How to Paint a Scene With Words

by Melissa Tydell | 121 comments

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From Joe: Today, I'm excited to introduce our second regular contributor, Melissa Tydell. Melissa is a professional freelance writer, has her Masters in Writing and Publishing, and lives in the beautiful city of Chicago (I'm so jealous). You can check out her blog and follow her on Twitter (@melissatydell). Melissa will be joining us every other Monday, so be sure to make her feel welcome.

Good stories and strong writing can transport us to another world. We see the characters and setting, visualizing every detail as if the words on the page have become a picture in our minds.

On the other hand, as writers, we encounter the challenge of putting words together—the right words in the right way—so our story can come alive in our readers’ imaginations.

How do you create something that goes beyond simply telling a story? How do you write something that has the power to show in such a way that readers can visualize the story just as you are imagining it?

paintbrushes, writing, art

Photo by Futurilla

Look Closely

Here’s the trick: by focusing on the scene you’ve formed in your imagination (or by examining an actual photograph for inspiration) and zeroing in on specific details, you can write a story that truly brings that visual to life.

Details describe characters—what they look like, how they speak, how they move. Details build the setting—the colors, shapes, furniture and decor, weather, and anything else that exists in the world you’re creating. Details appeal to the readers’ senses—how things smell, taste, feel, look, or sound.

Including details that are visual and tangible will paint a picture for your readers.

Choose Wisely

It’s up to you as the writer to discern which details are important and which can be left out. Consider all the details you visualize in your imagined scene and which ones will help your readers see it too.

Reading a story is fun because it allows us to use our own imaginations, so it’s not necessary to hold your readers’ hands and fill in every blank. Give your readers what they need to understand and imagine your story while still leaving enough space for creativity. Choose the details that are strongest—those that will guide your readers and help them to envision the rest on their own.

Which details do you think are most important to include in a story? Which should be left out?


Visualize a scene from your own work-in-progress writing as your source of inspiration.

Write about this image for fifteen minutes, describing the most important details and tapping into the senses. Think about which details will help the scene truly come to life in readers’ minds.

When you’re finished, post your practice in the comments section.

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Melissa Tydell is a freelance writer, content consultant, and blogger who enjoys sharing her love of the written word with others. You can connect with Melissa through her website, blog, or Twitter.


  1. Themagicviolinist

    Welcome, Melissa! 😀

    I wrote for fifteen minutes about a dungeon that is an important part of one of my books. I hope you like it! 😀

    dungeon is dark, damp, and dirty. A dozen cells line the walls, six on each
    side. It’s cold and you can smell the foul odor coming from each chamber pot.

              There are no windows, since the
    dungeon is underground. The only light is coming from two lanterns. One lantern
    hangs on one side of the room, and another lantern hangs on another.

              Each prisoner is doing something
    different. Some are eating the mush that is their dinner. It’s green and looks
    like cream spinach mixed with . . . something else. Some are picking at their
    nails. Others have their knees pulled up to their stomach and are huddled in a
    corner, looking petrified. This is not a jail, these prisoners have done
    nothing wrong. They are being held hostage.

              Most of these prisoners are watching a
    girl about the age of sixteen cry out in pain as the former soldier she shares
    a cell with attempts to sop up the blood spilling from her back. She has been
    whipped, tortured for information, but she would not give it up. Most of these
    prisoners know this girl very well and feel badly for her.

    boy about the age of eighteen comes down the stairs leading to the dungeon and
    stops at the cell where the bloody girl sits. The girl stares up at him
    defiantly. He asks her where “the emerald” is. She refuses to tell.
    The prisoners notice that he’s carrying a whip. He unlocks the cell and pulls
    the girl out. She glares at him before she lays on her stomach on the ground
    and pulls up the back of her shirt. It is still bleeding. The boy asks her one
    more time where “the emerald” is. She refuses to tell. Crack!
    The girl cries out. The prisoners are watching her sympathetically. He
    continues to ask as he whips her. She stays silent for fifteen minutes before
    she is pushed back into her cell. 

    • Melissa Tydell

      Thanks for sharing your practice! The details in your scene created a strong tension and suspense. I felt like I was among the prisoners, watching what was happening. To increase the action, you could think about taking out some of the explanatory phrases and go straight to the details. (For example, you could cut “Each prisoner is doing something different.” and go right into “Some are…”, or change “The prisoners notice that he’s carrying a whip” to “He’s carrying a whip.”) Just a thought! This was really fun to read.

    • Themagicviolinist

       Thanks for your idea! 😀 I changed it up a little and it’s a lot better. Thanks!

    • Melissa Tydell

      Keep up the good work 🙂

    • Margaretperry839

      My goodness. That whipping hurt.

    • Mariaanne

      I like the way you described the prison and think you did what Melissa suggested and picked out the details that make me picture and smell the place just enough to “get it”.  

    • Themagicviolinist

       Thank you! 😀

    • Tom Wideman

      Loved your description of the prisoner’s meal and how some of them were picking at their nails. Good job!

    • Themagicviolinist

      Thanks! 😀

    • Pilar Arsenec

      Very nice, you are so talented! 🙂

    • Themagicviolinist

      Thank you! 😀

    • Cindy Christeson

      Wow, great descriptions.  I can smell the odor, see the fear in those huddled, and hear the angry whip.  I picture the girl’s determination…and want to know more of her story….

    • Themagicviolinist

       Thank you! 😀 I might post more of my story sometime . . . 😉

    • Katie Axelson

      I love the description of the dinner.

      I also want to know more about the emerald.

    • Themagicviolinist

      Thanks! 😀 As I said to Cindy, I might post more of my story sometime. 😉 Maybe on my blog.

    • Mirelba

      Well done!  I also like the paragraph where you describe the dinner and what the inmates are doing.

