Concrete physical details

One way we can describe the world is through well-chosen physical details.

For example, in this snippet Miles Morales visits a mansion which is a stark contrast to his own home.

Miles had been to this place before. Knew it the way he knew his own house. But this was far from home. Pillars the size of trees in fantasy forests. White stone. Marble. Big wooden door with a brass ring in the middle. A castle entrance. Fountain in front of the steps. Off-white linen curtains at the windows, pulled back and tied off. Inside, leather couches like giant thrones, oak tables, tile floors far nicer than the crummy ones in Brooklyn bathrooms.

Notice how Jason Reynolds paints a picture of this luxurious mansion by listing specific physical features. (He doesn’t even use complete sentences—he just uses fragments.)

Some details are very simple ("White stone. Marble.") while others more ornate ("Pillars the size of trees in fantasy forests.") but each detail is tangible—if you were there, you could see it, touch it, hear it.

The author uses a couple of advanced writing techniques to add colour and depth to his description:

  • Metaphor: "Pillars the size of fantasy forests."—to help convey the ridiculous wealth on display.
  • Judgment“Far nicer than the crummy ones in Brooklyn.”—to help us understand the value of what we are seeing, and Miles' relationship to it.

Notice how each of these techniques builds on concrete, tangible details in the scene. (You can try either or both of these in your reply if you like.)

Here are some variations using the same approach, but describing different places.

Kirra was next, and she was scared to jump. So when it was her turn she swung out over the lagoon, and hung there.   

Above her, the red leaves of the Jumping Tree blotted out the blue of the sky. Below the deep green of the lagoon waited.

Gustav stepped out of the carriage. It was a busy night in the town square. Townhouses all around, four or five stories tall. Warm glows in the windows. Ribbons of smoke in the chimneys. In the middle of the square, a giant Christmas tree, surrounded by adults, children, horses. Sparkling lights and crisp white snow. Above it all, a night sky that looked very different to the stars above the desert at the other end of the world.

Write your own variation of the Miles Morales snippet. Describe a world by quickly setting up the character and location, and then listing physical details. (You can use the stimulus image or your own imagination.)