Nature Writing: Use “Reality Research”

Writing about nature?  Don’t sit at your computer and remember how trees look or sound.  Get outside!  Going to the source delivers fresh descriptions and vivid details that your memory has dimmed over time.  Those “rustling” leaves may take on the fine-tuned sound of “rhythmic crinkling.”    

Sea lions smell like fish! Believe me, I know.

Nature writing has a distinct advantage over most forms of writing; it’s easy to include the five senses.  Here are examples of ways to add realism by using your own five senses:


Writers throw out smell and taste words easily.  But close your eyes and actually smell a rose or a chocolate chip cookie. Distinct scents and taste will emerge.  You will detect an array of flavors that go beyond “sweet.”  Try it and you’ll see!


1.  Camera Use: Photographs that you have taken yourself produce greater recall of details. As with your favorite vacation pictures, the images transport you back into that place and time. 

2.  Seasonal Attention:  Winter is so much more than “cold.”  View or take pictures of a location in different seasons.  You’ll notice subtle changes–even month to month—that escapes mere memory.     

3.   Focusing Tools: Binoculars, the view from a car window, even a toilet paper tube are all useful in focusing your attention on a particular tree, bird, or cloud formation. 


1.  Can’t get to the rainforest?  It’s easy to listen to sound bytes of nature these days.  Listening to birds, bugs, or howler monkeys will help you describe a setting with exacting accuracy. 

2.  Children’s books are a great source for using “sound” words.  In the oldie, Blueberries for Sal, berries are dropped in to a bucket with, “kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk.”  And who can forget the three billy goats gruff “trip trapping” over the bridge?


Think it’s impossible to know what a tiger or a rattlesnake really feels like?  Think again–because the educator at your local zoo or nature center will be happy to let you feel of the pelts or skins from their collection.  

Mom and baby zebra. Photo by Amy Dee Stephens

You’ll be surprised to see that zebras aren’t really black and white, but chocolate and cream.  That seals feel furry, not slick.  And that beaver hair is complex, with a layer of pale matted fleece underneath for warmth and multi-colored bristles on the surface that are oily to repel water. 

 Your reader will be surprised too!        

 If you are writing about nature–don’t rely on memory.  Don’t rely solely on photographs to tell the accurate story, either.  Use Reality Research!  Experience the five senses first hand, and you will write more intense, radiant descriptions. 

 Your fall leaves might even start to crackle-crunch.

1 Comment

Filed under Resources for Writers

One response to “Nature Writing: Use “Reality Research”

  1. Lisa Wynn

    Wonderful, Amy!

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