descriptors / nature / setting / writers resources / writing

How to Write Descriptions People Want to Read: Nature

natureThis is the next in the “How to Write Descriptions” series.

I like to collect descriptions other people have of life. I keep them on a big spreadsheet that I’m constantly updating. I read a lot and I pay attention to how my fellow authors get their ideas across, how they create pictures of scenery from their words. I’m in awe of people like Peter Matthiessen with his nature descriptions and Margaret Meade with her emotion-invoking portraits of people.

Here’s my collection of nature. I’ve drawn many of them from the following authors:

  • Matthiessen, who I think is the quintessential writer on our environs
  • Margaret Meade–to her, people don’t exist outside of their habitat. I agree
  • Barry Lopez–a beautiful nature writer
  • many more I don’t remember, just copied their words down, in awe over their ability to draw me into their worlds

Here’s my list. I hope it inspires you as it does me (note: please don’t copy these words; just use them to kick start your writing):

  • big pink-lavender grasshoppers sail away on the hot wind,theburring of their flight as dry and scratchy as the long grass and the baked black rock
  • grasshoppers clicking in the dry air
  • worn trail
  • the dusty trail led through desperate-looking junipers
  • every trail disappeared as thoroughly as water dried under Sun’s scorching heat, and then he just didn’t have time
  • the whisper of our passage through dry grass
  • stands out like a scar, catching your notice like the pain that caused it
  • mother nature’s storeforest
  • pastoral scene
  • examine the lichen growth of low-lying boulders and the moss encircling the trunks of trees
  • the old decayed log, long softened by rot and spotted with moss
  • detect smoke for a distance of two to three miles
  • deep shadow of a maple tree
  • the air was rich with winter jasmine and cold, and grew even colder
  • a rough-skinned frog camouflaged against cracked and lined bark
  • leaves hung limp in the gray, damp air
  • nothing so black in Africa as the thorn tree
  • the day was out of sync with his mood
  • daylight had begun to drain away
  • air was cool but the sun was out
  • sky as gray-white and sunless
  • one-quarter of a moonlit night
  • cold light
  • silver-white moon hung
  • a half-moon rests in the fronds over our heads
  • watching the horizon drain of color
  • inky blackness
  • thick clouds blotted out the stars
  • a thin layer of clouds masked the full moon, filling the room with blue light
  • cool restful shady world with light filtering lazily through the tree tops that meet high overhead and shut out the direct sunlight nature
  • it supplies them with all of their needs
  • the season turned and the night was clear and cold
  • dusk blanketed Bakersfield
  • domesticated tree
  • cuts lengths of vine, softened it by running it quickly from hand to hand, pulling it sharply through the fork of the thumb
  • reeds and head-high marsh grass
  • dry and stalky and lost all nutritive value
  • dry grass, stalky brush and deadwood
  • hot scrub
  • tall tussock grasses
  • cattails (edible, soft fluff)
  • a green meadow bathed in the humid light of a sinking sun
  • gigantic gnarled spirals, almost as thick as a man’s body (the roots) joining the main trunk which towered above. Called ‘elephant tree’ because they always took refuge in one if they were attacked by elephants
  • the fire popped loudly as a stone exploded
  • splashed through the water, into a copse of juniper, pushing through the calf-high grass and scrub to a small rock outcropping
  • the damp air, the gigantic water-laden leaves that are constantly dripping, the violent storms that come with monotonous regularity, the very earth itself heavy and cloying after the slightest slower
  • whizzing chirr of the insects

More descriptor articles:

How to Write Descriptions People Want to Read: an African Landscape

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

How Your Characters Might Recognize an Emotion Part I


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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20 thoughts on “How to Write Descriptions People Want to Read: Nature

  1. Love this! Descriptions have been on my mind for quite some time now. I love reading descriptions and am only just beginning to use then in my writings too. Thanks a bunch!

    • So often, when my story bogs down, it’s a lack of visual–descriptions. I can usually fix it by delving into how the character feels, his world, that sort.

      Which is what I’m working on right now!

  2. These spare descriptions put me in mind of one of my favorite Canadian writers, Annie Proulx, although I understand she spends a lot of her time in Wyoming and Newfoundland (I think). She can take a dry piece of no-man’s land and find details you swear are not there (but of course they are). :-D And makes them part of the story.

  3. Beautiful descriptions, Jacqui. If you ever get the chance, read Rushdie, you’ll love the way he describes things.
    A couple that come to mind:
    “An uncontrollable rage spreading in him like the plague”
    “She was a rag-bag of selves, torn fragments of people she might have become”
    “She had picked him like a flower and now she wanted him between her teeth”

    I’m sure there are thousands more. I just love his work :D

  4. Thanks for more inspiration. Your collections of descriptions were what drew me to your blog originally. These are terrific. Whizzing chirr of the insects…how else to describe that sound? Wonderful.

  5. Pingback: How To Write Descriptions People Want to Read–Dogs | WordDreams...

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