descriptors / plot / setting / writers resources

How to Describe Vehicles–Cars, Boats, Planes, More

This is updated from the last posting on this topic on 7/15/11.

If you’re character is crossing a street, driving to work, waiting for a visitor, you’ll devote a few words to the vehicle that’s making this activity happen. It might be a car, a train, plane–whatever. My collection is brief, but rich. As usual, they are from the books I read, so use them for inspiration, not verbatim. I hope you add some of your own ideas in  the comments:

Airbornetruck

  • Bird (for helo)
  • Trotted through the gale of the blades, overcoat lifting, tie flapping back across his shoulder

Bikes

  • Junking his bike from side to side

Boats

  • fouled her rails
  • one of the water shuttle boats from Rowe’s Wharf was trudging toward the airport

Cars

  • Carver weaved between cars
  • Town cars, black with tinted windows, sitting low on their chassis due to the concealed armored plating
  • The engine whined at a high pitch and the wind roared through the open windows so no one talked
  • Driving his rented Taurus along a thin winding road
  • 10 minutes for the convoy to craw through the dusty streets
  • The Mercedes left the curb like the shuttle from the launchpad.
  • The muscular automobile begged to be given its reins, like a racehorse on an early morning run
  • It halted in front of…
  • Flash-flooded highway—cars got stranded in foot-deep lakes
  • The Honda juddered up and over the obstruction.
  • Pulled off and found a place to park and wait awhile for the radiator to cool before he put in some fresh fluid from the trunk
  • Pointed his car toward Langley
  • The rain came steady and cold against the windshield and rattled on the roof of the car
  • Car with a funny bumper sticker
  • Unfurled from her car like a boxer entering the ring
  • Expensive cars: Maybach Landaulets, Bulgatti Veyrons, SSC Ultimate Aero, Leblanc Mirabeau, Pagani Zonda Cinque Roadster, Lamborghini Reventon, Koenigsegg CCXR
  • After too short a ride
  • Gravel ticking up from below and rattling around in the undercarriage
  • Ink black SUV
  • Panel van, black panel van
  • 3 vehicles arrowed out of the airport and hit the highway
  • Mark’s Lada labored through enormous potholes and up sharp inclines as it tackled the foothills
  • He slowed, then went right onto a pebble driveway that meandered between white horse fence, thick pine trees every hundred feet or so,
  • The SUV sped up the long, sloping driveway in front of the beautiful Queen Anne style mansion
  • Spotless red Jeep glittering in the fluorescent light
  • Could drive across the entire continent never seeing farther than the beams of your headlights.
  • Listened to the engine tick
  • A dark green Land Rover,, the Defender model, all kitted out in brush bars, searchlights, and a siren mounted on the bonnet.
  • the car behind him honked once more, he would go take the driver out, but then his wallet was back…
  • Drew a bead on the car
  • An older low-slung Impala came toward him
  • Older white panel van
  • Pimped black Escalade
  • Two Accords with fat tires and stingers
  • Turned on the ignition and flipped on the wipers
  • Three-year-old Camaro, a rally-red Z28
  • Unfolded himself from the battered MG

Sounds

  • The rhythmic pounding punctures the stillness of the morning air—fwtt fwtt fwtt
  • Drumbeat of a chopper, coming in low, hidden by the tree line
  • Thrum of the rotors
  • The engine whined at a high pitch
  • Traffic howled in both directions
  • Doppler wail of a passing patrol car
  • Squawking

Traffic

  • white cones of headlamps
  • the headlights made the wet highway shimmer
  • traffic was faintly visible thru the door
  • battered ’67 Ford Fairlane
  • Headlights flicked a couple of times
  • Windshield wipers barely keeping up with the cold, hard rain.
  • Kept the car at a steady sixty. Power line poles flashed past, the tires sang, the motor hummed.
  • throttled around the corner
  • Rainswept morning rush hour, bumper to bumper
  • Streets glistened and the cars had their lights on even though it was well after sunrise.
  • cut a few blocks inland

Trucks

  • As it churned slowly past
  • Huge tires howled
  • The scream of stressed rubber dying away, thin drifts of moving blue smoke following it
  • Nothing to hear but the Malibu’s patient idle. Nothing to see but four high beams stabbing the far shoulder. The air was full of the smell of burned rubber and hot brakes and gas and oil.
  • Big rigs thundered down the highway and he could feel their vibrations in his chest
  • Sticky-smell of burned transmission fluid, spoiled fruit and bubble gum.

Miscellaneous

  • sheet metal buckling around him

More descriptors:

Characteristics That Make Your Character Memorable

How to Describe a Fight

How to Describe Dogs


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is  editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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15 thoughts on “How to Describe Vehicles–Cars, Boats, Planes, More

  1. Just like a freshly baked cake you present these invaluable prompts for novice writers like me. I will treasure these for a long time. Thank you. Arun

    • Any for many stories, they are important. You’re going from here to there–what’s it feel like. Does it slow you down? Do people notice you when you wish they wouldn’t? Is the ride uncomfortable, distracting?

      Yeah, I’m nuts.

  2. Pingback: How to Write Descriptions People Want to Read: Nature | WordDreams...

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