How To Write A Book For Beginners!

The Best Descriptive Writing Examples From Books!

by Stefanie Newell | Mar 21, 2021 | Tips For Writers

examples of descriptive writing in books

As a newbie writer, you may be starting to figure out your own personal style of writing. You are discovering what kind of narrator you are best with, what length of books you prefer, what genre you want to write in, along with so many other things that factor into what your books will be like and what audience they will attract. Despite all of these things, one thing that is essential in whatever you explore is descriptive writing. Descriptive writing brings your readership into your writing by taking advantage of their imaginations. In this post, you will find descriptive writing examples that will help you utilize the senses to the best of your abilities as a writer.

3 Descriptive Writing Examples

1. “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.” –Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

If you are looking for advanced descriptive writing examples, then this excerpt fits the bill. Hemingway uses only the sense of sight, but the scene is very easy to imagine. He uses things that everyone can recognize no matter who they are and he uses them to his advantage. This is what you want to strive for when using descriptive language. This is the kind of descriptive writing that would work extremely well in fiction or nonfiction, no discrimination.

2. “It was lit by thousands and thousands of candles that were floating in midair over four long tables, where the rest of the students were sitting. These tables were laid with glittering golden plates and goblets. At the top of the hall was another long table where the teachers were sitting […] The hundreds of faces staring at them looked like pale lanterns in the flickering candlelight […] Harry looked upward and saw a velvety black ceiling dotted with starts […] It was hard to believe there was a ceiling there at all, and that the Great Hall didn’t simply open on to the heavens.” –J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Harry Potter series provides lot of great descriptive writing examples due to the fact that it is meant for children. It still teaches a good lesson to newbie writers though. Sometimes, the most obvious descriptive writing is the way to go! You know your story, and sometimes that can lead to you accidently leaving out important details. Once you have finished your writing, it is always a good idea to go back and make sure you didn’t leave any descriptive language out accidently.

3. “The flowers were unnecessary, for two o’clock a greenhouse arrived from Gatsby’s, with innumerable receptacles to contain it. An hour later the front door opened nervously, and Gatsby, in a white flannel suit, silver shirt, and gold-colored tie, hurried in. He was pale, and there were dark signs of sleeplessness beneath his eyes.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

This descriptive writing example is short, but it gives a lot of information to the reader in just a few words. The description of Gatsby in this instance is very easy to picture in your mind. Just the idea of him being pale with dark circles under his eyes leads the reader to imagine the face of a very tired man. You don’t always have to exhaust yourself with descriptive writing, keep it short and precise. As long as you can picture your character from your writing, your readers will be able to as well.

Using descriptive language can be challenging, especially if you are a newbie writer. So, bookmark this page and use these descriptive writing examples as a guide if you ever need a little help with your newest creation!


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Descriptive Text Examples

Bright red and orange sunrise

In descriptive writing, the author does not just tell the reader what was seen, felt, tested, smelled, or heard. Rather, the author describes something from their own experience and, through careful choice of words and phrasing, makes it seem real. Descriptive writing is vivid, colorful, and detailed.

Good Descriptive Writing

Good descriptive writing creates an impression in the reader's mind of an event, a place, a person, or a thing. The writing will be such that it will set a mood or describe something in such detail that if the reader saw it, they would recognize it.

To be good, descriptive writing has to be concrete, evocative and plausible.

Examples of Descriptive Writing

The following sentences provide examples of the concreteness, evocativeness and plausibility of good descriptive writing.

Examples of Descriptive Text in Literature

Because descriptive text is so powerful, many examples of it can be found in famous literature and poetry.

The High Window

The mystery novelist Raymond Chandler was one of American literature’s masters of descriptive language. This sentence from The High Window strikes the perfect notes to embody its subject:

“She had pewter-colored hair set in a ruthless permanent, a hard beak, and large moist eyes with the sympathetic expression of wet stones.”

Life in the Iron Mills

Notice the vivid description of smoke in this excerpt from Rebecca Harding Davis's Life in the Iron Mills:

"The idiosyncrasy of this town is smoke. It rolls sullenly in slow folds from the great chimneys of the iron-foundries, and settles down in black, slimy pools on the muddy streets. Smoke on the wharves, smoke on the dingy boats, on the yellow river--clinging in a coating of greasy soot to the house-front, the two faded poplars, the faces of the passers-by."

Jamaica Inn

In this excerpt from Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier , notice the writer's choice of adjectives, adverbs, and verbs. Granite. Mizzling. Du Maurier’s choice of words allows the reader to almost feel the weather occurring on the page.

"It was a cold grey day in late November. The weather had changed overnight, when a backing wind brought a granite sky and a mizzling rain with it, and although it was now only a little after two o'clock in the afternoon the pallor of a winter evening seemed to have closed upon the hills, cloaking them in mist."

In Alfred Tennyson's "The Eagle," he conveys power and majesty in just a few lines:

"He clasps the crag with crooked hands; Close to the sun in lonely lands, Ring'd with the azure world, he stands. The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; He watches from his mountain walls, And like a thunderbolt he falls."

Descriptive Text in Songs

Descriptive text examples can also be found in many songs, since songs are meant to capture your emotions and to invoke a feeling.

Through the Strings of Infinity

Some of the most vivid and effective descriptive writing in music can be found in rap. The evocation of alienation and the need to create in “Through the Strings of Infinity” by Canibus is truly poetic.

“I was born in an empty sea, My tears created oceans Producing tsunami waves with emotions Patrolling the open seas of an unknown galaxy I was floating in front of who I am physically Spiritually paralyzing mind body and soul It gives me energy when I’m lyrically exercising I gotta spit ‘til the story is told in a dream by celestial bodies Follow me baby”

The heavy metal band Opeth uses vivid descriptive writing to evoke loneliness in their song “Windowpane.”

“Blank face in the windowpane Made clear in seconds of light Disappears and returns again Counting hours, searching the night”

Blank Space

In her hit song “Blank Space,” Taylor Swift uses concrete, evocative descriptions to evoke two very different impressions.

“Cherry lips, crystal skies I can show you incredible things Stolen kisses, pretty lies You’re the king, baby, I’m your queen”
“Screaming, crying, perfect storm I can make all the tables turn Rose gardens filled with thorns Keep you second guessing”

All in the Details

Now that you have several different examples of descriptive text, you can try your hand at writing a detailed, descriptive sentence, paragraph or short story of your own. If you need help with powerful descriptions, try some figurative language to help to paint a picture and evoke emotions.

