a favorite sport or hobby, describe an object that is relevant to that sport. For example, if you play tennis, describe a tennis racket. Or, if you collect coins, describe a unique coin from your collection.
Questions to develop this essay topic: What are the characteristics or features of this object? How is it used? What is significant about this object? What are some sensory details you can add?
Descriptive Essay Topics About an Experience
# 10 Describe the first time you drove a car or rode a bicycle.
First-time experiences are emotional and significant to people. If you haven’t driven a car or ridden a bicycle, write about another first-time experience.
Questions to develop this essay topic: What did you see, hear, touch, smell, or taste during this experience? What did you do? Were others involved? If so, what did they do? How did you feel during this experience? How do you feel about it now?
# 11 Describe a hike or special walk you took.
Do you recall a hike you took or a walk on a trail, path, or street? If so, describe that memory.
Questions to develop this essay topic: What was the place you were at like? What did you hear, see, smell, taste, or touch during this experience? What did you do? What did anyone else do?
# 12 Describe a happy memory.
Write about a happy experience you can remember clearly. This topic involves remembering what occurred and how you felt during that experience.
Questions to develop this essay topic: What made this experience happy? What happened? Who else was there? Can you describe them?
Writing a Descriptive Essay
The key to writing a descriptive essay is to show or portray to a reader the significant elements of a person, place, object, or experience. So, select an essay topic that you connect with, and develop it with sensory details. If you do this, you’ll achieve what Stephen King does in his writing and “make the reader a sensory participant.” When you do that, your readers will want to keep reading until the end.
Make them wish your essay continued so that they could read even more!
So which descriptive essay prompt inspires you? And if you want more creative writing prompts, check out my blog post, “13 Thought-Provoking Personal Narrative Prompts” https://www.academicwritingsuccess.com/13-thought-provoking-personal-narrative-prompts/.
Suzanne,I enjoy reading your articles. Loved your sense of humour ‘(Or at least if you write about a mountain, I hope you can’t describe how tastes.)’. I tried to share this article in my Pinterest account, but somehow something went wrong and it did not allow me to do it.
I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I do try to be funny whenever I can. I’m having a problem right now with my article pinning. I’m working on it.
Loved the “show, not tell” explanation. It really made sense. I’m a visual learner, so I really liked the visual for the 12 descriptive essay prompts in both written form and as a image. You gave me a lot of good ideas for starting a descriptive essay!
Terri, I’m glad you liked my infographic for the post. I love designing visual images for articles. Let me know if you use one of the descriptive essay prompts. I’d love to know how it worked for you.
Excellent. I like the sensory detail questions. It brings the writing to a new level.
Raven, thank you. Sensory details are great for developing writing. They really help writers of all ages.
Nice article, Suzanne. I love using prompts with my students. I might be nervous of the prompt “Describe the strangest person you ever met.” For many of my students I would have the starring role in that one! 🙂
Using the basic five senses to help students expand upon their writing is also very good. So many students write one sentence and then get stuck. Prompting questions can really help them broaden their thoughts.
Ron, thank you. I might be nervous about the “strangest person you ever met” prompt too. But, I’m hoping there are other strange people students could write about too!
Love these! In this generation of “just getting the point across”, it is so difficult to get some students to be descriptive in their writing.It would be hard for any student to not be descriptive using these prompts. When working on writing with students, I always use the five senses to show them how their writing will be more interesting to any reader when it is descriptive. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you,Randy. Descriptive writing is a challenge, but finding a good descriptive writing prompt and using the 5 senses makes a huge difference.
Also, that is a great quote by Stephen King!
Hi Suzanne! Excellent post! I love the creative prompts. They’re helpful, whether one is writing fiction or non-fiction.
You have a great site. Will stop by again. I know I’ll learn lots here.
P.S. Thanks for stopping by my site. I appreciate your feedback.
Hi Nadine, Thanks so much. I am glad you stopped by and checked out my post on descriptive writing prompts. I love prompts because they can make you think about writing in different ways. And sometimes I just need help getting started. I enjoyed your post on writing spaces. I’ll be visiting your site again.