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Describe to Immerse Readers (Complete Guide)

Describe to Immerse Readers (Complete Guide)


Description examples: Descriptive writing across genres

Here we gather effective description examples across a range of genres: Fantasy, romance, historical, science fiction, mystery, thriller and more. Share one of your favorite descriptions and the author and book title it’s from in the comments and help us grow this resource for description examples.

Introductory descriptions for scene-setting

Description at the beginning of a story can set the scene in a wide variety of ways. See below how it can establish tone and mood (the levity of Pratchett’s style, for example), or the inside/outside of a detective’s world where peace or violence are always just over the hedge.

See in the example from Julia Quinn how description of an activity typical of an era (Regency women doing needlework) can create a sense of time and place. Or reference to interplanetary spectacle or a woman tailing a man create intrigue in a sci-fi and thriller novel respectively.

Fantasy/humor description example

Local people called it the Bear Mountain. This was because it was a bare mountain, not because it had a lot of bears on it. This caused a certain amount of profitable confusion, though; people often strode into the nearest village with heavy duty crossbows, traps and nets and called haughtily for native guides to lead them to the bears. Since everyone locally was making quite a good living out of this, what with the sale of guide books, maps of bear caves, ornamental cuckoo-clocks with bears on them, bear walking-sticks and cakes baked in the shape of a bear, somehow no one had time to go and correct the spelling.

Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad (1991), pp. 16-17.

Mystery description example

“Hell is empty, Armand,” said Stephen Horowitz.
“You’ve mentioned that. And all the devils are here?” asked Armand Gamache.
“Well, maybe not here, here” – Stephen spread his expressive hands-“exactly.”
“Here, here” was the garden of the Musée Rodin, in Paris, where Armand and his godfather were enjoying a quiet few minutes. Outside the walls they could hear the traffic, the hustle and the tussle of the great city.
But here, here there was peace. The deep peace that comes not just with quiet, but with familiarity.

Louise Penny, All the Devils are Here, 2021 (p. 3)

(Regency) romance description example

“Look at this!” Portia Featherington squealed. “Colin Bridgerton is back!”
Penelope looked up from her needlework. Her mother was clutching the latest edition of Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers the way Penelope might clutch, say, a rope while hanging off a building. “I know,” she murmured.

Julia Quinn, Romancing Mr Bridgerton (2002), p. 3.

Science fiction description example

At 09:46 GMT on the morning of 11 September, in the exceptionally beautiful summer of the year 2077, most of the inhabitants of Europe saw a dazzling fireball appear in the eastern sky. Within seconds it was brighter than the sun, and as it moved across the heavens – at first in utter silence – it left behind a churning column of dust and smoke.

Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama (1973), p. 4.

Spy thriller description example

The quality of the light was the first thing that struck her when she went to Madrid in the spring of 1960. The afternoon shadows were the deepest and darkest she had ever seen.

Like all old men, the doctor was a creature of habit. He always shopped for groceries on Saturday afternoons. She tailed him to a place near Atocha station that sold international food. He bought black bread, beer and slices of cured sausage that resembled Westphalian salami.

Patrick Worrall, The Partisan (2022), p. 7.

Character description examples

Read examples of character description across a range of genres. See how voice can describe a character’s age and outlook in Rick Riordan’s example, or how an ensemble description can evoke the character of an era in Doctorow’s Ragtime.

Read how Colleen Hoover creates the portrait of a person through their name and the hyper-specific conditions of their being fired from a restaurant. Or Alice Munro’s portrait of a music teacher who throws recitals she doesn’t call recitals (and an invitee’s attempts to get out of attending them).

YA/fantasy character description example

My name is Percy Jackson.
I’m twelve years old. Until a few months ago, I was a boarding student at Yancy Academy, a private school for troubled kids in upstate New York.
Am I a troubled kid?
Yeah. You could say that.
I could start at any point in my short miserable life to prove it, but things really started going bad last may, when our sixth-grade class took a field trip to Manhattan – twenty-eight mental-case kids and two teachers on a yellow school bus, heading to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to look at ancient Greek and Roman stuff.

Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (2005), p. 8.

Literary/historical fiction character description example

There seemed to be no entertainment that did not involve great swarms of people. Trains and steamers and trolleys moved them from one place to another. That was the style, that was the way people lived. Women were stouter then. They visited the fleet carrying white parasols. Everyone wore white in summer. Tennis racquets were hefty and the racquet faces elliptical. There was a lot of sexual fainting.

E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime (1974), p. 3.

New adult character description example

“There was that guy who did the dishes before you hired Brad. What was his name? He was named after some kind of mineral or something – it was super weird.”
“Quartz,” I say. “It was a nickname.” I haven’t thought about that guy in so long. I doubt he’s holding a grudge against me after all this time. I fired him right after we opened because I found out he wasn’t washing the dishes unless he could actually see food on them. Glasses, plates, silverware – anything that came back to the kitchen from a table looking fairly clean, he’d just put it straight on the drying rack.

Colleen Hoover, It Starts with Us (2022), p. 3.

Literary character description example

Miss Marsalles is having another party. (Out of musical integrity, or her heart’s bold yearning for festivity, she never calls it a recital.) My mother is not an inventive or convincing liar, and the excuses which occur to her are obviously second-rate. The painters are coming. Friends from Ottawa. Poor Carrie is having her tonsils out. In the end all she can say is: Oh, but won’t all that be too much trouble, now?

Alice Munro, ‘Dance of the Happy Shades’ in Selected Stories (1996), p. 16

Science fiction character description example

Lenar Hoyt was a young man by the Consul’s reckoning – no more than his early thirties – but it appeared that something had ages the man terribly in the not too distant past. The Consul looked at the thin face, cheekbones pressing against sallow flesh, eyes large but hooded in deep hollows, thin lips set in a permanent twice of muscle too downturned to be called even a cynical smile, the hairline not so much receding as ravaged by radiation, and he felt he was looking at a man who had been ill for years. Still, the Consul was surprised that behind that mask of concealed pain there remained the physical echo of the boy in the man […]

Dan Simmons, Hyperion (1989), p. 11.

Recommended reading

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