If you need inspiration, explore the authors linked above, or check out our quotes from poets like ”H.D.” Hilda Doolitle and Gerard Manley Hopkins , novelists like Angela Carter , or songwriters like Tori Amos and Tom Waits.

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Pat Verducci

3 Beautifully Descriptive Novel Passages...

examples of descriptive writing in books

Every afternoon, I take my dog for a walk in our neighborhood. We do a quick 30-minute loop, and it’s usually the first time during the day that I lift my head from my computer screen and look around. What a relief! Sunlight. Birds! Persimmons,  just starting to blush. As we turn toward home, I search my neighbor’s lawn for the family of small brown rabbits that hang out there at dusk, nibbling.

By the end of the walk I feel calmer, more grounded, and yes… happier.

This action, simply paying attention (some call it mindfulness,) can not only make us feel better, but can powerfully impact our writing.

This week I wanted to share with you three short novel passages that are observant and beautifully descriptive.

From Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner…

“Snow blew down the Royal Gorge in a horizontal blur. With Ollie’s sleeping head in her lap and a down comforter around them both, she tried now and then to get a look at that celebrated scenic wonder, but the gorge was only snow-streaked rock indistinguishable from any other rock, all its height and grandeur and pictorial organization obliterated in the storm. The dark, foaming, ice-shored river was so unlike the infant Arkansas that she used to ford on her horse that she didn’t believe in it. The circles that she blew and rubbed on the window healed over in secret ferns of frost.”

Can’t you just see the “snow streaked rock,” the “dark, foaming ice-shored river,” the “secret ferns of frost?”

From The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath…

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Notice how she takes this simple object, a fig tree with all its fruit, and uses it to reveal her character’s aching, overwhelming, and despairing quest for identity?

From Room , by Emma Donoghue…

“I don’t tell Ma about Spider. She brushes webs away, she says they’re dirty but they look like extra-thin silver to me. Ma likes the animals that run around eating each other on the wildlife planet, but not real ones. When I was four I was watching ants walking up Stove and she ran and splatted them all so they wouldn’t eat our food. One minute they were alive and the next minute they were dirt. I cried so my eyes nearly melted off. Also another time there was a thing in the night nnnnng nnnnng nnnnng biting me and Ma banged him against Door Wall below Shelf, he was a mosquito. The mark is still there on the cork even though she scrubbed, it was my blood the mosquito was stealing, like a teeny vampire. That’s the only time my blood ever came out of me.”

Donoghue, through the eyes of a little boy, finds extra thin silver spiderwebs a thing of beauty, and imagines tiny mosquitoes, like vampires, stealing blood and leaving permanent smears on cork. One minute the ants are alive, “the next minute they were dirt.”

Each of these three passages is keenly observed. In order to write like this, you have to be in the habit of really LOOKING and seeing things. And in translating these descriptions to the page, making them specific and visible and magical somehow, revealing the deepest parts of your character.

Take Action! If you’re writing fiction or a memoir, are you being observant? Are you describing things uniquely enough,  through the specific lens of your character? Are you writing about “fogging the window,” or are you taking it to the next level with “creating secret ferns of frost?” Are you revealing your character “wondering what she should be in life,” or do you put her in the crotch of a fig tree, seeing each piece of fruit as a possibility, and then watching them wrinkle, grow black, and drop at her feet? Does your little boy “get a mosquito bite,” or does something “nnnnng nnnnng nnnnng bite him?”

Look around, practice describing what you see in your mind. Be specific on the page, filter these descriptions through the eyes of your characters.

Happy Writing!

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examples of descriptive writing in books

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Descriptive writing examples, 13 comments:.

One book I love for descriptive imagery is Katherine Langrish's Troll Fell. She can really weave some great images. :) Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Thanks, Angela! I'm pretty sure we have that, so I will definitely look it up tomorrow! :)

These literary passages are AWESOME. Hope the teachers you work with know how lucky they are to have you. I especially love Ray Bradbury's, "The Halloween Tree." :-)

Thanks for it!

Great selection


Helpful :) Needed a descriptive passage :)

it was very helpful.... thank you

Thank you so much! Such a great choice of books which really helped with my block! :) (times a hundred more smileys)

Thanks.....wonderful resource

This is just great. The sample you made up is purrfect.!!

Thanks! Glad it's useful. :)

It is awesome my Cass and I plus my teacher used to give us this site for descriptive passages. Thx too much

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examples of descriptive writing in books

Descriptive Writing in the Novel


In part it is a matter of taste, of course. I once heard the poet David Baker say that all poetry can be divided into two camps: the ironic and the ecstatic. The Greek root of the word ecstasy is “Ek-stasis,” meaning to place, or situate, out of . Ecstasy is transcendental, mystical, drawing one away from the body and into a state of trance, vision, or dream. Irony, on the other hand, is social, worldly, involving a dissimulating doubleness of voice or imagination. Now, let’s be clear: irony is essential in fiction as an antidote to sentimentality and melodrama. But in my view the best novels — the ones that stick with you long after you’ve put them down — contain a generous dash of ecstasy as well.

For me, good descriptive writing is what puts the vivid in John Gardner’s “vivid, continuous dream” of fiction. Good description has the power to strike an almost musical chord of emotions, resulting, in the best of cases, in a kind of narrative trance in which the reader’s consciousness is buoyed up and swept along in the current of the story. This kind of transportation effect is achieved by way of concrete sensory detail. You don’t get it with non-imagistic writing. You may get irony, pathos, angst, even sadness or anger, but you don’t get transportation .

I should point out that what I’m discussing here applies more readily to novels than to stories. A great short story is possible without much description, or without any at all, although my personal favorites do manage to evoke a strong sense of place, despite the inherent austerity of the form. But the novel is really the best venue for descriptive writing of the kind I’m referring to.

