How to Describe a Waterfall
In descriptive writing, the writer describes a person, place or thing in a way that helps the reader paint a mental picture of the object. An effective description of a waterfall helps the reader to imagine herself experiencing the waterfall as she reads. This means drawing on a range of literary devices, or tools, designed to show the waterfall to the reader rather than tell her about it. But use a light hand: Overdoing figurative language can sound amateurish.
Appeal to the Senses
Use sensory details that help the reader see, hear, smell, touch and even taste the waterfall. This is called imagery. Rather than simply telling the reader that the waterfall is beautiful, for example, add details about the colors, shape and size of the waterfall. For example, describe what the water looks like as it falls -- that is, whether it bounces off the rocks quickly, flows calmly or drops aggressively. Add details about the colors. Describe what the different shades of blue and gray look like and where or when the water begins turning white. Add details about the smells and tastes in the air around the waterfall, such as the slight salinity of freshwater or the musty odors emanating from surrounding trees and rocks. Think about standing or swimming under the falling water and describe how that feels.
Similes and Metaphors
Draw unexpected, non-literal comparisons between sensory images and known references that evoke the experience of the waterfall. Similes, which make explicit comparisons using the words "like" or "as," might note that the waterfall "stands as grand as a cathedral in Prague" or "powers down the rocks like a champion skier on the downhill." Or use metaphors, in which the comparison does not use "like" or "as": "The waterfall roars and rumbles on its journey across its rough rock path." These devices help the reader feel the experience of the waterfall more fully.
Write active, lively prose that avoids passive verbs like "to be." Instead use precise, colorful action verbs that show the reader what the waterfall is like. Some examples might include words like erupt, fall, drop, explode or wind. Verbs need not be used literally to provide precise descriptions. That is, verbs that seem to humanize the waterfall -- like giggle, cry, shout or sleep -- may help evoke the feeling of the waterfall. You might note that the waterfall "giggles excitedly" or that it "softly cries."
Sound of the Language
Think about how your writing sounds and vary the sentence structure to avoid taking on a singsong quality. Try examples of repeated first-letter consonant sounds, called alliteration. For example, note that the "waterfall wistfully winds" around the rocks or that it "hides from the sparkling summer sun." Also use assonance, in which vowel sounds are repeated. An example of assonance -- deploying the long "o" sound -- might read, "The old waterfall soberly provokes the sun's acrimony."
- Reading Rockets: Descriptive Writing
- Purdue University Online Writing Lab: Descriptive Essays
- Indiana University of Pennsylvania Writing Center: Descriptive Writing
- Butte College: Writing a Descriptive Essay
- Pennsylvania Department of Education Standards Aligned System: The Effective Use of Figurative Language
- The Facts on File Guide to Style; Martin H. Manser, et al.
Christina Lee began writing in 2004. Her co-authored essay is included in the edited volume, "Discipline and Punishment in Global Affairs." Lee holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and politics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Master of Arts in global affairs from American University and a Master of Arts in philosophy from Penn State University.