      One thing had me wondering though- why does he take her out of her cell and whip her in front of everyone?  Don’t they have a special interrogation room?  Is there a reason that he wants everyone to hear about the emerald or to see her punishment?  It also leads to the question why no one is reacting other than to watch her sympathetically.  No protests?  No muttering? 

      Just some ideas to chew over…  I think you write really well, and since you’re starting so young and so well, you are bound to be a great success!

    • Themagicviolinist

       Thanks! 😀

      Well, this scene is about my book I’m writing called, “The Sorceress” and in the book it explains why he is whipping her in front of them, but it doesn’t here. But the reason he is is because he wants everyone to see what happens when you don’t listen to them. He tells them not to interfere otherwise they will be punished.

      Thanks again! 😀

    • Ginganinga96

      You wrote a good third perspective. Though I don’t usually like reading third persons, you did a good job. I’d suggest describing the prisoners just a little bit nor individualistic, then focus in on a couple of them, to further help set the mood and tone of the scene. Then focus in on the main character in the scene’s perspective as he/she watches it all unfold. Yup. That’s my suggestion. 🙂

  2. Pilar Arsenec

    Welcome, Melissa. I am new here. I am not currently working on anything, so I didn’t have anything to write.  But I just wanted to say hello and thank you for the post.

    • Melissa Tydell

      Hi, Pilar! Thanks for the warm welcome. If you’d like to, feel free to imagine any kind of scene/story and use that for practice. Or sometimes I like to use a picture as inspiration and create a story about it.

    • Pilar Arsenec

      Ok, I will give it a shot.

      I see a mob of people reaching out to something. They are all clamoring on top of each other. If I were to guess, it’s probably food. You can see their expressions, wild and desperate. Lost amongst them as though forgotten, are small emaciated children with a sad daze in their eyes.  These children are hungry and I want to save them.  However, we are separated by a deep gap called time, there is no way for me to reach them. At this point, I feel just as desperate as those grabbing for food. The helplessness cripples me… it’s useless… all I can do is utter a prayer.

    • Themagicviolinist

       Very well written and very descriptive. It leaves me sad and depressed. Nice job! 😀

    • Pilar Arsenec

      Thank you sweetheart. It’s nice getting some feedback and encouragement from such a gifted writer as yourself. 🙂

    • Melissa Tydell

      Helplessness is definitely the feeling that comes across here.  Since your details focus on the people and children, I imagined them in a dusty, barren place (maybe that’s what you had in mind?). The line about “a deep gap called time” was intriuging and made me want to know more about the setting. So glad you gave the practice a shot!

    • Pilar Arsenec

      I actually wasn’t thinking about the dusty, barren place, but yes, that sounds good. 🙂  Thank you so much for encouraging me to try. 🙂

    • Mariaanne

      For me there is a feeling her of a mob, a feeling of desperation and a feeling of frustration.  

    • Pilar Arsenec

      Thank you Marianne, yes, this is what I was trying to convey.

    • Marla4

       Good writing.

    • Pilar

      Thank you, Maria. You are very kind.

    • Pilar

      Marla. Typo. Love these smart phones… Not. 🙂

    • Mirelba

       Good piece.  I didn’t like the “if I were to guess”.  I’d change that.  You seem to start off a bit hesitant, but your writing gets stronger as you go. The “However ” line is great, and I like the end too.

    • Pilar

      Thanks for your feedback. I am a novice writer and am new to the game. I appreciate your feedback. I can say you are my first real critique as you told me what you did not like and what you did. I thought your critique or comment was balanced.

  3. Margaretperry839

    The reluctant shaman flattened himself againt the  cold rock wall behind him. The mist swirled around him leaving him damp from head to toe. A sliver of silver moon was exposed as the wind parted the mist letting him see to the darkness in front of him. Moss and dirt combined to send a wave of strong, acrid smells reminding him of the pottery he left half finished in the shed at home. Would he ever get home? He inched his way forward on the narrow rocky trail his bare feet sliding across the slick rocks.  He heard the growl first, then two large eyes followed by the smell of a wet dirty dog. He gripped his knife. 

    • Melissa Tydell

      My favorite part was the way you connected the smells of moss/dirt/waves with the pottery at home… and the rhetorical question “Would he ever get home?” Lots of sensory details here!

    • Mariaanne

      I liked the same section Melissa did and I also like the mist parting so he could see the darkness.  That made me shiver.  

    • Themagicviolinist

       I really liked how this ended. It leaves you hanging. I like endings like that. Then you can imagine how it would end.

    • Katie Axelson

      Way to jump right into the scene, Margaret. I absolutely love your description. Wonderful painting. 🙂


  4. PJ Reece

    Good subject!  I’ve just been reading (Orhan Pamuk–Nobel Prize for Literature 2008) that the details should not be random nor their description meaningless.  In the best literature, these details reflect what the protagonist is thinking and feeling.  In that way, the whole landscape is about the protagonist.   Easier said than done, I’m sure. 

    • Melissa Tydell

      Wow, that sounds like quite the challenge! It’s true though – details shouldn’t be random or meaningless, so we have to determine which to include and which to leave out. As you said, easier said than done.

    • Joe Bunting

      I couldn’t agree with the distinguished Mr. Pamuk more. I think details can establish mood better than anything else. If you describe grey trees filled with shadows, you know the character is sad or scared. If you describe the glint of sunlight off the cresting sea, you know the protagonist is happy or content. But you don’t have to tell the reader that. They just know. 