All of this is by way of an introduction to the central literary concept of this essay, the domaine perdu . The concept finds an archetypal embodiment in a novel called Le Grand Meaulnes , by a Frenchman named Alain-Fournier.  Fournier wrote the book at the ripe old age of nineteen, and it was in fact his only published novel; he was killed in action in World War I.  In the book, a boy wandering the French countryside stumbles upon a mysterious, decaying manor house, or domaine.  He senses something magical about the place.  He is overcome by “an extraordinary sense of well-being, an almost intoxicating serenity.”  He hears “strains of lost music” that evoke memories both sweet and sad.  The residents of the domaine end up taking him in; he stays for the weekend. There is a party attended by charming and eccentric people. He befriends a young man, and becomes infatuated with his new friend’s beautiful sister. To make a long story short, the protagonist goes home filled with longing.  He spends the rest of the novel trying unsuccessfully to get back to the lost domaine.

The domaine perdu, therefore, is a deep myth having to do with a compulsion to return to a lost world of sensory completeness, beauty, and perfection; to recreate, in the words of the late novelist John Fowles, the “magical-sensual world of extreme infancy.”  It’s the Eden myth; it has a tremendous resonance in every culture. It’s one of the main engines that drives us as writers to describe, and, as readers, to be transfixed by fine descriptive prose.

In the early years of the current decade I had multiple opportunities to visit Hemingway’s house in San Francisco de Paula, about twenty minutes outside Havana. It’s an atmospheric, one might even say a haunted, place. Through the open windows Hemingway’s well-stocked bookshelves are exactly as he left them, for the last time, in the spring of 1960. His spectacles lie open on a side table; several enormous pairs of shoes hang toe-down in a closet rack. The Finca Vigía was the author’s principal home for more than two decades; it is where he wrote  The Old Man and the Sea, A Moveable Feast,  and the unfinished manuscript that was published posthumously as Islands in the Stream . It was the departure point and refueling station for his beloved marlin-fishing trips; the base of operations for his grandiose, romantic, and wholly fruitless U-boat hunting patrols during WWII. On the walls of the house his big game trophies molder, their hides looking a little thin these days, like the hides of the small mongrel-dogs at rest on the cracked sidewalks of Havana Centro, with their swollen nipples and flies buzzing all around.

Downhill through shaded gardens a walkway leads to the author’s expansive pool. Drained now, it’s a dangerous-looking pit with a steeply slanting bottom leading into the leaf-littered shadows of the deep end. Examining another author’s domaine perdu is a little like that empty pool: there’s something about it that’s both melancholy and hazardous. Put another way, delving too deeply into this particular aspect of the writing craft is almost like asking the muse to disrobe and then subjecting her to a gynecological exam followed by Freudian analysis. Is it really a good idea to try to plumb the basic motivations of a great and extremely troubled writer like Hemingway? I’ll just leave that question hanging in the air.

Hemingway was many things, some of them admirable, many not, but above all he was a great observer of nature. Those who love his work are generally passionate about it, while those who hate it may be equally so. Whatever your view it is important to consider that the domaine perdu is what makes Hemingway Hemingway. Without it he is merely a craftsman, a skilled and notably economical stylist with a gift for narrative. For a look at what Hemingway is like without the domaine perdu, forget about the novels for a moment and turn to a selection of his short fiction. Stories like “The Hills are White Elephants” and “The Killers” are very, very good — maybe among the best in the language — but there’s little of the bittersweet atmosphere of nostalgia that infuses The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, or A Moveable Feast. The longing for a lost world defines and shapes these latter works.

Consider the opening paragraph of A Farewell to Arms :

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels.  Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

The domaine perdu is closest to the surface when wistfulness bleeds through into description. When the normally laconic Hemingway dwells lovingly on a landscape, that’s the domaine perdu. In A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises — even in the grittier, grimmer For Whom the Bell Tolls — most of the chapters begin with vivid poetic descriptions like the one we just read. The domaine perdu is often found in beginnings: in the opening pages of a novel, or in the opening paragraphs of a chapter or a story. This is no accident. Description provides an embarkation point, a bridge, or a kind of touchstone that affords both the author and the reader access to the created world. Description also has more practical effects, such as anchoring the reader in the narrative — letting her know in a concrete way exactly where the characters are and what they are seeing –; arresting the reader’s attention with the compelling beauty of the novelistic world; and preparing the emotional ground for the scene to come.

In addition to providing embarkation points, the landscapes in Hemingway’s work are a recurring narrative mode used to tie together scenes of dialogue and action. Description is also the main vehicle for the explicit communication of the bittersweet magic, like lingering perfume or canned time, of the world that has been left behind. Here’s an anecdote of a conversation with F. Scott Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast:

On this night though he wanted me to know and understand and appreciate what it was that had happened at St.-Raphael and I saw it so clearly that I could see the single-seater seaplane buzzing the diving raft and the color of the sea and the shape of the pontoons and the shadow they cast and Zelda’s tan and Scott’s tan and the dark blonde and the light blond of their hair and the darkly tanned face of the boy that was in love with Zelda.

Note that here the domaine perdu is a secondhand one, having originally belonged to Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is also emphatically a domaine perdu writer; that is, the domaine perdu is a primary source of emotional power in his books. It is also worth noting that the lost world is not always remembered as a happy place; according to its Greek conception ecstasy is just as likely to come through misery as it is through joy. The above passage describes an exquisitely painful memory for Fitzgerald, of the first big breach with Zelda when she had an affair with a young Frenchman.

There’s no need to dwell further on Hemingway and Fitzgerald, other than to point out two doomed writers whose novels radiate the unmistakable essence of the domaine perdu. If a good writer feels strongly about something, it’s infectious. In Hemingway and Fitzgerald, that intensity of feeling speaks for itself.

We can all name other domaine perdu authors; the most obvious is Proust. In terms of more contemporary novelists I personally would throw in  Michael Chabon ( The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay ), Jeffrey Eugenides ( Middlesex ), Charles Frazier ( Cold Mountain ), Susanna Clarke ( Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell ), and all of Andrea Barrett’s work, including her short stories. There’s no question that any worthy historical fiction owes its very existence to the impulse to recreate lost worlds, as do the best works of literary fantasy, such as The Chronicles of Narnia , Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and Ursula K. Leguin’s The Wizard of Earthsea .  Indeed, if we believe John Fowles, the primal urge to return to the domaine perdu by the only means available, by creating it, lurks behind all art, which is precisely why it’s important to recognize and think about.

