Descriptive Techniques

This is a holistic view about the person (at a first impression) portraying his or her physical appearances: Face, skin, hair, teeth, nose, neck, lips, eyes, toes, voice, height, shape and any other salient point/area of the person’s appearance. A Comparison of those aspect of his/her physical appearance to something else (in a metaphoric manner) depending on your point of view (or whether you intend to paint the person ugly, beautiful, old, young, black or white man/woman, rich or poor, worker or industrialist, traveler or resident; doctor, librarian, mother, daughter, homemaker, prince, servant, shepherd, etc).

Description of Someone’s Gesture

  • Movement of the Body
  • Movement of hand
  • Sound produce in speech or manner of speaking (in relation to sound)

Description of Someone’s Feeling

Portrayal of a person’s feeling implies a reflection of his or her

  • Gesture
  • Manner of speaking
  • Movement of body and hands
  • Facial look / appearance
  • Disposition
  • Action and words.

Description of an Apartment

For example, ‘she suffered because of her grain apartment with it drab walls, threadbare furniture, ugly curtains.

Description of Someone’s Behaviour

Behaviour is usually the product of ones

  • Beliefs about him / herself and others
  • Social influence (flexible)
  • Background (family, educational and environmental background
  • Achievements
  • Ambition and goals in life
  • Stage in life

Within a prose, the total activity of a person is what portrays his/her behaviour in a vivid manner. The way the person:

  • Speaks
  • Feels
  • React, and
  • Act in various circumstances

With regard to a person’s behaviour, there is stable and flexible aspect of human behaviour. Within a prose, consistency is often required. Thus, if a person’s behaviour changes at one point in time, the author must try to prevent certain influence that might have cause that (since narration works in a cause and effect manner).

Take note of every sight, sound, touch, taste, and movements in your description to give the readers a vivid image of your narration. For instance, in describing an old woman, you will say she has:

A long scrawny neck

Thin, shriveled lips

A sharp and hawk-like eye

A scrawny leg with pointed toes

Wrinkled skin                                               

An ugly, worn-out crone

Yellow-stained narrow teeth



































Sky blue




























  Description of Manner of Utterance

Stated impatiently:


Said falteringly:

Distressed, he responded:

She responded tentatively:

She said to her:

She answered:

He responded:

Her husband exclaimed:

She uttered a cry of joy:

She kept asking:

He asked:

She turned toward him frantically:


She asked, haltingly and anxiously:

  • Her teeth gleamed white against the tanned skin of her faces
  • She Shrieked in her harshly raucous voice: ‘Confess! Confess that you murdered him, my beloved child…’
  • Yofisa said, ‘He has been baptized, hasn’t he?’ Makita shook her head.
  • She looked at him angrily and stated impatiently: ‘What do you want me to wear to go there?’
  • He Stammered: ‘But your theater dress. That seems nice to me…’
  • He said falteringly.
  • Her eyes gleamed in the dark.
  • The moonlight gleamed on the water
  • The Lion’s tawny (brownish-yellow in colour) mane.
  • Her sudden arrival caused quite a (a state of nervous and confused excitement)
  • She fluttered her eyelashes at him ( tried to attract him in order to persuade him to do something)
  • Her heart gave a flutter when she saw him. (a very fast, unsteady heartbeat)
  • She was shrieking abuse at them as they carried her off.
  • “Look out”, he
  • After an hour of insipid conversation, I left. (the conversation was not interesting or exciting)
  • “Who are you?” he growled at the stranger. (growl: to say something in a low angry voice of make a low sound in the throat”
  • She growled a sarcastic reply.
  • …what tendency, of what causing, frenzied the pitiable woman into nullifying her grandeur of person?
  • ‘You did what?!’ she squawked (i.e. she said it in a loud, sharp voice because she was angry) > the parrot squawked and flew away.
  • ‘Let go of me!’ he squeaked (i.e. he said it in a very high voice but not very loud because he was nervous or excited) > the squeak of a mouse
  • ‘Don’t!’ she squealed. (i.e. she said it in a very high voice, especially because she was excited or nervous) > the squealing pigs or ‘Children were running around squealing with excitement’.
  • Growled
  • To shriek (or scream) is to give a loud high shout due to the fact that you are excited; frightened or in pain.
  • ‘No, don’t!’ she screeched (i.e. she said it in a loud high unpleasant sound) > a screech of brakes/tyres.

NB: Squeak (/skwi: k/) Squeal (/skwi: l/) Squawk (/skw): k/) Shriek (/Sri: ek/)

Never ignore idiomatic expressions such as:

To see red, I became angry.

