descriptors / research / Setting

How to Describe an African Landscape

How do you communicate to Western world readers the uncivilized, nature-controlled land that is Africa. If your story includes an African setting, you must get that untamed, mysterious feel across or you lose credibility.

Here are a few books you can read that will drench you in the scents and colors of Africa:

Here’s a list of descriptions, in part drawn from these books:

  • Flat, dry, and monotonous, a seemingly limitless scrub waste without landmarks or water or other relief
  • because of the time and the approaching rain
  • followed small antelope trails instead of the larger buffalo trails
  • Oxbow lake
  • Narrow rocky defile
  • Beneath the jutting stone ledge, she sat hunched into a ball, knees tight against her chest, her damp clothes about her.
  • Olduvai appeared like a dark rift
  • Along its length, cottonwoods had sprung up; young trees little more than twice a man’s height.
  • Thick grass had carpeted the narrow strip
  • distant harsh mountains composed of granite, covered with thorny shrubs and acacia trees
  • mountains, thrusting spires of naked rock into the heavens so high that you would believe the very sky was pierced
  • thickly scented spruce branches clutched at his clothes, slapped against his chest and shredded his hand
  • thick forest that carpeted the uplands
  • dust was everywhere—on leaves, branches, even on my teeth and lips
  • Easing over humps and trenches, potholes and stone rivers, bashing through the trees where a track is blocked, the bucking climbs up steep eroded banks
  • the cloud mist lifted, gradually came the dull patches of red glowing far beyond the cliffs. Two active volcanoes
  • mouth of a thick sulfurous stream
  • watch the river to see the coiling of its muscular currents, catch the shimmering of waves that caught the sunlight like scales
  • swallowed up by the jungle
  • dry creek bed
  • bounded on three sides by basalt outcrops and partially screened by brush
  • followed the ridge down toward a patch of grass
  • back to a rotting log that some long-forgotten flood had deposited crossways on the spit
  • Cracks like hardweed through a broken sidewalk
  • Gordian knot of …
  • he saw  its fields, steppes, villages and towns, all bleached white by the moon and bright stars.
  • the gallery forests of river red gum, various grasses, that lined the channels. Maybe a low-lying area where runoff from high ground collected after rain. Sometimes dense stands of mulga (acacia) woodland would grow there, where water was easiest to find in a desert.


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 and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blog, IMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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12 thoughts on “How to Describe an African Landscape

  1. Pingback: 15 Ways to Describe Birds | WordDreams...

  2. Good morning Jacqui,
    I came across your site by chance, as I am writing a fiction/fantasy romance story and was looking for visual ideas of the African landscape. What I have stumbled upon is a wonderfully informative blog site, which I shall endeavor to pick up some helpful hints to assist with my writing as well.


  3. Oy, I guess I should have given the title: Shadows of Africa, Abrams Publishers,1992. I think it may be out of print so finding it via remainder companies is likely to be the only way to get a copy. This is the kind of book that can’t be done justice via e-reader. Got to hold it in your hand.


  4. Oops, hit the wrong key, here’s the rest. I have a gorgeous book with essays written by Peter Matthiessen, taken from his earlier books on Africa, and incredible, powerful illustrations by Mary Frank. Yes, I’ll bring it tonight so you can browse.


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