One of the reason’s Hemingway’s life was so glamorized, and one of the reasons it ultimately became unbearable to him, was that he strove to live his novels before he wrote them. His books are about as autobiographical as well-plotted fiction can get; for example A Farewell to Arms is based on his experience as an ambulance driver in Italy during WWI, For Whom the Bell Tolls is based on his stint as a journalist covering the Spanish Civil War, and Islands in the Stream draws heavily from the years he spent in his fishing yacht, the Pilar, cruising the waters north of Cuba for marlin and Nazi U-boats.

For Hemingway, the lost world was a real place , or a series of places, but for the next author we’re going to consider, J.R.R. Tolkien, it was almost entirely made up. This is not to say that some or even most of the superb descriptive passages in The Lord of the Rings didn’t flow from the author’s boyhood wanderings through the bucolic meadows and riverside glades around Oxford, or the denuded wastelands of the World War I killing fields, or trips he might have taken to the spectacular landscapes of the Alps. There’s no doubt that Tolkien too was a great observer and writer of nature. But in his case there were additional elements as well.

As a young man Tolkien, like Hemingway, witnessed firsthand the awful slaughter of WWI. Like Hemingway he survived, but by 1918, according to the preface of The Lord of the Rings , all but one of his closest friends were dead. He wrote the trilogy in the period from 1936 – 1949, which may also help to explain the work’s dark, often apocalyptic tone — as well as its “good versus evil” subject matter. The truth is that unlike his other famous book, The Hobbit (first published in 1936), The Lord of the Rings is not really meant for children. Certain children do devour it though, as I did when I was eight or ten. It had a major impact, opening my eyes  to the power of literature as no other book had. The Shire and Mordor, Fangorn Forest, Moria, Rivendell and Lothlórien; I regret that the movies have begun to blur the vivid landscapes of Middle Earth in my mind, replacing them with the crisp silver-screen versions filmed on location in New Zealand. New Zealand is highly photogenic and fairly well-suited to Tolkien, but screen images are incapable of evoking the same magic or carrying the same emotional charge as fictional landscapes, especially those you read as a child. The fact is — and this is a powerful counter-argument to the lament that the novel is dead or dying — film simply can’t accomplish the things with landscape that literature can. Well-drawn literary landscapes become rooted in your soul, instead of washing over in blasts of music and awe-inspiring, computer-enhanced cinematography.

I picked up the books again several years back, partly because I had the time (at over a thousand densely-printed pages it’s not the kind of thing you can read in single afternoon), and partly because I wanted to revisit it before Hollywood stole my primeval memories of hobbits, wizards, and the detours and byways of Middle Earth. I was not disappointed. It really is a terrific story, in some ways even better than I had remembered. I was tempted to go on a mission to revive the books’ standing among the MFA set, but then it’s not as if the Tolkien estate really needs my help. Those who love the trilogy will always love it despite the commercial hype, and it will continue to be difficult to explain to those who have avoided it or haven’t been able to get through the first hundred pages (and there are many) what it is that’s so wonderful about it. The uninitiated reader will have to simply take it on faith that The Lord of the Rings provides an unparalleled example of how the domaine perdu can be used in a novel to express an extremely compelling vision of human existence.

I won’t bother to summarize the plot too extensively; it’s a straightforward quest story, with the twist that the quest is not to retrieve the grail but rather to destroy it. Over the course of the book Frodo Baggins and his fellowship make their way ever eastward, from the bucolic backwater of the hobbits’ Shire to the seething darkness of Mordor. On the way the party experiences many setbacks, as the reader gradually becomes aware of a miasma of apocalyptic evil that is settling over the novel’s world. They stop over in some very nice places on the way, however, Eden-like way-stations populated primarily by elves, in which the travelers long to remain but cannot. These way-stations are what concern us, because they stand out in the story like islands of light in a rising sea of darkness. They are, in other words, manifestations of Tolkien’s domaine perdu: outposts of a detailed, magical world that has already been lost.

Rather than quote at length from these chapters I’ve selected a few nearly random passages to give you something of the flavor:

Slowly the hall filled, and Frodo looked with delight upon the many fair faces that were gathered together; the golden firelight played upon them and shimmered in their hair. The others cast themselves down upon the fragrant grass, but Frodo stood awhile still lost in wonder.  It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name.

Tolkien was an Oxford professor, deeply absorbed in his studies. His main areas of focus were early Nordic and Anglo-Saxon literature, and during the course of his writing life he made up an entire world that was inspired by and in many ways based upon, these bodies of myth. There’s a great deal of verse scattered throughout The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings , much of it in Elvish, a complex language that Tolkien, a gifted linguist, ambitiously invented out of whole cloth. I have a feeling that most people simply skip over the verse to get on with the story, but that’s a mistake, because the verse is important to the underlying mood of the books — the tip of the iceberg, if you will, exposing the vast and emotionally charged domaine perdu dwelling beneath the story, scaffolding it, and bestowing its unique inner power.

Now you may well be asking at this point: if this world is entirely made up, how can you call it a domaine perdu? Doesn’t a lost world imply a place and time that exists in actual memory, as with Hemingway and Fitzgerald? The answer, I believe, is not necessarily. The main emotion associated with the domaine perdu is not merely nostalgia but longing , and it’s eminently possible, even likely, that all writers long for a place and time that never existed. In a sense, Hemingway’s Paris is every bit as made up as Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

But let’s get back to the story. As Frodo’s party makes its way steadily eastward, between and sometimes even during their sojourns in way-stations of light and Bardic poetry, the evil in the world begins to assert itself with ever greater force. Terrifying ringwraiths assail the party and wound Frodo with a clammy blade; flocks of crows and other flying creatures careen menacingly through the sky above their heads; orcs pursue them through the abandoned mines of Moria, and a powerful monster drags the wizard Gandalf down into the abyss. Meanwhile the dreadful penumbra encroaches upon every quarter of the sky, and it is apparent that even fortresses of light such as Rivendell and Lothlórien must eventually succumb to the rising tide of Evil.

This image of a world gradually drowning in darkness buttresses the dramatic tensions inherent in the quest story; it is at bottom an extremely dark tale. Frodo’s journey is from one pole to another — from the pole of light to the pole of darkness — and it hinges absolutely upon the existence of a domaine perdu. Early in the quest, soon after they’ve left the last outpost of the known hobbit world, Frodo tries to sleep:

He lay tossing and turning and listening fearfully to the stealthy night noises: wind in chinks of rock, water dripping, a crack, the sudden rattling fall of a loosened stone.   He felt that black shapes were advancing to smother him . . . He lay down again and passed into an uneasy dream, in which he walked on the grass in his garden in the Shire, but it seemed faint and dim, less clear than the tall black shadows that stood looking over the hedge.