  5. Missaralee

    Watching the strange girl in the courtyard, I’m
    suddenly aware of the whirring of the generators, like
    the incessant buzzing of a fly bouncing off of glass.
    My clothes have always smelled of Diesel fuel and
    smoke, but today the smell strikes me as acrid and
    The grit on the windowsill digs into my elbows as I
    lean out, staring at her intently. My trousers are
    always itchy with the grit, like ground glass. I
    scratch absentmindedly.
    Studying her, crouched there in the dust, I feel the
    spurrs in my heels, caused by the unforgiving concrete
    floor. My thin soled slippers offer no relief. Comfort
    is out of the question.
    Bounding down the sidewalk, she has the most curious
    hopping steps. What could she be doing? I’d never
    noticed before the cracks crisscrossing the grids set
    into the concrete paving. My feet always slough along,
    unaware of the street.
    The pink in her cheeks has infected my monochrome
    view. If anything could be said of colour around here,
    it’s that the air has an orange-ish hue. A fringe
    benefit of the smog smothering the tenements.

    • Mariaanne

      This line “The pink in her chedks has infected my monochrome view”  is great because when I read it I realized I as picturing a monotone world.  In other words you validated my vision of what you were telling me all along.  That is a good feeling for a reader. I hope that made sense. It was like I was looking at an old black and white or sepia picture and all of sudden I saw pink tinted cheeks which made the monotone more distinct (not the right word but I can’t think of it).  

    • Missaralee

      Thank you Mariaanne, that’s the feeling I was hoping for! She’s going to be like a brush loaded with paint touched to a wet page.

    • Melissa Tydell

      Great point, Mariaanne. Validating the reader’s vision is exactly what the right choice of details will do!

    • Melissa Tydell

      It’s fascinating how this girl’s presence affects the way your character views his/her own life – now noticing the cracks in the paving and the colors of the world. I did notice the word “always” popping up a few times – you could use the repetition for dramatic effect to show how consistent the character is, or you could change it if you’d like to vary word choice more. Thanks for sharing your practice with us!

    • Missaralee

      Thanks Melissa! He has no idea yet how much this one little girl is going to alter his world 🙂

    • Tom Wideman

      Great description! I loved, “The grit on the windowsill digs into my elbows as I lean out, staring at her intently.” I almost grimaced imagining the grit in my elbow.

      I’m always intrigued when a writer writes in first person with a protagonist who is of the opposite gender. I don’t think I’ve ever tried that.

    • Missaralee

      I’ve never tried it either, I guess we’ll see how it works out!

    • Marla4

       This is wonderful.  Love the orange-ish air, and the description of how the trousers feel.

  6. Tom Wideman

    Tyler Colton sat on the steps of his front porch, poking holes in Gran’s flower bed with a tree limb that had fallen loose during the previous night’s thunderstorm. The cool morning air smelled like wet black top with a floating whiff of blooming snapdragon and wet dog. 

    Tyler’s face lifted when he heard the sound a screeching tires on the nearby Interstate. He dropped the stick and he and his mutt, Trixie, ran to the fence that bordered their property, hoping to catch a collision scene in real time.  The wet roads often produced some pretty cool wrecks near the exit ramp leading to his father’s gas station across the way.

    Realizing there was no accident, the boy slumped down and picked up a rock and tossed it toward the highway. He knew it was too far for him to actually hit a passing car, but it never kept him from trying. He turned back toward the house suspecting perhaps he smelled Gran’s pancakes cooking on her old gas stove. He started skipping toward the house, but as soon as he was able to confirm his nose’s suspicion, he began a full-out run.

    As the screen door slapped shut behind the panting boy, Gran cut him off at the pass and directed him to the bathroom, “Go wash your filthy hands first.”

     Tyler grabbed his dad’s dirty bar of Lava soap and quickly ran his hands under the cold water faucet. The scratchy soap was embedded with gas station grease and random strands of his dad’s dark hair but it still smelled clean to Tyler.

    • Pilar Arsenec

      I keep reading your practice and boy are you good!

    • Tom Wideman

      wow, thanks Pilar.

    • Mariaanne

      That is just alive Tom.  I am with that boy.  I particularly like the smells of wet blacktop, snapdragon and dog juxtaposed with the warm smell of the pancakes, and the Lave soap is great.  My uncle owned a gas station and had Lava soap in the bathroom there.  Well done.  

    • Tom Wideman

      Thanks, Mariaanne. I love recalling olfactory memories.

    • Missaralee

      Sounds like Tyler is going to be a handful. Let’s hope he grows out of his fascination with wrecks before he learns to drive!

      I liked absolutely everything about this.

      One line did stick out to me like a sore thumb: Gran cut him off at the pass. 
      The expression has that flavour of watching westerns on a black and white television and it would make great dialogue, something Tyler would say, but it was jarring to me as narrative. You have such a strong way with words, I’d love to see one of your original expressions step in there.

    • Tom Wideman

      You got me on that one. I wrote that and then deleted it because it sounded a bit cliche, but got lazy and put it back in. 

    • Melissa Tydell

      As Mariaanne said, “I am with that boy.” Your details brought me right into this scene with Tyler.

    • Tom Wideman

      Thanks, Melissa.

    • Marla4

       I love this.  I think explaining smells is the hardest, at least to me.  You’re so good at it.

    • Tom Wideman

      Smells are very powerful in my memory. I can still recall smells from my early childhood. Love to relive memories through my nose.

    • Katie Axelson

      This may be the first time in my life I was disappointed there wasn’t an accident… 🙂

  7. Jack Dowden

    Something I like to do is remind the reader of certain physical descriptions, if I want a person or place to stick out in their minds. For instance, in the current story I’m working on, a character is described early on as having a small scar underneath her chin. Later, it’s revealed that the scar wasn’t so much important to the story, but important to the relationship between her and another character.

    It’s like a visual cue, something to help bring whatever or whoever it is you’re describing to life. A lot of writers describe someone once and that’s it, but I think references throughout the work to their mannerisms, or description can help solidify the character in the mind of the reader.

    Very cool post.

    • Melissa Tydell

      Thanks, Jack!  Great comment – details certainly help reveal character and make them memorable.

