descriptors / Setting / writers resources

How to Describe a Landscape

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

Landscape descriptions are many and varied, so I’ll just touch on a few. 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 reliefopen land
  • 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 volcanoesmountains
  • 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


  • forestthe 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

MixtureSmoking Mt

  • 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.

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. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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18 thoughts on “How to Describe a Landscape

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  5. You’ve put in so much work into this Jacqui! I usually see and sense my scenery, and then pick the details from there. Unless I dream, awake or asleep, I can’t write 🙂


    • Or you read the same books I did that included them! One thing I like about most of these descriptions is they are neutral. They describe the setting without being intrusive. As such, they’re appropriate for lots of stories.


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