And much later, as he and his faithful servant Sam slog along through the swamps on the outskirts of Mordor:

Dead grasses and rotting reeds loomed up in the mists like ragged shadows of long-forgotten summers.  As the day wore on the light increased a little, and the mists lifted, growing thinner and more transparent.  Far above the rot and vapors of the world the Sun was riding high and golden now in a serene country with floors of dazzling foam, but only a passing ghost of her could they see below, bleared, pale, giving no color and no warmth.

The Lord of the Rings is full of such bleak, frightening images; the prevailing mood is one of fear and dread. What saves it from being merely horrifying or depressing, however, is the potential for redemption inherent in the hidden domaine perdu. It’s always there in the background. Sometimes it bleeds through, like rays of sunlight appearing through a break in a low overcast.

You can’t have true darkness without light to offset it; you need one to comprehend the other. Fear and dread open the possibility for uncomplicated joy; just as the presence of light gives extra power to the encroaching darkness. To put it in more mundane terms, the “reason” for the elegiac passages — the “islands” of festivity and light — is to make the encroaching evil more real and more threatening, and the overwhelmingly dark tone of the story as a whole causes the “islands” to burn that much more brightly. It is a well-known fact that fiction about happiness is untenable; less well-known, perhaps, is the fact that fiction that dwells solely in realms of darkness also comes too easily, and is by nature incomplete. Evil is indisputably a part of life (although perhaps not in the simple-minded terms put forth by neoconservatives and certain heads of state), but so is love. This is the wisdom underlying Tolkien’s work; his novels enact this truth compellingly and on an epic scale.

For a final angle on the domaine perdu, consider the Native American writer James Welch. For those who don’t know his novels you should go out and get them without delay: they are original, beautiful, and vastly under-appreciated. Particularly germane to this discussion is his magnificent book, The Heartsong of Charging Elk. The novel is told from the perspective of a young Lakota Sioux in the 1880’s who travels to Europe with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. The prologue shows Charging Elk as a small boy, less than a year after Custer’s defeat at Little Bighorn. In just a few pages it draws a remarkably vibrant portrait of the novel’s domaine perdu: the quickly vanishing prairie Eden from which Charging Elk’s people have been expelled, and to which he spends most of the novel trying to return. I hope this sounds familiar.

The story itself begins a decade or so later. Charging Elk lies in a Marseilles hospital, after having become separated from the Wild West Show and fallen deathly ill. In this passage he has just regained consciousness after days in a near-coma:

He thought of sunrise in another place.  A place of long views, of pale dust and short grass, of few people and no buildings.  He had seen that sunrise over the rolling simple plains, he had been a part of it and it had been a part of him . . . He remembered the villages, the encampments, one place, then another.  Women picking berries, men coming back with meat, the dogs and horses, the sudden laughter or tears of children, the quiet ease of lying in a sunny lodge with the skins rolled up to catch the breeze.

Note the elegiac flavor of the prose: the sun-dappled imagery doled out in brief comma-separated clauses, like gently breaking waves of memory. Such emotionally charged description is possible this early in the novel because it emanates from a clearly understandable place within the protagonist, the place described so vividly in the prologue. Even if the reader doesn’t share Charging Elk’s yearning for the lost purity of the Plains Indian lifestyle — though it’s probably fair to assume that most of Welch’s readership does share it — he can relate to that yearning because he’s seen where it comes from. If we accept John Fowles’ earlier-stated premise that we all carry around our own domaines perdus, the emotion behind the description is not only earned, but universally resonant.

Charging Elk wanders the perilous streets of the late 19th century French seaport, lost, cold, and hungry. His memories of the Dakota territory are a continual presence, always in the background and periodically coming into the foreground — a pattern utterly reminiscent of the way Tolkien uses the Shire in The Lord of the Rings . The lost domain is most vivid when the present-time narrative is darkest, as when Charging Elk is sentenced to a life sentence for murder in La Tombe, a grim French high-security prison:

But quite often, at the very moment Charging Elk’s despair was at its apex, the snow would fall.  And he would lift his head and feel the downy flakes settle on his face and melt and he would be transported, as if by magic . . . back to the Stronghold and the winters he had spent with Kills Plenty.

The domain perdu provides contrast between memory and current reality, and it provides the only cause for hope in the face of overwhelming evidence for despair. Notice the element of transportation in this passage; the memory of his domaine perdu does for Charging Elk what good fiction can do for a reader, and it’s no accident that the transportation is accomplished by way of vivid sensory description.

To summarize: The domaine perdu in The Heartsong of Charging Elk fulfills a number of key narrative functions. It gives shape to the protagonist’s journey by providing a chronological and emotional starting point from which he gets further and further away. It helps round out the protagonist’s character, defining his principal “dramatic need” (to return to Dakota Territory), while at the same time offering a font of illuminating backstory.  In one sense it’s a narrative of the destruction of an entire way of life, the tapering tail-end of more than three centuries of genocide on the North American continent. In another sense it’s a narrative of a stranger trying and repeatedly failing to navigate a strange land, who is exploited, commits murder, spends more than a decade in jail, and does not live to see his people again. This may sound like bleak material, but The Heartsong of Charging Elk is rescued by the domaine perdu, which infuses the story with light. Welch succeeds in blending the joyous with the tragic in a way that rings entirely true. What more can a novelist hope for, or a reader?


I’ve heard it said that the only proper subject for fiction is humanity. I’ve also heard it stated that the novel is an inherently bourgeois art form, limited in scope to portraying the foibles and intricacies of human society. But this sort of conventional wisdom ignores the fact that humanity is inseparable from nature. To write narratives focused solely upon ourselves, without reference to the greater world that embraces and sustains us, is to reflect the lack of vision, the illusory and damaging presumption of separation that has brought us to the current point of crisis. It is also to ignore the challenge of portraying humankind with reference to our surroundings, as denizens of a larger universe. According to the Irish poet John O’Donohue, “To recognize and celebrate beauty is to recognize the ultimate sacredness of experience.” By describing the landscapes through which our characters move, we engage in a ritual of gratitude and healing. Such rituals are few and far between these days, and we ought to embrace them.


