If you live in Teton Valley you know snow country, but do you know snow country in this way? How do you create a vivid setting that comes alive? Landscape description is a vital part of most writing, integral to character and theme.
During the Christmas holiday, Australians watch Slow TV. No commercials, no narrative distraction. As you watch this documentary, practice slow writing. Focus on specificity. Keep the details grounded in sensory experience and focus on what’s memorable. Try writing in metaphor so the description is your own, like Annie Dillard’s “segment of tangerine.” Make the landscape a character. As you write, you many want to use this place to indirectly describe a sorrow, regret, or fear in your life or the life of a character. Don’t name any of these emotions or tell of the events, just describe it through place.
Here are a few excerpts highlighting vivid setting and landscape:
Annie Dillard, from the essay “Total Eclipse”
The sky’s blue was deepening, but there was no darkness. The sun was a wide crescent, like a segment of tangerine. The wind freshened and blew steadily over the hill. The eastern hill across the highway grew dusky and sharp. The towns and orchards in the valley to the south were dissolving into the blue light. Only the thin river held a trickle of sun. Now the sky to the west deepened to indigo, a color never seen. A dark sky usually loses color. This was a saturated, deep indigo, up in the air. Stuck up into that unworldly sky was the cone of Mount Adams, and the alpenglow was upon it. The alpenglow is that red light of sunset which holds out on snowy mountaintops long after the valleys and tablelands are dimmed. “Look at Mount Adams,” I said, and that was the last sane moment I remember. ~The Atlantic, August 8, 2017
Marilyn Robinson, from the novel Housekeeping
A narrow pond would form in the orchard, water clear as air covering grass and black leaves and fallen branches, all around it black leaves and drenched grass and fallen branches, and on it, slight as an image in an eye, sky, clouds, trees, our hovering faces and our cold hands.
In Elizabeth Bishops poem “At The Fishhouses,” the poet often chooses one fine detail to evoke a larger space. “The sparse bright sprinkle of grass,” for instance, creates a whole hillside.