This is the next in the occasional “How to Write Descriptions” series.
If you’re a writer, you know what I mean. You can’t just say, The dog laid down at my feet and fell asleep. That’s boring. It tells the reader nothing about how cute the dog is, how innocent his sleep was, how you reacted to this most loyal of friend doing the most trusting of activities.
I’ve spent years collecting snippets on how to describe characters, create settings, describe actions that I am now going to share with you over a period of, oh, a lot of weeks. I have a 127-page document with categories for things like:
…it goes on and on. Here’s the first page, with links to all my categories:
They are all written by other authors, so don’t use them. Treat them as imagination starters. They force you to think about what it was in your character’s face that gave away his lie. Why the horse in the corral looked so agitated. Those types of descriptions that, being in a book, can only be conveyed with words.
I’ll start with dogs:
- The dog snorted happily and bounded forward
- The dog curled into a wet lump and lay shivering on the ground
- Dog was doing impression of a corpse
- He stretched, shook himself and circled several times before dropping to the ground
- With pricked ears, he watched for a moment and then yawned
- Roaming the backyard, engaged in dog intrigue
- Exulting in whatever it is that dogs exult in
- dogs wandered off to rest their noses in their paws
- roughed them up the way Labs expect to be treated
- paws up, aerial
- The dog was sprawled across her lap, his sides rising and falling, his nose mashed against the ground in a most uncomfortable-looking manner. Dogs were funny. They could sleep in peculiar positions.
- Dogs, after voiding their excrement, often make with all four feet a few scratches backwards, even on a bare stone pavement, Wolves and jackals behave in the same manner, yet, as I am assured by the keepers, neither wolves, jackals, nor foxes, when they have the means of doing so, ever cover up their excrement, any more than do dogs. All these animals, however, bury superfluous food.
- Dogs and jackals take much pleasure in rolling and rubbing their necks and backs on carrion. The odor seems delightful to them. wolves don’t roll in the odor
- Dogs scratch themselves with one of their hind-feet; and when their backs are rubbed, they rapidly scratch the air or the ground in a useless and ludicrous manner. by licking the air as if it were a hand.
- As he prepares to spring with a savage growl, canine teeth are uncovered, and the ears pressed close backwards on the head
- flopped onto the floor in a full doggy snit
- wag its tale and watch with hopeful eyes
- dog watched him, ears up, head slightly cocked
- dogs, when intently watching and slowly approaching prey, keep one of their fore-legs doubled up for a long time, ready for the next cautious step. they behave in exactly the same manner whenever their attention is aroused. I have seen a dog at the foot of a high wall, listening attentively to a sound on the opposite side, with one leg doubled up
- the one which first sees the other, lowers its bead, crouches a little, or even lies down; takes the proper attitude for concealing himself
- When a dog approaches a strange dog or man in a savage or hostile frame of mind he walks upright and stiffly; his head slightly raised; tail held erect and rigid; the hairs bristle, especially along the neck and back; the pricked ears are directed forwards, and the eyes have a fixed stare
- trotting gravely with high steps, head much raised, moderately erected ears, and tail carried aloft but not stiffly
- young dogs in play growling and biting each other’s faces and legs
- The dog got worried, crawled up on the bed, raced around chasing a ball, finally chased it out of the room. From her roommates room, she heard her barking, growling at the dog, slapping and playing, tossing the ball and the dog returned. She wondered who thought who was whose pack.
Who could not love a dog?
For more on writing about dogs, check out WayCoolDogs.
How To Describe Your Character’s Appearance in a Phrase
How to Write Descriptions People Want to Read: Nature
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 the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com 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.
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Great list -written by people who carefully observe. I always told my art students: see first, (seeing as opposed to looking, – the first is true observation, the second merely a casual awareness of what’s around you ) think always, then make art.
And I love dogs.
I love stories that include dogs. I can’t help but save their descriptions.
Nice collection. I’ve started a few categories of my own, but I’ve got a looooong way to go to get to 127-pages. That sounds like an awesome book in and of itself Jacqui!
Some of the phrases I read I really don’t want to let go of. They say so much in so few words. I want to hold onto them and be inspired when my words feel clunky. That’s how it started. I have times in my writing when I just read all those collected pages. Sigh.
Great list Jacqui I have a small dog in my novel and I am always looking for new ways to describe what he is up to. Thanks.
There’s rarely a boring dog description. Writers seem to get into them.
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Dogs are so animated and all have something special that sets them apart from each other. They really do have their own individual personalities.
Neat post and you know what, Jacqui?… I am now thinking in Virginia Woolf’s book “Flush”… All the best to you. Aquileana 🙂
Haven’t read that one, Aquileana. I’ll have to look into it.
oh so interesting and useful reading here, thanks Jacquie. for me, a novel without a pet is not complete. 😉 CATS preferred of course.
Me, too, Geraldine. Oddly, I don’t have a collection of cat terms. I should. I guess since I’m a dog person, those speak to me more.
Interestingly, almost all of these describe action. That seems to be the trick to keep it from getting boring. Thanks for sharing!
Good point. That’s the old ‘show not tell’ advice. I seem to take it to heart.
Description are tough for me!!
[off topic – I went back and tried to locate the creator of the shadow picture you were interested in. I located it on Pintrest and on free holiday quotes. com for my Veteran’s Day post – but I am unable to discover who created it – sorry.]
Thanks for trying, GP. I dropped the image in images.google.com and (it finds all instances where the image was used online) and it found about a hundred hits. Now I have to go through them all–yikes!
I just spent the last hour trying to track ownership of that image. Ten pages of sites using it and none with a citation–this is a good lesson for my students!
That’s what I liked about the animated photos for Halloween – public domain.
This is a fabulous collection. I’m not a dog person but these all made them sound a lot more interesting than they feel in real life. 😀 😀
Oh, they are interesting. A big part because they always treat me as though I’M interesting. Just love a guy who listens to me.
😀 😀 😀
That’s because you are AWEsome, Jacqui. ❤
One thing I’ve notice about descriptions is that if they’re put into the context of the scene, they’re easier to read. Those long paragraphs of descriptions can kill a book for a reader.
Absolutely. I’ve read tons of narrative on how dogs react to circumstances so I can put them in scene. I’d hate to have their ears perk when they’re angry!
I wrote a dog in my latest book and I had to avoid going overboard on it! 😀 I find them so fascinating sometimes!
I have dogs who are integral to my story. Not as much as Robert Crais’ Maggie, but I do love them.