Let your work breathe, especially in the early drafts. Tap into the landscapes buried within yourself. Consider the duality of opposites wherein the true nature of existence resides, and remember that transportation is triggered by the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch. The literature of the domaine perdu, which is a literature of loss, is more essential than ever now, when so many actual landscapes have been destroyed and so many others are severely threatened. Whether your own lost worlds are real or imagined, the fact that you’re drawn back to them is a clear sign that you’re heading in the right direction.

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examples of descriptive writing in books

Descriptive Writing

examples of descriptive writing in books

What is descriptive writing?

Descriptive writing helps the reader visualize the person, place, thing, or situation being described. When a text conjures a vivid, sensory impression in the reader’s mind, not only does it make the writing more interesting to read; it helps the reader understand the text better and recognize the author’s intention more clearly.

Why teach descriptive writing?

How to teach descriptive writing

If only descriptive writing were as simple as “show, don’t tell”! Descriptive writing is a skill — and a craft — that takes instruction, practice, and time to learn. The good news is that it can be explicitly taught. An understanding of the characteristics of effective descriptive writing, combined with a toolkit of structures and strategies to scaffold learning and practice, can enhance students’ development as authors of vivid, evocative writing.

What effective descriptive writing looks like

Authors of descriptive writing use a variety of styles and techniques to connect with readers, but effective descriptive writing often shares these characteristics:

What effective instruction in descriptive writing looks like

There isn’t one right approach to teaching descriptive writing, but effective instruction often includes:

Watch a demonstration: show NOT tell using your 5 senses

In this virtual lesson, the teacher models generating written descriptions of a hot day using the five senses as a framework.

Watch a classroom lesson: five senses graphic organizer

Students use their five senses and a graphic organizer to brainstorm ideas for writing a report on a recent school event and to help them think about interesting words to include in their report. See the lesson plan .

Watch a classroom discussion: writer’s workshop

Writer's Workshop connects great children's literature with children’s own writing experiences. In this video clip from our Launching Young Readers PBS series , Lynn Reichle's second graders practice their use of descriptive writing.

Collect resources

Here are some routines and structures for teaching descriptive writing:

The RAFT strategy encourages descriptive writing and supports writing in general by encouraging students to think through the writer's Role, the Audience, the Format, and the Topic. ReadWriteThink offers this RAFT Writing Template .

This Sense Chart  — organized into sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch categories — helps students capture sensory details related to a topic. The Describing Wheel offers a more open-ended format for capturing and organizing descriptive language.

The Show-Me Sentences lesson plan from ReadWriteThink was created for students in grades 6-12. However, elementary teachers can modify the Show-Me sentences to make them interesting for younger students.

This lesson plan from Utah Education Network guides students through the process of writing about a favorite place using descriptive language. 

This lesson plan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art has students work collaboratively to generate descriptive writing about works of art. It is intended for upper elementary and middle grades but can be adapted for lower grades.

Teacher Laura Torres created a lesson plan that uses images to jumpstart vivid writing: Three Descriptive Writing Picture Prompts .

This resource from Greenville County Schools in South Carolina provides several ideas for writing in math class . Writing and mathematics are similar in that they both require gathering, organizing, and clarifying thoughts. Writing can assist math instruction by helping children make sense of mathematics and by helping teachers understand what children are learning.

Writing in science gives students an opportunity to describe observations and scientific phenomena, and can help them comprehend new material by having to explain it in their own words. Fazio and Gallagher propose two instructional strategies to assist teachers and student when writing in science: a mnemonic acronym (POWER) and an editing checklist.

Social Studies

In social studies, descriptive writing can help students describe an important historical figure or event more clearly. Writing rich in detail will create vivid depictions of people and places and help make history come alive.

Differentiate instruction

For English-learners, readers of different ability levels, or students needing extra support:

Extend the learning

This resource from Greenville County Schools in South Carolina provides several ideas for writing in math class . Writing and mathematics are similar in that they both require gathering, organizing, and clarifying thoughts. Writing can support math instruction by helping students make sense of important concepts and procedures.

Descriptive writing in science can help students capture observations and scientific phenomena with greater precision, and can help them comprehend new material by explaining it in their own words. Fazio and Gallagher propose two instructional strategies to assist teachers and student when writing in science: a mnemonic acronym (POWER) and an editing checklist.

Related strategies

Learn more about building writing skills in our self-paced module Reading 101: Writing .

See the research that supports this strategy

Akerson, V. L., & Young, T.A. (2005). Science the 'write' way. Science and Children , 43(3), 38-41.

MacArthur, C., Graham, S., & Fitzgerald, J. (2016). Handbook of research on writing (2nd Edition). NY: Guilford.

Miller, R.G., & Calfee, R.C. (2004). Making thinking visible: A method to encourage science writing in upper elementary grades. Science and Children , (42)3, 20-25.

Mitchell, D. (1996). Writing to learn across the curriculum and the English teacher. English Journal , 85, 93-97.

Children's books to use with this strategy

The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) 

The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) 

In this spin-off off from the traditional tale, the indomitable bread-making Little Red Hen makes pizza. Describe why her friends wouldn't help her and in the order they refused her request. Make the pizza, its maker, and the ingredients irresistible in your description. Compare it to a time-honored version.

Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme 

Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme 

A prolific (and popular) poet, Prelutsky provides poem starters for slightly older children. Young poets can either finish the "poemstarts" suggested here or create their own original poem.

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella

Cinderella stories are found around the world; here, they have been fused into one tale with special characteristics in text and illustrations that reflect the different origins. Expand parts of the story to echo the traditions of the culture and its history from which it comes. It may be possible to develop a map of tales (e.g., ancient vs. modern countries, or as a visual as to where it is/was told).

Each Orange Had 8 Slices: A Counting Book

Each Orange Had 8 Slices: A Counting Book

Counting is fun especially in this sophisticated but accessible and handsomely illustrated book. Various situations are introduced in straightforward sentences followed by questions that are answered by counting. Describe each situation in the order presented.

A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder

A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder

Arresting photographs of water in various states not only introduces water but also weather, solids and liquids, and more. The sophisticated text further encourages experimentation and observation, although is not necessary to use the entire book with younger children.

