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5 Great Examples of Description in Novels

Updated: Oct 31, 2022


#Authors should use the five senses of touch, taste, sound, smell, and sight when writing description, and they should employ #figurative language (#similes, #metaphors, etc.) as well as know the rules of writing. Description is when an author uses language that is dynamic, that allows the reader to “see” with their own eyes either the setting, the character details, the emotions being felt by the characters, or the action taking place in a scene. When describing things in your novel, use adjectives, adverbs (less is more with adverbs), and other qualifiers to create vivid images in the mind’s eye of the reader.

Here are a few great examples of description in popular novels:

“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’s “A Farewell to Arms.”

"There are four simple ways for the observant to tell Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar apart: first, Mr. Vandemar is two and a half heads taller than Mr. Croup; second, Mr. Croup has eyes of a faded china blue, while Mr. Vandemar's eyes are brown; third, while Mr. Vandemar fashioned the rings he wears on his right hand out of the skulls of four ravens, Mr. Croup has no obvious jewelry; fourth, Mr. Croup likes words, while Mr. Vandemar is always hungry. Also, they look nothing alike."

– Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere.”

“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. He was lying on his back as hard as armor plate, and when he lifted his head a little, he saw his vaulted brown belly, sectioned by arch-shaped ribs, to whose dome the cover, about to slide off completely, could barely cling. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, were waving helplessly before his eyes.”

– Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.”

“He was not yet forty, but had a twelve-year-old daughter and two schoolboy sons. He had been talked into marrying in his second year at college, and his wife now looked nearly twice as old as he was. She was a tall, black-browed woman, erect, dignified, imposing, and, as she said of herself, a “thinker.” She was a great reader, omitted the “hard sign” at the end of words in her letters, and called her husband “Dimitri” instead of Dmitri; and though he secretly considered her shallow, narrowminded, and dowdy, he stood in awe of her, and disliked being at home. It was long since he had first begun deceiving her and he was now constantly unfaithful to her, and this was no doubt why he spoke slightingly of women, to whom he referred as the lower race.”

– Anton Chekhov’s short story, “The Lady with the Dog.”

“The new boy had kept in the background, in the corner behind the door, almost out of sight. He was a country lad of about fifteen, and taller than any of us. His hair was clipped straight across the forehead, like a village choirboy's. He seemed a decent enough fellow, but horribly nervous. Although he was not broad across the shoulders, his green cloth jacket, with its black buttons, looked as if it pinched him under the arms and revealed, protruding well beyond the cuffs, a pair of raw, bony wrists, obviously not unaccustomed to exposure. His legs, encased in blue stockings, issued from a pair of drab-coloured breeches, very tightly braced. He had on a pair of thick, clumsy shoes, not particularly well cleaned and plentifully fortified with nails.”

– Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary.”

#Descriptive #writing makes everything come alive for your #reader. It takes the #abstract and makes it #concrete. It allows your readers to #visualize the world they’re in, and it grounds the reader exactly where you want them grounded, in a #visual sense. When you’re writing, keep #novels whose descriptions you admire, as well as other resources such as visual dictionaries and field guides, nature writing books like “The Best American Science and Nature Writing” series, and other descriptive reference #books available to you so you understand how the authors do what they do.

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