Setting Basics Activity 01: Physical details

Describing the Physical World

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.

Miles Morales: Spider-ManJason ReynoldsSource

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.

More advanced techniques

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.

Your turn

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