26 Letters and 99 Cents

26 Letters and 99 Cents

Sequencing, sets, counting, and money (coins) are introduced in crisp photographs in this wordless concept book. Upper and lower case letters from A to Z with attendant objects are half of the book; turn it over and numbers, counting, and more are presented.

I Face the Wind

I Face the Wind

Children are encouraged to observe as experiment as they learn about wind and air as well as practice science writing by describing their findings.

Benny's Pennies

Benny's Pennies

A boy has five pennies and spends them one at a time as he meets people during a walk. Told in rhyme, this cumulative story is appealing and well supported by illustration.

Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk

The traditional tale of a boy who planted magic beans is reimagined as a city story of a spell broken. Illustrations are photographs that have been manipulated for good effect.

Soup Day

A mother and her child get the ingredients for soup on a snowy day and then add everything to the pot. The pair plays snug and warm while the soup simmers until Dad comes home when they enjoy soup together. Crisp collage and a simple text make for a cozy read.

No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season

No Easy Way: The Story of Ted Williams and the Last .400 Season

Ted Williams never flinched at hard work or a challenge. In his last season with the Boston Red Sox, Williams had to decide if he wanted to take the chance and lose his rare .400 average or go to bat. Williams' decision creates a riveting read in this handsome and thoughtful look at one man's ethics and the times in which he lived.

The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth

The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth

Two machines captivated young Philo Farnsworth: a telephone and a phonograph. Both had cranks and both connected people with others (one in real time, the other through music). These and other inspirations motivated young Philo to invent what was to become known as the television. His early story is fascinatingly told and well illustrated.

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

Relive the journey of the Apollo 11 where the first people stepped on the Moon's surface and saw Earth from a very different perspective. Eloquent language and illustrations combine to present this historical event in a unique, unforgettable way.

If America Were a Village: A Book About the People of the United States

If America Were a Village: A Book About the People of the United States

If all of the 300 million people were simply one village of 100 people, its diversity is easier to understand. That's just what the author has done to make the complex make-up of the U.S. residents (in terms of languages spoken, ages, and more). Colorful illustrations accompany the understandable text. Additional resources complete the book. If the World Were a Village: A Book About the World’s People , also by Smith, looks at the inhabitants of the world as a village to allow its diversity to become more understandable for adults and children.

One World, One Day

One World, One Day

Every day children around the world awake to begin their days having breakfast, going to school, coming home to families. A poetic text combines with photographs from myriad countries to visually highlight the richness of the world and its people.

10 Minutes Till Bedtime

10 Minutes Till Bedtime

At One Hoppin' Place, the countdown to bedtime is about to begin when a family of hamsters — a mother and father with nine kids and a baby all wearing numbered striped jerseys — arrives at the front door.

The Mysterious Tadpole

The Mysterious Tadpole

When Louis' uncle sends a tadpole from a certain lake in Scotland, the small tadpole grows to enormous proportions. With the help of a resourceful librarian, Louis figures out a way to feed his large and ever-hungry Alphonse as well as determine a permanent solution. Humor abounds in this contemporary classic.

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. grew up fascinated by big words. He would later go on to use these words to inspire a nation and call people to action. In this award-winning book, powerful portraits of King show how he used words, not weapons, to fight injustice.

Squids Will Be Squids

Squids Will Be Squids

Scieszka and Smith set sights on creating fresh fables — short traditional tales intended to teach a moral lesson. With humorous twists and take-offs, new, different and wacky fables are presented for readers' edification and amusement.

Science Verse

Science Verse

This boy's curse begins when his teacher suggests that the "poetry of science" can be heard everywhere. From Moore to Frost, familiar poems are parodied and turned into science verse. Again art and illustration are inseparable as are the laughs in this offbeat look at science.

Easy to read and understand.

This was really helpful. Very detailed I feel like.

Really good examples and nice enjoyable videos. The videos make it easy to understand.

Fun, useful, precise and captures all the elements needed to build a descriptive essay.

Great, they are supported by video and some examples too.

amazing and helps me learn

clear information, brief, interesting examples and also provide nice video

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5 Examples of How to Write a Good Descriptive Paragraph

Disassemble good writing to see what makes it tick.

A good descriptive paragraph is like a window into another world. Through the use of careful examples or details, an author can conjure a scene that vividly describes a person, place, or thing. The best descriptive writing appeals to multiple senses at once—smell, sight, taste, touch, and hearing—and is found in both fiction and nonfiction .

In their own way, each of the following writers (three of them students, two of them professional authors) have selected a belonging or a place that holds special meaning to them. After identifying that subject in a clear topic sentence , they proceed to describe it in detail while explaining its personal significance.

"A Friendly Clown"

"On one corner of my dresser sits a smiling toy clown on a tiny unicycle―a gift I received last Christmas from a close friend. The clown's short yellow hair, made of yarn, covers its ears but is parted above the eyes. The blue eyes are outlined in black with thin, dark lashes flowing from the brows. It has cherry-red cheeks, nose, and lips, and its broad grin disappears into the wide, white ruffle around its neck. The clown wears a fluffy, two-tone nylon costume. The left side of the outfit is light blue, and the right side is red. The two colors merge in a dark line that runs down the center of the small outfit. Surrounding its ankles and disguising its long black shoes are big pink bows. The white spokes on the wheels of the unicycle gather in the center and expand to the black tire so that the wheel somewhat resembles the inner half of a grapefruit. The clown and unicycle together stand about a foot high. As a cherished gift from my good friend Tran, this colorful figure greets me with a smile every time I enter my room."

Observe how the writer moves clearly from a description of the head of the clown to the body to the unicycle underneath. More than sensory details for the eyes, she provides touch, in the description that the hair is made of yarn and the suit of nylon. Certain colors are specific, as in cherry-red cheeks and light blue, and descriptions help the reader to visualize the object: the parted hair, the color line on the suit, and the grapefruit analogy. Dimensions overall help to provide the reader with the item's scale, and the descriptions of the size of the ruffle and bows on the shoes in comparison to what's nearby provide telling detail. The concluding sentence helps to tie the paragraph together by emphasizing the personal value of this gift.

