descriptors / writers resources

36 Ways to Describe Buildings–Neighborhoods

describe a townFor the next few months, weekly writing tips will include word choice suggestions. That includes:

  • colorful and original descriptions
  • pithy words and phrases
  • picture nouns and action verbs
  • writing that draws a reader in and addicts them to your voice

I keep a  collection of descriptions that have pulled me into the books. I’m fascinated how authors can–in just a few words–put me in the middle of their story and make me want to stay there. This one’s on how to describe neighborhoods.

A note: These are for inspiration only. They can’t be copied because they’ve been pulled directly from an author’s copyrighted manuscript (intellectual property is immediately copyrighted when published).



  • It thrived as people went about their daily business, some walking or packing loads, other 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 apartment building was in the middle of a transitional neighborhood where the old single-story houses from the forties and fifties were slowly being rehabbed or torn down.
  • Every home had at least one outbuilding, a rusted tank, and a mound of firewood.
  • The school was mid-sixties and brick, square and graceless. One
  • There were occasional granite and brownstone buildings and the usual ugly newer ones, but mostly it was red brick.
  • ‘volunteer Fire Dept, population: 485
  • It looked like a nice place t 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 short off, the woman in an airy Navajo top. They smiled back. Two women in jogging suits were walking back toward Barrington, probably off to lunch at one of the little nouveaux restaurants on San Vicente. 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. Nice.
  • Out My Window: This is my first time living in a hi-rise. It’s cool. I’m on the 14th floor. In warmer weather, I go to sleep as kids play baseball in the park below me. And out my window to the right is part of Lake Michigan and Lakeshore Drive.


  • Front door reduced to a smoking hole

describe neighborhoodOutside

  • Cold bricks
  • Buildings were tan stucco and wood slat, built around grassy knolls
  • 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?
  • I’d tell you the paint was peeling, but it’d be more accurate to tell you it was shedding
  • Homes were built of river rock
  • contemporary bungalow
  • beyond the foot of a long driveway that wound up to a squat little flat-roofed fieldstone castle with a crenellated roofline and a round tower at one end.
  • Clapboard
  • Municipal sidewalks left and right, mossy concrete, heaved up here and there by tree roots, studded less often by city fireplugs. Houses regularly spaced in lots, most of them modest, some small, a few large, most with white siding. Some painted a color.  All had mailboxes and foundation plantings and lawns and driveways.
  • White spired church
  • Stone wall
  • A low sort of white, cinder-block building with a badly defined gravel parking area in front, where there were three pickup trucks and a green Jag. An old metal Coca Cola sign hung over the screen door. The rich smell of lard undulated from the open windows.
  • The shouting, honking, hawking crowds, the pushing and shoving and relentless begging.
  • Were columns and friezes and arched windows twenty feet high
  • It might once have been nice; it might once have been the home of an actual family. But scrub and tall weeds now covered the yellowed lawn, which clearly hadn’t been cut in years. A wire fence bordered the property, sagging at spots where the wind had knocked it down, a wooden gate hanging from its post.
  • Set far back from the curb, beneath three tower pines. It was white plaster with a brown tile roof and Castilian wrought iron over the windows.
  • The house was an old brown tumbledown wreck, its clapboard weathered and cracked, several roof shingles missing
  • Beyond them rough hills sloping into the sharp blue Pacific
  • Perimeter of the grounds was patrolled by armed security, and every inch of the property was wired with cameras, security lighting, and motion sensors.
  • Broken-down garage
  • Small, with cranberry siding and a pair of metal pipes jutting from the roof. The fence was made of unfinished boards nailed vertically with two-inch gaps in between.
  • Rusted iron railing


  • The yards were mostly bare dirt with an occasional clump of coarse and ratty-looking grass.
  • Weed-choked courtyard
  • Home. eight acres of scrub and savannah, a pasture and paddock, a pond, a stream, avocado, lemon and orange trees loaded with fruit.
  • It was abandoned. It had a mailbox entirely hidden by tall grass. Its driveway was overgrown. It had bushes and brambles up against the door and the windows. It had weeks in the gutters, and green slime on the walls, and a cracked foundation pierced by creeper tendrils thicker than my wrists.

Click for the complete list of 70 69 writer’s themed descriptions.

Most popular collections:

47 Ways to Describe Buildings–Homes II

24 Ways to Describe Pain

55 Interesting Intel Devices

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 over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

34 thoughts on “36 Ways to Describe Buildings–Neighborhoods

  1. Who knew descriptions of buildings and places could be so exciting? Especially love the one of paint not peeling but shedding. It sounds familiar tome but I can’t place the book.
    Have you read Pat Conroy’s South of Broad? From the book, about Charleston, South Carolina: “It was my father who called the city the Mansion on the River.” A few paragraphs later: “I carry the delicate porcelain beauty of Charleston like a hinged shell of some soft-tissued mollusk.” This isn’t just what the city looks like – it’s how it feels and how it imbues everyone who lives there with its grace. Conroy died very recently. I love his work and don’t think any writer surpassed him for descriptive proof of life.
    Thanks for all these, Jacqui, and especially for the photo of the tree house. Did you post that for me? (Just say “yes,” I’ll never know.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An eclectic collection, Jacqui and great reminder for all writers how important it is to place the book, not forgetting the area around, to hook the reader at all times. I can’t get the ‘rusted iron railing’ out of my head – feel there is a story just in those few words!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with Medeia – these are some great examples. I find I don’t describe buildings enough, or the environment. I’m working on it! Sometimes I give information – just not enough – like: The buildings pressed in from either side; empty window frames like gaping mouths seeking their prey. Glass littered the ground, shining like diamonds as they reflected Joshua’s power… (a scene I wrote earlier). Thanks for the new resource – a great reminder I need to stretch myself more😀

    Liked by 1 person

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