  8. Mariaanne

    This is a little long but I wanted to get to the end. 

    At the door to Mama’s room, the hospice people had set out a clear pitche of water and a plate of cookies. I had seen the set up before but my mother had been beside me then, not in a bed waiting to be disonnected from the ventilator which had tied her there for six months.  The ventilator had kept her on her back allowing bed sores to form despite the nurses best efforts. “She’s so boney,” one had said, as if the bedsores were my mother’s fault, or that’s the way I took it at the time.  I suppose I was angry.  She had swollen so with water that when you touched her hand her skin weeped.  I didn’t know skin could do that until I saw my mother’s long graceful hands leak.  

    My tree tall, pale sisters stood by the bed.  I can’t remember a smell from that day, not one smell, all I remember was the sound of Mama breathing when they took her off the ventilator and started the morphine drip.  It was ragged and uneven at first but then it became even but shallow, making little hisses as she exhaled. 

    The priest came, he blessed her.  Her prayed with us.  Then he sat, a tall figure in black with a clerical color.  We sat like that for hours sometimes mumbling about how this was the right thing to do and how she’d suffered for too long. The she moved her head and she smiled a little, then someone, I’m not sure who, maybe it was even me, said “I think she’s dead”.  

    At the funeral parlor and were told that someone had to identify the body. 

    I had thought that at least with cremation we wouldn’t have to look at the body. I always hated viewing bodies in coffins, dressed up to rot. 

    “I’ll go,” I said because I’m the oldest, the oldest in the whole family now. 

    “I’’ll go with you,” said my sister Sarah.  

    We were taken to a room with nothing in it,  no windows, empty walls and a table.  On that bare table wrapped in shrowd, only her shoulders and face showing, lay my mother.  She was beautiful as always, and I was glad that they hadn’t “fixed her up”. She was ready to go back, bare and unadorned, free like she came. 

    • Cindy Christeson

      Beautifully written, and sad…I feel like I want to send you a condolence card.  I especially liked the last line.  

      Well done.

    • Mariaanne

      Oh Thank you.  I do miss her, but really when she was released from this life it was not a bad thing. I will say be very careful if you do a living will.  Her’s made it almost impossible to let her go, because she didn’t have a terminal illness and wasn’t in a vegetative state. The doctor in charge of her care helped us help her out of her misery and I will always be grateful for that.  

    • Melissa Tydell

      Your practice has a quiet simplicity layered with sadness. I love the detail about her mother’s hands “weeping.” For the part “I suppose I was angry,” I wondered if you might leave that out and instead add in more details to convey that feeling. Beautiful scene – thanks for sharing!

    • Mariaanne

      Thank you Melissa.  I think this was a good exercise. 

    • Missaralee

      This lovely Mariaanne.
      I felt the weight of finality in the line “I’m the oldest, the oldest in the whole family now,” and then the healing in the line ” She was ready to go back, bare and unadorned, free like she came.”

    • Mariaanne

      Thank you. I’m glad you like the last line, it was one of those that just “came out”. 

    • Marla4

       This is an amazing piece of writing.  I love the restraint of your writing, and how you seem to be observing it all with the distance that allows you to be objective.  The sentiment shines through because of it.

      I love the line about being the oldest, and the description of breathing, and the last line, of course, is heartbreaking.

    • Mariaanne

      Thank you Marla.  I think the distance is there because I really still can’t get any closer than that, if that makes any sense. 

    • Pilar

      Wow. Excellent. My heart ached. I was able to envision and feel everything.

    • Mariaanne

      Thank you Pilar.  I am glad you could see it. I thought it was a little sparse detail wise but it was such a stark lonely time.  

    • Pilar Arsenec

      Yes, I did. Made me sad. 🙁

    • Katie Axelson

      Wow. There really are no words, Mariaanne.

    • Mariaanne

      Thanks so much Katie.  That means a lot.  

    • Beck Gambill

      I think the simplicity, what you didn’t say as much as what you did, brings out the depth of feeling. There were a few lines that made me cringe with their stark honesty of life and death. The last sentence was a perfect end! Thank you for sharing such a dear picture of a vulnerable moment.

    • Mariaanne

      Thank you Beck.   I think as I wrote it, and came to that last sentence, which was one of those that just comes out of the pen, I realized what a really good day it was. 

    • Mirelba

       Couldn’t respond when I read this before, you did too good a job.  Brought back to me my own father’s passing.  Even though the situation was different, and as understated as you are, your piece is still so full of the raw emotion of losing a parent.

  9. Cindy Christeson


    The walk from the car to the front door seemed longer than the last time I’d gone, but I think it was because I felt as hot, muggy and uncomfortable on the inside as I did on the outside.  I try not to make judgments about people, because I know everybody has reasons and stories that explain the way the act, dress and talk the way they do.  But for some reason, that particular Saturday afternoon oozed with enough strangely behaving characters, that I pulled my purse closer to my chest.  I was at the same moment mad at my uncomfortableness around the men and women walking near me, while also assuring myself of the wisdom in being mindful of my surroundings. I forgot all that as soon as I went inside and saw my sweet friend Kimmy.  The mother of two adult children, Kimmy still has a playful youthfulness about her, and it seemed totally fitting and adorable that she had her hair in braided pig tails.  Her fashionable glasses were slightly askew, but that is all just part of the cute package.  She was thrilled to see me, and nodded knowingly when I commented on how thin she looked. “You know I lose my appetite when I’m stressed,” she said.  I tried reminding her once again that she can’t afford to lose weight, that she can’t afford to be stressed.  She needs to stay healthy and she needs to stay strong. Again, she nodded knowingly. “You do look good in orange, my friend,” I said.  “I’ve always loved orange.  

