Writing Assignment: Describe A Natural Setting

by Randy Murray on March 25, 2011

The natural world is our true home. For the writer, it is an endlessly rich atmosphere, an entry point to story, to thought, to idea. Being able to describe a natural setting is one of the most difficult things for a writer to master. It simply is too rich, too big.

Sit outside, anywhere outside where the surroundings are not completely replaced with glass and steel, and tell me what you see.

Don’t try and describe everything. You’ll be a hundred pages into your novel before you turn from your description of the setting to what’s going on.  Start small. Start with what matters. Start with just enough to let your readers understand where they are and what it might feel like to be there. You can always work up to painting word picture of grand vistas.

For today’s assignment, describe a limited natural setting. Pick something small, bounded, but important.  Tell your reader what you see, smell, hear and think. Let the vision of the natural move your thoughts and what you write.

Here’s my example.

Today’s not nearly as cold as yesterday, so I stepped out on the back patio to look at the planter where I’ve been seeing the squirrels from my upstairs office window.

They’ve been busy. Several of them have been using the dusty red terracotta planter like a park bench. They hop up on it and eat their lunches right out in the open and just below my window. It’s littered now with the husks and caps of acorns and the little bits that they’ve nibbled and left behind. They’re messy little buggers.

While I wait for the dog to make his tour of the yard, I brush the detritus from the top to see what’s underneath. The signs of spring are there, nearly covered by the squirrels’ leavings, but at this point in the winter I’ll welcome any sign I can find. The tiny mint green leaves of the bee balm are spreading out. I’d forgotten how beautiful they looked last summer, chest high, swaying in the breeze, sweet smelling and welcoming to the humming birds.

There’s a trade I’ll make any day. Busy humming birds for litterbug squirrels. But it’s not my trade to make, so I call the dog, head back inside, and leave the planter, for now, to the furry lords of the backyard.

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