descriptors / Setting / writers resources

How to Describe a Landscape

They are many and varied, so I’ll just touch on each. These, as usual, come from writing I admire, so don’t copy them. Use them to inspire your own creativity:

Open land

  • Flat, dry, and monotonous, a seemingly limitless scrub waste without landmarks or water or other relief
    open land

    Dusty, flat, featureless land–is that your setting?

  • Great sandstone outcropping
  • 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
  • This wasn’t a Sahara-like desert of sand dunes. There were sporadic tufts of trees, acacia and baobab, and on-again off-again grasses and shrubs as far as the eye could see atop the brown earthen crust, a surface that looked as hard as stone and somehow even less inviting.
  • A large outcropping of bundled roots from the remains of a dead baobab had broken free from the hard pack alongside the road and needed to be negotiated, a dry wadi that crossed the highway required downshifting to safely cross,
  • The miles, the motion, the flat wide-open land, the twisted Joshua trees and the hot orange sunsets.
  • because of the time and the approaching rain, followed small antelope trails instead of the larger buffalo trails, and in this way kept to a more direct route
  • dust was everywhere—on leaves, branches, even on my teeth and lips
  • Narrow rocky defile
  • Beneath the jutting stone ledge, she sat hunched into a ball, knees tight against her chest, her damp clothes about her.


  • the cloud mist lifted, gradually came the dull patches of red glowing far beyond the cliffs. Two active volcanoes

    Or is it the rugged, craggy mountains of Alaska?

  • distant harsh mountains are composed of granite, covered with thorny shrubs and acacia trees (Africa)
  • mountains, thrusting spires of naked rock into the heavens so high that you would believe the very sky was pierced


  • bounded on three sides by basalt outcrops and partially screened by brush
  • followed the ridge down toward a patch of grass
  • Olduvai appeared like a dark rift


  • Oxbow lake
  • The river was a vigorous and optimistic blue
  • back to a rotting log that some long-forgotten flood had deposited crossways on the spit
  • mouth of a thick sulfurous stream
  • watch the river (like a snake) to see the coiling of its muscular currents, catch the shimmering of waves that caught the sunlight like scales
  • dry creek bed



How about a thick verdant forest, dappled with sun?

  • 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.
  • swallowed up by the jungle
  • thickly scented spruce branches clutched at his clothes, slapped against his chest and shredded his hand
  • thick forest that carpeted the uplands
  • Along its length, cottonwoods had sprung up; young trees little more than twice a man’s height. Thick grass had carpeted the narrow strip


  • Cracks like hardweed through a broken sidewalk
  • Gordian knot of one-way streets
  • he saw Russia. He saw its fields, steppes, villages and towns, all bleached white by the moon and bright stars.


  • Hills
  • Valleys
  • Ridge
  • Saddle
  • Cliff
  • Draw spur
  • Cut
  • Fill
  • Contour lines
  • Man-made objects


  • Hawkes Pond gleamed through a very thin fringe of trees. It was a long narrow pond and across it the land rose up in a wooded hill crowned with power lines.
  •  Splashing through somewhat deeper water, meter-tall sedge beds, speed is very slow and awkward.
  • Reeds and cattails, bunchgrasses, dense thicket, (present as small mounds 10-15 cm tall
  • Grass covers mounds, depressions that you would tend to stumble in as you walk
  • Croc-infested rivers during rainy season would inhibit large mammal movement
  • Mts (rain shadow), rivers (flood), lakes (subterranean water)
  • African habitats (mosaic pattern): forests (groundcover is ferns), woodlands (ground cover is grasses, no canopy)), bushlands (tree species grow as bushes with multiple stems, more fruit) with thickets, shrublands (scrub or dwarf woodlands), grasslands, wooded grasslands, deserts
  • Plants: euphorbia, cacti,
  • Grassland—-plateau, open country, velds, scrubland, deep washes, wadis, gully, arroyo, wash, cut, creek
  • Grasses—poacea Hyparrhenia diplandra, forbs, coarse and grows in tufts, euphorbia
  • Savanna vegetation—corms, bulbs, tap roots, rhizomes
  • Found a very nice outcropping of rocks just over the crest, the kind of place snakes love.

Copyright ©2022 – All rights reserved.

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Savage Land, Winter 2024.


51 thoughts on “How to Describe a Landscape

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  10. Brilliant post, I feel that the ability to describe landscapes is an indispensable skill that every author and poet must possess to a reasonable degree. The words hills and valleys are particularly beautiful to my eyes, reminds me of those wonderful opening lines from Marlowe’s poem “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”:

    “Come live with me and be my love,
    And we will all the pleasures prove,
    That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
    Woods, or steepy mountain yields.”

    Liked by 1 person

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  14. I am amazed by the fact that, this blog is equally attractive for both young and old readers. I am 60 years old, have read a lot of books, used to write when I was in my teen years.I have plenty of time now, after bringing up my family on my own, recently discovered that spark still there, and this blog is icing on the cake, well done!!
    Keep it up!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Tahira. I’m over 60, so we’re almost like sisters. I did the same as you–waited until the two children were launched to ignite my love of reading and writing. Now, I’m in full bloom.


  15. Excellent post, Jacqui. What a collection you’ve amassed. I think what really makes a description stand out is the ability of the writer to make the reader feel familiar with the place, as though they’ve been there before. And that happens when the writer really knows exactly what he’s looking at, how it feels and smells, all the details that express the uniqueness as well the intimacy to be universal.
    I wonder how your very young readers/followers are doing now? Hope they are still writing. Nice that you attract a range of readers, all of whom find you blog helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

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  19. I’m 15 and lately I’ve been having difficulty describing some scenes in the stories I write. I absolutely love this blog! It’s so creative, and it’s great that it’s here to help give me some inspiration!


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