    We both laughed.  Then she frowned.I asked her what she’d been up to since I last saw her.  I had to ask her to repeat her answer to that question, and to several others I asked.  It was hard to hear her, and I could see we were both trying hard not to get frustrated.  There was a lot I tried not to get frustrated about.   But our time was almost up, and I wanted to end our visit on a positive note.  All too soon, the phone line that was our connection went quiet.  Kimmy and I blew each other a kiss, and put our hands on the scratched window that separated us, our little way to feel like we could almost touch each other.  Then we waved good-bye.I got up from my little cubicle, turned and followed the others down the long corridor and out yet another set of loud-closing doors.   We were a quiet group, lost in our own worlds as we walked out of that concrete world that contained so much pain.  I walked slowly out the last doors of the county jail, never even noticing the people around me.

    • Melissa Tydell

      Ahh, great way to slowly reveal the setting! I caught on in the middle of the second paragraph, and then the wary feelings described at the beginning made more sense. I was curious about the other people who might be there, but then I read the last line and realized it was purposeful to focus on Kimmy and the quiet walk, rather than who else was around. Thanks for sharing!

    • Cindy Christeson

      Thank you for your comment – I wasn’t sure if it would be confusing or not, but somehow it seemed to reflect some of the inner conflicts I feel every time I visit her.

    • Mariaanne

      I like this. It seems to me that Kimmy shouldn’t be in jail. I think she’s meeting a friend at a restaurant or coffee shop at first and that the friend is having some kidn of stress, but then I realize what is going on.  Kimmy doens’t seem like the kind who “should be” in jail.  

    • Cindy Christeson

      I feel that way every time I visit her – it’s often hard to believe I’m really visiting her through a small window in a big jail.  But when alcoholics drink, they do things they’d never do, and drive in ways they never would – if they were sober.  I’m praying that she finally did hit bottom, and will stay sober this time.  She’s really a great gal.  Thank you for commenting!

    • Mariaanne

      It must be horrible to live like that to be a good person who is so strongly influenced by a drug.  I hope she never kills anyone.  

    • Mirelba

       Good buildup!

  10. Chihuahua Zero

    This is a more description-centered version of an important scene in my novel, sans most of the internal monologue. I’m not sure of its quality.

    The August night was at the perfect temperature. Due to being passed midnight, the sky was stark black, with clouds covering the barely there moon. Streetlights adorned the sidewalks, dotting it every few yards.

    A few leaves covered the streets. The trees, which had started to darkened, rustled in the cool breeze. Cicadas cried out, creating a quiet cacophony. All other animals remained out of sight, even the owls.

    Owls. Bryan thought. Got to stop thinking about damned owls.

    Bryan strode through the neighborhood, making sure to make little sound on the sidewalk as he followed Finn. Despite not wearing a jacket, he was warm. He kept his eyes on the windows of each house, wondering if any were on. None of them, but that didn’t mean someone wasn’t up, brewing coffee or working later or following around.

    There was a subtle shift in architecture as he crossed the street from one neighborhood to another. He jumped over a stone wall, connected to a locked gate. Chains rattled in the wind. Considering he snuck out, he really felt like an intruder who passed a threshold. The buildings were taller, more apartments and town houses, like his.

    The front yards were on slants, which nicely-maintained lawns. An empty lot left a gap in the monotony. While Finn was out of sight, Bryan couldn’t lose him. So he continued.

    Deeper and deeper he went, the world felt more…wrong. The temperature took a sharp dip. The lights dimmed. The cicadas were muffled. Every color waned into a thicker, brownish hue.

    Bryan stopped. Something was wrong. So much, he stopped following Finn to figure out what was wrong.

    A smell filled the air. Artificial in nature, like soup that burned the eyes. His ears popped. The pressure had increased.

    He continued walking, disregarding it. He must be imagining things, considering how tired he must be. If he caught up with Finn–

    The back of his neck prickled.

    Something. Was. Behind. Him.

    He turned around and dodged.

    Next time, we find out what was behind him! Or not. Depends on the prompt. I’m not really interested in writing a serial, especially of a story I don’t want to lose first publishing rights to.

    • Marla4

       This is so good.  I love the change in architecture line, and the chains rattling in the wind.

    • Chihuahua Zero

      Thank you, both of you! I was a little afraid that my writing would be a little off, but apparently that wasn’t the case.

      While writing this, I tried out something. Namely, putting in the gate, as a subtle “threshold” that Bryan crosses from one “world” to another. Do you think I should put more emphasis onto it once I rewrite this in 1st person with the thoughts that are going through his head, or keep it more trivial?

    • Mariaanne

      Wow really good change in environment that makes made me very nervous.  I like that kind of movement and I think we can all identify with a feeling of being in a safe familiar area one moment and being in an unfamiliar and maybe dangerous one a few minutes later. Excellent.  

  11. Marla4

    The tree is a creek maple, so big I can’t get my arms
    halfway around it.  Somebody’s nailed
    cedar planks to the trunk, so the little kids can climb it.  Me, I swing myself up onto the lowest branch,
    and then I crouch there, the silver bottoms of the leaves shining right along
    with the stars, and I breathe deep, the air as wet as mop water.   

    Sid is saying, “Get on in here, Jonelle,” but I stay where I
    am.  The night is loud with tree frogs.  A dog calls out, and far away another dog
    answers, and the two of them carry on, like two old ladies gossiping on the

    Finally, I stand and grab the rope, thick as a horse’s tail,
    that swings back in forth in front of me. 
    The breeze is picking up, carrying wood smoke from the barbeque joint up
    the road.  The bark is rough on my bare feet,
    but it doesn’t stop me from trying to hang on for another second with only my toes.

    I close my eyes, and everything goes dark.  I lean back as far as I can, and then lunge forward.  There is that moment of perfection, with the
    night air around me, and the tree frogs singing, and the smell of honeysuckle drifting
    across the creek.  I feel the way you do
    when the car next to you speeds up, and then you match their speed, and the race
    is on. 