"The Blond Guitar"

by Jeremy Burden

"My most valuable possession is an old, slightly warped blond guitar―the first instrument I taught myself how to play. It's nothing fancy, just a Madeira folk guitar, all scuffed and scratched and fingerprinted. At the top is a bramble of copper-wound strings, each one hooked through the eye of a silver tuning key. The strings are stretched down a long, slim neck, its frets tarnished, the wood worn by years of fingers pressing chords and picking notes. The body of the Madeira is shaped like an enormous yellow pear, one that was slightly damaged in shipping. The blond wood has been chipped and gouged to gray, particularly where the pick guard fell off years ago. No, it's not a beautiful instrument, but it still lets me make music, and for that I will always treasure it."

Here, the writer uses a topic sentence to open his paragraph then uses the following sentences to add specific details . The author creates an image for the mind's eye to travel across by describing the parts of the guitar in a logical fashion, from the strings on the head to the worn wood on the body.

He emphasizes its condition by the number of different descriptions of the wear on the guitar, such as noting its slight warp; distinguishing between scuffs and scratches; describing the effect that fingers have had on the instrument by wearing down its neck, tarnishing frets, and leaving prints on the body; listing both its chips and gouges and even noting their effects on the color of the instrument. The author even describes the remnants of missing pieces. After all that, he plainly states his affection for it.


by Barbara Carter

"Gregory is my beautiful gray Persian cat. He walks with pride and grace, performing a dance of disdain as he slowly lifts and lowers each paw with the delicacy of a ballet dancer. His pride, however, does not extend to his appearance, for he spends most of his time indoors watching television and growing fat. He enjoys TV commercials, especially those for Meow Mix and 9 Lives. His familiarity with cat food commercials has led him to reject generic brands of cat food in favor of only the most expensive brands. Gregory is as finicky about visitors as he is about what he eats, befriending some and repelling others. He may snuggle up against your ankle, begging to be petted, or he may imitate a skunk and stain your favorite trousers. Gregory does not do this to establish his territory, as many cat experts think, but to humiliate me because he is jealous of my friends. After my guests have fled, I look at the old fleabag snoozing and smiling to himself in front of the television set, and I have to forgive him for his obnoxious, but endearing, habits."

The writer here focuses less on the physical appearance of her pet than on the cat's habits and actions. Notice how many different descriptors go into just the sentence about how the cat walks: emotions of pride and disdain and the extended metaphor of the dancer, including the phrases the "dance of disdain," "grace," and "ballet dancer." When you want to portray something through the use of a metaphor, make sure you are consistent, that all the descriptors make sense with that one metaphor. Don't use two different metaphors to describe the same thing, because that makes the image you're trying to portray awkward and convoluted. The consistency adds emphasis and depth to the description.

Personification is an effective literary device for giving lifelike detail to an inanimate object or an animal, and Carter uses it to great effect. Look at how much time she spends on the discussions of what the cat takes pride in (or doesn't) and how it comes across in his attitude, with being finicky and jealous, acting to humiliate by spraying, and just overall behaving obnoxiously. Still, she conveys her clear affection for the cat, something to which many readers can relate.

"The Magic Metal Tube"

by Maxine Hong Kingston

"Once in a long while, four times so far for me, my mother brings out the metal tube that holds her medical diploma. On the tube are gold circles crossed with seven red lines each―"joy" ideographs in abstract. There are also little flowers that look like gears for a gold machine. According to the scraps of labels with Chinese and American addresses, stamps, and postmarks, the family airmailed the can from Hong Kong in 1950. It got crushed in the middle, and whoever tried to peel the labels off stopped because the red and gold paint came off too, leaving silver scratches that rust. Somebody tried to pry the end off before discovering that the tube falls apart. When I open it, the smell of China flies out, a thousand-year-old bat flying heavy-headed out of the Chinese caverns where bats are as white as dust, a smell that comes from long ago, far back in the brain."

This paragraph opens the third chapter of Maxine Hong Kingston's "The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts," a lyrical account of a Chinese-American girl growing up in California. Notice how Kingston integrates informative and descriptive details in this account of "the metal tube" that holds her mother's diploma from medical school. She uses color, shape, texture (rust, missing paint, pry marks, and scratches), and smell, where she has a particularly strong metaphor that surprises the reader with its distinctness. The last sentence in the paragraph (not reproduced here) is more about the smell; closing the paragraph with this aspect adds emphasis to it. The order of the description is also logical, as the first response to the closed object is how it looks rather than how it smells when opened.

"Inside District School #7, Niagara County, New York"

by Joyce Carol Oates

"Inside, the school smelled smartly of varnish and wood smoke from the potbellied stove. On gloomy days, not unknown in upstate New York in this region south of Lake Ontario and east of Lake Erie, the windows emitted a vague, gauzy light, not much reinforced by ceiling lights. We squinted at the blackboard, that seemed far away since it was on a small platform, where Mrs. Dietz's desk was also positioned, at the front, left of the room. We sat in rows of seats, smallest at the front, largest at the rear, attached at their bases by metal runners, like a toboggan; the wood of these desks seemed beautiful to me, smooth and of the red-burnished hue of horse chestnuts. The floor was bare wooden planks. An American flag hung limply at the far left of the blackboard and above the blackboard, running across the front of the room, designed to draw our eyes to it avidly, worshipfully, were paper squares showing that beautifully shaped script known as Parker Penmanship."

In this paragraph (originally published in "Washington Post Book World" and reprinted in ​"Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art"), Joyce Carol Oates affectionately describes the one-room schoolhouse she attended from first through fifth grades. Notice how she appeals to our sense of smell before moving on to describe the layout and contents of the room. When you walk into a place, its overall smell hits you immediately, if it's pungent, even before you've taken in the whole area with your eyes. Thus this choice of chronology for this descriptive paragraph is also a logical order of narration, even though it differs from the Hong Kingston paragraph. It allows the reader to imagine the room just as if he were walking into it.

The positioning of items in relation to other items is on full display in this paragraph, to give people a clear vision of the layout of the place as a whole. For the objects inside, she uses many descriptors of what materials they are made from. Note the imagery portrayed by the use of the phrases "gauzy light," "toboggan," and "horse chestnuts." You can imagine the emphasis placed on penmanship study by the description of their quantity, the deliberate location of the paper squares, and the desired effect upon the students brought about by this location.

examples of descriptive writing in books

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    3 Beautifully Descriptive Novel Passages... · From Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner… “Snow blew down the Royal Gorge in a horizontal blur.


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    "On one corner of my dresser sits a smiling toy clown on a tiny unicycle―a gift I received last Christmas from a close friend. The clown's short