Keep on with

Out of the blue

A bolt form the blue

Make free with

To go off the deep end

Make the most of

In the nature of things

In one’s blood

In cold blood

A grant-in-aid

Gone by the board

In one’s black book

Bring to book

To bury the hatchet

Brood over

Draw oneself to one’s full height

To be worked up

Come across

Come into one’s own

A stab in the back

At one’s beck and call

Make the best of a bad job

Get the better of someone

Jump one into something

Keep up with the Joneses

Keep on with

Fit oneself for

In a fix

The fly in the ointment

Make much of

A force for good

In one’s element

Set one’s nerves on edge

Go in at one ear and out of the other

A force for good

Out of the question

To drive someone out of his mind

A free-for –all

Make free with

At one’s own peril

A rod in pickle

At a pinch

Play to the gallery

Go off with a bang

Within an ace of

Go without saying

Come down to

Go without saying

Come down to

Read between the lines

At all costs

Give countenance

Off course

A leap in the dark

Up to date

In default

By dint of

Tell of

On other

At odds

Put in for

Put up with

Call in question

Make oneself free of another persons house

      In describing people, you need to take note of the height, build, and other features like:


Small (a small child)


Overweight (Padre Ogunbamowo)

Petite (Mummy)

Short (Flora)

Pump (Dawson)


Thin (Uche)

Medium Height (Ukpokolo)

Well-Built (Edy)


Long curly brown hair (ponytail)

Short curly black hair

Short mousy hair (stubble bead)

Straight dark hair (parting)

Bobbled red hair (fringe/bangs)


FOOD (Verb)

Chop (onion)

Grate (okro)

Mash (potato)

Peel (apple)

Pour (water)

Slice (bread)

Spread (butter)

Squeeze (orange)


FOOD (Pieces)

Slice of bread/cake

Lump of butter

Bunch of banana/grapes

Hunk of meat

Pinch of salt



Pick up

Put down








Crouch (frog)

Crawl (baby)





























Hold hands





Shake hands



















For instance, let us describe some individuals by paying special attention to their hairs (plaited, braided, packed backward, jerry wave-on), face, colour of their eye, height, and the shape of their figure.


      Her extravagant mannerisms, a pert frown in disapproval, an airy wave of the hand in greeting, the way she would crinkle her nose for the fun of it, none of these characteristics looked to be a pretense. This persona grata could never be an intruder. 


      A young lady in her early twenties, slim figure conforming to her height (a moderate height for ladies) with her long hair comb to the back, and a small golden earring back up with a lovely chain on her neck. She moves with splendour and beauty, and her face appeals for mercy and love.


      A tall man with a spectacle on his eye, and has a very loud voice and always well comported like a pastor. In discussion, he always enjoys hearing himself and never allows the other person to speak. Sometimes very irritating in the way he jumped from one discussion to another. In the attempt to crack jokes most times he ended up   offending people. He is a very lousy fellow. There is no way he will say three statements without including biblical quotations and interprets them upside down.


      He is a funny man, whose silence is a quick reflection fro the next joke to crack. He believes in his power to entertain people and feels good to say what is funny enough for people to laugh at. His idle moments are spent in parading round the staff rooms looking for those to entertain. His vocabulary is filled with many things surrounding religion and some awkward things. Once a while he mimic a pastor, or even start chanting any of the church hymns with his voice that sounds like that of a thirsty frog. Was it not the other day that he said he often hide his money close to his scotrum to avoid been stolen.


      He is a small-stature man in his youthfulness. He always try to keep himself busy even when the school has not yet declared tests, he gives test to his students, thus having a lot of books to mark and answer sheets to attend to. Most times, he even pretends to be busy, he feels good doing something when there is nothing to be done.


      She is a lightly fair in complexion girl, with a properly tied scalp like that of our blessed mother. Narrow eyed with a body well decorated with jewelries to show her wealth and vastness in fashion. She has an African bead on her left hand and a golden wrist-watch in her hand. She also put a bronze chain on her neck and an armless top gracing a modest trouser she wore.


      He is a man of early fifty, small stature and religiously serious fellow. He has a bushy hair but not tattered and wears his cassock with a sort of protruding stomach.


      She is a simple girl with a well braided hair, a round-necklace, decorated her ear with two earrings, a charity extended to her nose- well decorated on both sides with earring, just like those Fulani ladies.


      She has a pitiful face, and her lips painted red with a small spectacle on her face and a circular earring on her ear. Her hair was parted into two with a bond at the rear back.


      He is a man in his late fifties, principled but jovial in speech. His humour arouses even the saddest mind to laughter, and he is naturally inspired with funny thoughts which he dramatically expressed to entertain people. The discipline imbued into his life style brings about time consciousness in him that his jokes are timed and not exceeding the moment for a gentle man’s leisure time, then he faces his business.


