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Description is the pattern of narrative development that aims to make vivid a place, object, character, or group.[1] Description is one of four rhetorical modes (also known as modes of discourse), along with exposition, argumentation, and narration.[2] In practice it would be difficult to write literature that drew on just one of the four basic modes.[3]

As a fiction-writing mode[edit]

Fiction-writing also has modes: action, exposition, description, dialogue, summary, and transition.[4] Author Peter Selgin refers to methods, including action, dialogue, thoughts, summary, scenes, and description.[5] Currently, there is no consensus within the writing community regarding the number and composition of fiction-writing modes and their uses.

Description is the fiction-writing mode for transmitting a mental image of the particulars of a story. Together with dialogue, narration, exposition, and summarization, description is one of the most widely recognized of the fiction-writing modes. As stated in Writing from A to Z, edited by Kirk Polking, description is more than the amassing of details; it is bringing something to life by carefully choosing and arranging words and phrases to produce the desired effect.[6] The most appropriate and effective techniques for presenting description are a matter of ongoing discussion among writers and writing coaches.

Purple prose[edit]

A purple patch is an over-written passage in which the writer has strained too hard to achieve an impressive effect, by elaborate figures or other means. The phrase (Latin: "purpureus pannus") was first used by the Roman poet Horace in his Ars Poetica (c. 20 BC) to denote an irrelevant and excessively ornate passage; the sense of irrelevance is normally absent in modern usage, although such passages are usually incongruous. By extension, purple prose is lavishly figurative, rhythmic, or otherwise overwrought.[7]


In philosophy, the nature of description has been an important question since Bertrand Russell's classical texts.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Crews (1977, p. 13)
  2. ^ Crews (1977, p. 13)
  3. ^ Crews (1977, p. 16)
  4. ^ Morrell (2006), p. 127
  5. ^ Selgin (2007), p. 38
  6. ^ Polking (1990), p. 106
  7. ^ Baldick (2004)
  8. ^ Ludlow, Peter (2007), Descriptions, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy