descriptors / Setting

How To Write Descriptions People Want to Read: Wild Animals

This is the third in a series “How to Write Descriptions”. As writers, we have only words to communicate some of the most complicated images in life. The trick for writers is, how to pick just the right words. That’s what I share here: inspiration for succeeding in your quest.

Most of the following descriptions are from Peter Matthiessen. You can’t write about nature and not read Matthiessen–The Tree Where Man Was Born, Sand Rivers. But there are others. The incomparable Colin Turnbull who lived among the pygmies and wrote The Forest People, among others. You’ll recognize Mark Tredinnick, author of A Place on Earth: An Anthology of Nature Writing and the innocence of Tepilit Ole Saitoti, a western-educated Maasai Warrior who wrote The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior .

I’ll do ‘Nature’ as a general topic later. Right now, I’ll concentrate on Animals in Nature. This can’t fail to inspire you.a rhino grazing

  • the hippos heaved their great bodies out of the water and opened their gaping mouths wide, snorting and grunting before they sank back beneath the surface heads resting humbly on the mud
  • revealing a large, open gash on his hind quarter
  • tremendous splash that sent waves rolling to the shore
  • two bulls fighting, but only half in earnest
  • hippos—a quake and rumbling from beneath the surface, then a roar and wash as the huge bodies surge, and way is made for two pink-eyed gladiators the fearful cacophony of groans, blarts, roars and grumbling, interspersed with deep watery gurgles
  • a shiny hippo rose and walked away among low trees in a sedate manner
  • only the tips of their noses poking above the surface of the water
  • The night before, hyena and lion howled and roared; hippos resounded from their pools deep in the forest
  • the air was filled with engaging dung smells
  • sweat dripping from their steaming bodies
  • Urban fauna (cockroaches)

  • squinting toward the dim shadows at the wood’s edge
  • Wart hogs, tails whisking and manes shivering as they snouted and rooted in the baked earth
  • Delicate tall stalk of a giraffe
  • a family of bush pigs setting out on the evening forage. The big boar was gray with a silver mane, but the sow and young shoats were rufous red with clean white manes
  • a large group of elephant and buffalo were moving peacefully toward the shining water
  • poking and snuffling as they went
  • the foot-dragged prints of a waterbuck, the ancient hand-prints and serpentine tail furrow made by a croc
  • A herd of impala picked its way around the pool, their harsh tearing snorts would warn a procession of almost every type of animal one after the other, picking its way with unhurried grace to the water’s edge
  • bounding along a barrier of silver deadwood at the edge of the wood
  • It was now mid-afternoon and large groups of elephants moved peacefully toward the shimmering water
  • overhead so it falls with a fine splat upon his back;
  • the matriarch stands guard, trunk high
  • the bull begins to flap its ears and paw the ground
  • picks up a trunkful and hurls it
  • a young bull standing in the grass of the river margin
  • testing the air with lifted trunk, he steps down on to the river bed, then swings around
  • cow’s trunk stiffened as she got our wind, the trunk rose in an awkward question mark
  • dig a hole under the bank. When the water wells up, he sprays himself behind his ears and under his belly
  • noble expectations
  • swampy depressions, lowland basin, lowland plains between the crater and the Serengeti plateau

Can’t you just see these wonderful creatures, living their lives as man can no longer do?

More descriptors:

How to Describe Dogs

How To Write Descriptions People Want to Read: Horses

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 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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21 thoughts on “How To Write Descriptions People Want to Read: Wild Animals

  1. Pingback: 70 Collections to Infuse Your Writing | WordDreams...

  2. Pingback: How to Write Descriptions People Want to Read: an African Landscape | WordDreams...

  3. It boils to giving the reader an experience through the senses and emotions– research shows that the same areas of our brain light up while reading of an emotion/ description/ action, as when actually doing/ experiencing it.


  4. The book ‘Into the Wild’ is based on a true story of Christopher J McCandless, a well educated and able young man from a good family who chased after his dreams and ambitions. It is a great book and a great story that will inspire.


  5. Jacqui I am an observer of humans and animals. Just last night at a bomb fire a small black pug dog romped around the yard in the dark carrying a blue glow stick bracelet. I have this image in the dark of the bracelet, it looked like it was moving on its own…..not a wild animal, but a funny image that I will use in my book for sure.


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