      He is a very controversial man, pretending to be principled but possess a fake disciplinary approach to life. In actual fact, he is an intelligent and successful man who has held many prestigious positions in life. He has once been a Senior Lecturer, a Minister, and a Chief Examiner for the state’s secondary school examination. These dignified positions mush have raised his ego, and he feels like a god in his own establishment-The fruit of his years of labour. He is known for the way he can embarrass both his students and staffs in the public, and he lack respect for everyone under his authority (including his wife). He is a man who believes that he knows everything, and always experiment new things he learnt either through CNN or BBC on his subjects. Sometimes he will say a big word that even a graduate in English need to consult an encyclopedia in order to grasp any meaning from his statements.


      He is a jovial but highly disciplined man. When it’s time to work, he carries out his duties without allowing any form of distraction. He is somehow programmed: Listen to news using his pocket radio, say his prayers and tries to meditate on daily readings (amidst noise), attend his classes, make the students’ notes, and interact with his fellow teachers whenever he is not soliloquizing or talking to his radio.


      He is a Youngman of doubtful thoughts and unconditioned moves, a mystery in disguise. He is a guy who values himself and believes in his intellectual capability, but with a doubt of the coherence between his beliefs about himself and what others think about him. He is known for his dreadful and awkward jokes, which often amuses him as he says them out. He is a dramatic fellow, a diversified man whose interest lies in almost every field of life. Though corrupted with his philosophical outlook at life, he is still in conflictual resolution between his moral/religious convictions and moral values. He is a man in which you find the mixture of passion and emotion, mixed together in a proportionate order unpredictable in deeds, unstable in character, funny in outlook, inevitable in action, but he approaches life in a simplistic and open minded manner. He is quick witted both in ideas and in deception, presented in sincerity and coherence to convey certain messages.


      He is a Youngman in his early twenties, dressed in a black trousers and shoe, marched up with a golden-colour shirt and a black tie. His hair is low cut and his face is in its pure appearance, walking with grace and splendour.


      She is a very impressive girl whose modesty lies in the proportion of her person. She values her person and cherishes noble ideas. Though smart and courageous, she easily get frightened/scared by dreadful and awkward words and sight. A scrupulous minded person whose activity seems to be regulated by perceived moral and religious principles. Stylish in look and move, she enjoyed encounter with people and admires principled individuals. Filled with the uncertainty of life, she denies the moves of her mind and represses her feelings. She is indeed a girl of diversified perception, whose exuberance lies in pious deeds.


      She is just a funny fellow, with an unstable emotional state. On a good day, you may find her so excited and interesting, interacting with everyone and raising issues that calls for laughter. The following day, it’s a different story entirely. She will prefer to be on her own, and withdrawn completely from the sight of others. Nothing excites her any longer, it either she’s found reading a novel, or just gazing at the sky or everything around her. To a critical mind, the cause of this swinging mood ought to be investigated. There must be something bothering her, there must be an unattained dream or desire weighing her down. Maybe at sometimes, she see signs that her problem will soon be over, at other times, she seems to be bothered. Her behavioural expression is a portrayal of her interior emotional state.

Other illustrations:


# emitting two sparks (movement)

# Dipo’s tone dropped an octave (sound)

# Ola said tenderly (manner of saying things)

# Eni said with finality

# Eni said in a sing song voice

# Ola said in a surprisingly mild tone

# Ola asked despondently

# Ola said with a wicked smile on his face (facial expression)

# Azuka cut in, smiling self-consciously

# Simon asked biting his lower lips

# she shrieked in her harshly raucous voice: ‘Confess! Confess that you murdered him, my beloved child…’

# Yofica said, ‘He has been baptized, hasn’t he?’ Makisa shook her head.

# she looked at him angrily and started impatiently: “What do you want me to wear to go there?”.

# He stammered: “But your theater dress. That seems nice to me…”

# He said falteringly


# She wore a freshly laundered wax print blouse wrapper and head tie.

# Dark in complexion, of average height, he wore brown buba and sokoto of the same cotton print materials.

# thin and dark, and wore a white kaftan over white trousers

# The fresh-looking body of a girl, kneeling down and carrying a calabash on her head.

# a grey, warm, kaftan, with matching trousers and a pair of brown slip-on shoes.

# her brown, Naraguta made carry-all leader bag.

# rounded checks and gold edged briefcases

# two giggling heavy painted girls

# the security man, n a sky blue tunic with matching trouser

# The sturdy-healed, green slipping shoe.

# rosy, rounded cheeks, a pot belly, jelly-soft hands, wearing gold-rimmed glasses.

# the round, decorative, white rug made from the skin of Ethiopian monkey.

# in his lawyer’s back jacket, bib, and all.

# the huge, white, square-shaped, two storey building

# having a light head

# imported Dutch wax textiles

# her elegant appearance and beautiful face, her quiet behaviour; Hausa woman’s traditional modesty and decorum.

# As soon as he saw her, be knew she had what he had been craving for

# his physical charm and his quiet, understanding disposition.

# a little above average in height

# his hands were hairy, and so were his evenly shaped slightly bow, legs.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email