characters / descriptors / Setting / writers resources

How to Describe a Character’s Neighborhood

A character’s neighborhood provides the opportunity to tell us about him/her without narrative. People live where they’re comfortable, so how you describe the protagonist or antagonist’s home town will reflect his values, beliefs, passions.

When your character is out and about, take the opportunity to describe his neighbors, what he notices around him, the traffic–vehicles and foot, the flora and fauna, the rhythm of his world. Does he live amidst spreading estates or in a cluttered old apartment complex? Are homes stately and old or nouveau riche?

The descriptions I’ve included below are from novels I’ve read. For descriptions of homes, click here (coming soon).

I hope you like them:

  • Buildings were tan stucco and wood slat, built around grassy knolls
  • It thrived as people went about their daily business, some walking or packing loads, others pounding corn in hollow mortars. The sound of shrieking children mingled with flute music. The slanted morning light gave everything a hazy look as it passed through the moist air.
  • The quiet of an older neighborhood
  • The town seemed to pulse with life and excitement
  • A short, squat tower topped by a wide, gently sloping octagonal roof
  • I’d tell you the paint was peeling, but it’d be more accurate to tell you it was shedding
  • It looked like a nice place to live. An older woman with wispy white hair eased a Hughes Market cart off a curb and across a street. She smiled at a man and a woman in their twenties, the man with his shirt off, the woman in an airy Navajo top. They smiled back. Two women in jogging suits were walking back toward Hoover, probably off to lunch at one of the little nouveaux restaurants on Clasper. A sturdily built Chicano woman with a purse the size of a mobile home waited at a bus stop, squinting into the sun. Somewhere a screw gun started up, then cut short. There were gulls and a scent of the sea.
  • Home. Eight acres of scrub and savanna, a pasture and paddock, a pond, a stream, avocado, lemon and orange trees loaded with fruit.
  • Fair-sized house built of red Lyons Sandstone with the most god-awful-looking picket fence I’d ever seen.
  • He stared up at the arch, knew little of the history, only the name. It was yet another symbol of a glorious empire that had collapsed into the dust of this desolate place. What armies have you seen? He thought. How many generals have passed beneath you, expecting their accomplishments to stand like this, a monument to history?
  • Small upstairs apartment on Newport Island, a tiny piece of land accessible only by a bridge so narrow, it would admit just one car at a time.

If these snippets don’t speak to you, I understand. That’s the beauty of literature–there’s room for every description. I’d love to hear yours.

For more descriptors for characters and settings, click here.


67 thoughts on “How to Describe a Character’s Neighborhood

  1. Jacqui, this is great advice and descriptions. I love books who let you feel through
    events, conversations and similar. I remember telling a story about “Mr Squirrel” and how his character – unbeknown t me – evolved through his responses, attitudes, dress code and so on. You brought this memory back, thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Pingback: Describing a Character’s Neighbourhood | Diane Tibert

  3. I practiced imagining lives of a few homeless people who frequent places in our town, McD’s and library. I called them character sketches. I liked your neighborhood examples, Jacqui. You have a good “ear” for this.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. My descriptions spring mostly from viewpoint character– I hardly ever do anything other than third-person limited. I must try a more omniscient narrator, and general descriptions. Soon. Thanks for sharing these.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great descriptions, Jacqui. As an architect, I can definitely appreciate the subtlety of descriptions of our surroundings. Some of the most memorable aspects of any space are the tiny caveats that blend seamlessly into the rest of an image to escape our specific retelling, but that we remember instantly when they’re highlighted. It’s the kind of thing we (architects) strive to achieve and something that spans across the pursuits of writing and design (two loves of mine).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: How to Describe a Character’s Home « Word Dreams…

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