    And at that moment I let go.

    • Mariaanne

      What a beautiful description of a southern night.  I like the way you use the words thick to describe both the tree and the rope and the loud sounds of communication between the frogs, the dogs, and the person who his calling Jonelle in.  There is a safety in the environment, the sturdiness, the friendly chatter that make me feel like she is safe to swing on the rope.  

    • Pilar

      Wow. That is beautiful writing. 🙂

    • Katie Axelson

      Thanks for escorting me right into that summer night, Marla. It was a fun journey!


  12. Beck Gambill

    Congratulations Melissa! I love detail though I find not everyone is so fond of it. I thought these were great tips for improving the detail of our stories. This is a scene from my work in progress that is fairly heavy on description. It’s early in the book, still the first chapter, and introducing a new character and setting. The protagonist is an eighteen year old southern girl visiting an elderly friend.


    I put the last dish from
    supper away and hurried out of the cozy yellow kitchen. I had been
    looking forward to visiting Mrs. Dalton all afternoon. It was hot, as
    it often is in May. Shelby was always hot it seemed. Eager to be
    sitting on her shady porch with an icy glass of lemon-aide I skipped
    quickly down the sidewalk. Maw-Maw, as most everyone called her, had
    lived in her old white house for 60 years now. She had married the
    only boy she ever loved when she was a teenager. He was a few years
    older than she and had saved enough money to buy the grand house for
    his sweetheart by working three jobs after he’d finished school. It
    had been run down when he bought it. An antebellum wreck he had
    lovingly restored. Now it was one of the show places of Shelby. They
    had been happy together, I could tell from her stories. Maw-Maw knew
    about everybody and everything that had happened in Shelby since the
    turn of the 20th century, and probably before. She had the best
    stories, the best caramel cake, the best advice, and the best hugs.
    Everybody loved her.

    As I trotted down the
    sidewalk up to the iron gate that led to the well-worn brick path in
    front of her house I could smell the gardenias blooming. I called out
    to her as I reached the porch. As usual she answered from the back where she was probably working on her vegetable garden. I rounded the
    corner and saw her bent over a tomato plant, the edge of her wide
    straw hat shading her face. She turned and looked up at me with a
    smile of greeting, beckoning me over as she knelt to nurture her
    plant. Maw-Maw loved visitors and she was happy to find a bit of work
    for you to do in her garden. There was always fresh lemon-aide and
    one of her delicious baked goods waiting afterward. Today would be no
    different. Her arm stretched out offering me a spade as I walked
    toward her. She was the picture of contentment surrounded by her
    brilliant flowers; lilies, geraniums, snap dragons, roses and dozens
    of other plants and flowers rooted by her loving hands. She looked
    like one of her coral tea roses; cheeks flushed pink, eyes sparkling
    under her white fluffy hair. She appeared dainty and sweet, but she
    also had a little splash of vinegar on occasion.

    As I helped with her
    garden we talked about her plants, the books I’d been reading, and
    the guests at Sisters. She asked me about my plans for next year, how
    Michael, Laura, Mama and a few of my friends were. We were talking
    about my old Sunday school teacher, Miss Beth’s new baby, when a
    dark shadow fell across the patch of earth in front of me.
    Involuntarily shivering I looked around, startled to see a man
    probably midway through his twenties standing behind us.  

    • Mariaanne

      Oh boy that gives me the shivers, such a nice, gentle, refined evening and then the shadow falling across the garden.  That was very well written, the description of MeeMaw particularly.  I can picture that now.  I think one thing you do that I need to watch and learn from is you use words that are familiar but just a little different than most would choose.  Just your use of “coral” instead of “pink” caught my attention in this piece.  “nurture” instead of “tend” is another example. I wonder if you are aware you do that as you do it, or if those are just the words that come to mind for you?

    • Beck Gambill

      You’re so kind to give such great feedback Mariaanne. I’m glad to hear your perspective, you felt what I had intended readers to feel. It’s interesting you mention the choice of words, sometimes it’s intentional and occasionally I surprise myself. In this piece both words are intentional. Especially nurture. I wanted to show that nurturing is part of her character not just with plants but with people as well. 

  13. Zoe Beech

    Welcome, Melissa!  So enjoyed this post… Although I couldn’t quite bring out my baby yet – had fun working on detail.

    It was just getting dark.  The children who had played in the park, zipping down the slide and thrown into the air in the swings, were now trudging home with their mothers, walking into their air-conditioned homes that were now too cold, and hearing the screen door slam shut after them, locking them into their bedtime routine.
    Grace flung open the door and smelt it.  Fall.  There it was – crisp and sweet.  Fall was like a type of after-dinner drink that you never drank alone, that you shared in clear glasses with precious friends after an evening of laughter, putting it to your lips and feeling that gentle fire dip into the back of your throat.

    There was a nip in the air, so she threw on her blue cashmere sweater before venturing outside.  The street was still.  Just last week the street resonated with sounds. Scuffling feet, the bounce of a ball on the hard pavement, a mothers throaty yell for her children to come inside.  

    Grace started walking.  The pavement was no longer a plain grey rectangle, but a path scattered with freshly-fallen star leaves from the white oaks.  

    • Mariaanne

      Great details Zoe.  That time of year is so exciting I don’t know why, but when you get to the sentence “The street was still” I was with you.  That is such an eerie feeling when both the weather and the routine of the neighborhood change.  You choose different details than most do to describe this kind of transition and I will notice that now when I sit on the porch in the late afternoon this autumn.  

    • Zoe Beech

      Thanks Mariaane!  Enjoy it all for me!  I love fall so much, and my city doesn’t really have seasons – which is great cause it’s usually hot!! 🙂 – BUT I do miss that beautiful Fall feel.

    • Mirelba

       beautiful description!

    • Zoe Beech

      Thanks Mirelba! 🙂

  14. Jennastamps

    This will be my first time commenting.  I am going to give this practice thing a shot.  I had an experience yesterday that I think should be easy enough to relate, but would like to see how well I do at depicting the details.  Here goes nothing!

    The feel of the bright yellow Spongebob pajamas were a little rough to my touch as I nudged my sleeping Tate on the elbow. 

    “It’s time to wake up, buddy, today’s your first day of school!”

    He rolled over slowly and stretched every muscle of his body, with the last movement being the huge smile that decorated his sleepy face.

    “I know, Mom!” he answered with his low morning voice, eyes still closed.

    “Are you so excited?”  I asked, hoping that he was more eager than nervous.

    “Yes,” he replied, opening his eyes and giving me relief.

    I had been anticipating this day for a long time, but my head was spinning more than I thought it would.  I couldn’t wait for the free hours to myself–the brand new daily kid-free time that I would enjoy for the first time since I first became a mother, four children ago. What I hadn’t counted on was the flooding feeling of emptiness that accompanied sending my youngest off into the great big world (which meant anywhere that was not at home with me). 

    Tate didn’t even think twice about what to wear for the special occasion; it was the bright primary colors and cartoon characters of Lego Ninjago apparel all the way.  I dressed up a little less, in my lazy jeans and comfy t-shirt, just formal enough to be seen outside the home and walk him to school. 

    Once I realized that his half-eaten breakfast was as far fed as he would get, we mounted the brand new backpack and headed out the door.  Our routine was not perfect yet, so we would have to shoot for remembering the morning teeth-brushing tomorrow.

    He allowed me to carry his small, warm, perfect little hand in mine as we walked across the back yard to his school.  Only a few more moments and we’d have to face the big goodbye.  At least I’ll get to see him all the way into the classroom, I planned.

    “Does Mom get to walk in to class on the first day?” I asked the principal, who stood guard at the front door of the school, with her perfectly styled hair, attractive dress and jewelry. 

    “Does Mom have to?” she asked me, with only the students’ transition experience in mind.

    “I guess not,” I replied, realizing Tate would be fine on his own from here.

    One big giant hug and kiss later, he walked away from me cautiously but optimistically, as the split in my heart began to hurt, on the other side of the glass door. 

    • Themagicviolinist

       For your first practice, you did a nice job! 😀 The description is really good and the last line especially is excellent.

    • Mariaanne

      The last line is great.  Doors, windows, and transitions always make for good analogies IMO if they are not used in a cliched way and I think your wording “my heart began to hurt on the other side of the door” rather than my heart hurt as he walked though the door is a well choosen use of words.  

    • Mirelba

       Brings back memories!  Great last line.  I also liked the principal standing guard, it conveys a lot.

    • Pilar Arsenec

      Glad you took the leap like me… it feels good doesn’t it?  You did a great job!

  15. Mirelba

    For three weeks, the mountain forest had been both their
    sanctuary, and their gallows.  For three
    weeks they had been hiding in the midst of imposing trees that blocked the sun
    and cast a dreary pall over the landscape, but also hid them from the eyes of
    the bombers.  For three weeks they had
    had nothing but the clothing on their backs and whatever they could scavenge in
    the snow-covered forest.  Now after three
    weeks, they were all weak, sick, starving and filthy.  It was their father who had spoken up.  ‘If we stay, we die like animals in the
    woods.  If we leave we may still die, but
    at least we will die among men. ‘ 

    “Enough talk about dying.  God has been with us till now.  We are still alive here together, we will
    trust in him now as well.  Let’s go.”

    But despite their mother’s brave words, there they were at
    the edge of the forest, reluctant to take the first steps out into the open.   Above
    them the tall evergreens closeted them in:  once they left their shelter, they would be
    visible to all.  But their father was
    right, their strength was ebbing.  Ever
    since they’d been driven by desperation to attempt to eat the dead horse their
    whole body was in rebellion and they could barely stand upright. 

    Fero and Joseph could see their father straighten his
    shoulders and watched as his mouth settled into determined lines.  And then with nary a look behind him, he
    stepped out from between the shelter of the trees.  The twins followed him, along with their

    Once outside the woods, they could feel the wind searching
    out every rip and tear in their clothing. 
    They tried to huddle deeper in their tattered jackets to escape the
    invasive wind.  Fingers clenched in their
    pockets, they tried to keep themselves warm as they ignored their weakness and
    pain and shuffled on. 

     They had no idea why
    their father passed the first three houses. 
    Every minute out in the open was another minute fraught with danger.  Fero felt the tension mounting, his body
    sweating despite the cold winter air.  As
    they walked down the dirt road, his father had taken a cursory glance at each
    of the houses they passed, shaken his head softly and continued on his way.  The four of them trudged quietly along.  The third house on their route appeared no
    different from the others they had passed, and yet Fero noticed his father’s
    slow steps slowing further.  And then, a
    curt nod, and they knew that the decision had been cast: this would be the home
    they would try.


    Yet, once more their father walked past the path, passing
    the squat, white building with the thatched roof.  Following him, they tried to shrink further
    into themselves as they passed the two windows facing the road.    With mounting tension, the followed their
    father as he turned off the road onto the path on the other side of the
    building.  Another window, and then the

    The mournful mooing of a cow could be heard in the shed
    behind them.  Tracks could be seen in the
    snow leading from the house to the shed and back again.  Wooden chips could be seen, testifying to the
    fact that someone had been chopping wood recently.  Someone must be home. A final look around at each other.  One last, loving caress with their eyes in what might be their final moment of
    safety and freedom.  And then, a hand lifted and knocked on the door.


    • Missaralee

      Truly well done. You drew me so much into the story that I picked up the details without realizing and could see the scene without pausing, without a break in the flow. I really liked this family too, I could feel their courage and see the lines in the father’s face and the weight of his responsibility.

    • Mirelba

       Thank you!  I’m glad you like the family, since they are MY family.  I am planning out a book about my family and the family that saved them during the Holocaust.  I am debating whether to do it as straight non-fiction, or fictionalize it a bit since most of the protagonists are no longer with us.  For example, my grandfather’s line has always been part of the family legend.  No one ever said anything about what my grandmother had to say, but she was one courageous, down-to-earth lady, I figured that the line I gave her sounded like something she could have said.  So this is from the fictionalized version.

    • Mariaanne

      That is a very frightening landscape and I don’t feel good about that house with a mournful cow but it seems better than outside.  Good job.  

    • Mirelba

       Thanks!  The mournful cow died a year later, but the inhabitants of that house were truly amazing, righteous people.

    • Pilar Arsenec

      Well written and descriptive.

  16. Dave Zan

    Personally this is the toughest part, putting visualization into words. But, one’s gotta start somewhere.

    Thanks for sharing these seemingly simple yet very relevant tips. 🙂

  17. Brianna McBride

    I’m very aware that this post was made a month ago, and the last comment was three weeks ago, but I was so inspired to write by this post that I just had to post my piece here. I’m only 13 and therefore not nearly as good as a lot of you, but I really like it. If anyone else sees this, I hope you do too!

         The room is small, but it seems even smaller to the boy in the chair. His wrists are raw from the constant struggling against his bindings, yet he doesn’t stop. There is little light in the room, only a small streak from underneath the iron door to his left. A chamber pot sits in the corner, clouding the area with a ghastly scent that never fades.
         The boy’s black, shaggy hair flops into his face, wild and overgrown due to his time in the cell. He jerks his head back and the strands fall back in place. His silver eyes glare at the door, somehow shining with courage. A large, fresh wound stretches across his cheek. The blood drips from his chin to his bare chest and torn jeans, but he doesn’t seem to mind. His front is already smeared with drying blood anyway. 
       The red from his broken nose slips onto his lips. He licks them gratefully. Despite the rusty taste, it had been his only sustenance for the past three days.
         He begins to jerk again, hoping to at least break one of the chair’s wooden legs, but it’s no use. The backs of his legs are covered with so many splinters that he can’t detect each certain prick of pain. It’s one long, fiery wall on each side, and he’s sure they’re infected beyond reason.
         With a large creak like nails on chalkboard, the door opens, painting the teenager with such bright light that he has to close his eyes. When they adjust, he is able to look up into the face before him.
         The face of his lover. The face of his enemy.

  18. Barun Parruck

    A wind whispered through the trees,
    stirring the darkness of the night a little, and lending to it a deathly pall,
    almost as if death itself walked among the trees at night. Silence reigned,
    broken only by the occasional chirp of a pair of crickets that seemed not to
    have sensed the tense mood in the air. The dry leaves on the trail meandered
    aimlessly, and the creatures of the forest seemed to have silenced themselves,
    perhaps sensing the bloodshed that was to come.

    The man tugged his cloak around himself,
    shivering. It was bitterly cold, and the trees had tendrils of ice marked along
    their boughs. The moon hung in the sky, it was waning gibbous, and one or two
    werewolves might still stalk the forest, but for the silence. The forest was
    almost never silent.

    The man’s right hand fondled his sword
    hilt as his left pulled the cloak further around him, and he walked quickly
    onwards, the gravel crunching beneath his heavy boots. He paused now and then
    to consider the track, but these motions were almost too smooth, made out of
    habit more than necessity. He knew the way, he had been here a dozen times
    before, but never had he made the trip in such a hurry, nor at such a time. His
    right leg ached from the injury this morning, but he still avoided limping, or
    showing any other obvious signs of weakness. His face was marred by the cuts of
    a lifetime of fighting, but his clothes were unaccountably rich, a silver belt
    and sword hilt complemented the emerald on his little finger, and the golden
    insignia on his breast. He walked on, breathing hard from the effort to contain
    the pain. He was almost there.

  19. Eyrline

    They drove to the house where they would live for a year. The town was quiet, with few businesses. The house was of frame, once white and now blue.. The porch had some broken planks, with the problem of falling. They opened the front door. The house was old, with a coal oil stove and just three rooms. There were no carpets on the floors, and, to their amazement, no bathroom. They were quick to mention this and it was promised one would be built. In the meantime, right outside the back door there was a little hut, called an outhouse.

  20. sridevi

    From time to time, the dreams painted themselves in her eyes . Some with thick vicious green , the others with opaque blue and yet others with startling red . She wished she could lock those sights and smells into some shape . ..the perfect square , with its edges rounded , the circle which never seemed to end or the mind boggling trapezium . But like all times her dreams defied all rules . Opening her eyes she looked out . The breeze was cool and smelled of summer jasmines . The sky was steely grey And as she closed her eyes , she could taste the raindrops upon her lips . Slowly she could hear their whisper in her ears .

  21. Ruby

    This is a scene from a story I’m writing on wattpad. There are tons of mistakes. Your cirque would really help me. Thanks.

    This story is actually writing in 1st person point of view but I changed it because I kind of suck at first person so I kind of tried writing it in third.

    The weather is cool and Lilly and Angela make their way outside, out of school. The girls are giggling and laughing. Angela stops laughing and turns a serious face to Lilly. “I’m just wondering, Lilly. What if Austen gets a girl?”

    Lilly sighs and thinks to the ground a second before looking at her. “Is he’s life Angela. I will forget him.”

    Angela flips her head sideways. A car’s horn is beeped and Angela waves, half smiling to her mother before looking back at Lilly, gripping her shoulders. “Your my best friend and I know you feel something for Austen.” She chuckles and elbows her playfully. “Call me okey.”

    “Alright.” Lilly blushes.


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