Are there any authors who went down in history as "masters of descriptions" (either of characters or of locations) or similar?

Of course, there are many different aspects one can use to regard a writer as remarkable in this aspect, be it for very specific reasons (for example, an author well-known for highly creative metaphors or picturesque vocabulary) or simply for sheer excellence in being engaging or as accurate as possible.

Since the focus here is a more didactic one, i.e. reading particular works and learning from them (than coming to a verdict about who's best), I'm looking either for an answer considering some of these aspects separately, or, alternatively, one naming writers renowned for masterfully combining several of them.

  • 1
    "Of course, there are many different ways of excelling in this aspect (metaphors, broad vocabulary, figures of speech etc.)." I fear that you have got the wrong idea about writing. Good description isn't about using 4 metaphors, 2 figures of speech, and a sprinkling of similes. It's about focusing on /what/ you're trying to describe and /why/ you're trying to describe it, and then putting those things together with words to create the correct atmosphere. You use all that stuff and more, but "excellence with metaphors" isn't really a good way to determine "excellence at description". – Jerenda Jan 5 '17 at 18:58
  • @Jerenda Yes, I agree with you, it's far from being that simple. However, in order to avoid making the question too broad or opinion-based, there must be some sort of "criteria" for answers to go by (e.g., Daniell Cann referred to "imagery" and "grandeur" in their answer). Again, the question comes more from a didactic perspective than trying to come up with a ranking of greatness or excellence; hopefully my edit makes that a bit clearer. – dkaeae Jan 5 '17 at 19:37
  • @dkaeae I think it is your use of "Best authors" in the title that is attracting the close votes. Comparative are like catnip to opinion hunters. – user16226 Jan 5 '17 at 19:40
  • I think @Jerenda has a good point: what are you trying to describe? People? Places? Emotions? Are you looking for metaphors or vocabulary? Do want to be straightforward? Poignant? Funny? You'll have to narrow this down a bit. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Jan 5 '17 at 21:13
  • @LaurenIpsum Yes, I suppose the lack of "authors to read" questions here in SE tempted me into making this one a tad too broad... Narrowing it down to scenery and places descriptions then. As for style, plain "traditional" prose, probably focusing on being vivid and bringing the place to life (not necessarily excluding humor). Mark Baker's answer seems to still be on topic after these restrictions too. – dkaeae Jan 5 '17 at 23:25

Evelyn Waugh and John Steinbeck would be excellent places to start.

But while there are no doubt many ways to excel at description, metaphors, broad vocabulary, and figures of speech are not any of them.

Great description is not about flowery language, it is about highlighting the telling detail.

Thus Waugh, in chapter one of Brideshead Revisited:

I had been there before; first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago on a cloudless day in June, when the ditches were creamy with meadowsweet and the air heavy with all the scents of summer;

Nothing fancy here, just the absolute right details to call the kind of day to mind.

Thus, also, Steinbeck in chapter 1 of Cannery Row:

Lee Chong's grocery, while not a model of neatness, was a miracle of supply. It was small and crowded but within it single room a man could find everything he needed or wanted to live and be happy---clothes, food, both fresh and canned, liquor, tobacco, fishing equipment, machinery, boats, cordage, caps, pork chops. You could buy at Lee Chong's a pair of slippers, a silk kimono, a quarter pint of whiskey and a cigar. You could work out combinations to fit almost any mood.

Again, no fancy technique, just a brilliant eye for the right detail to bring the whole scene to life.


I would go with Shakespeare. His imagery is unparralleled. Here is the Act One, Scene 2 from the start of Macbeth, a play by him.

Doubtful it stood, As two spent swimmers that do cling together And choke their art. The merciless Macdonwald— Worthy to be a rebel, for to that The multiplying villanies of nature Do swarm upon him—from the Western Isles Of kerns and gallowglasses is supplied, And fortune, on his damnèd quarrel smiling, Showed like a rebel’s whore. But all’s too weak, For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name— Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel, Which smoked with bloody execution, Like valor’s minion carved out his passage Till he faced the slave; Which ne'er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him, Till he unseamed him from the nave to th' chops, And fixed his head upon our battlements.

The sergeant says that. There is so much description, imagery and grandeur in this work. Look at the quote which smoked with bloody execution. His blade is smoking with execution!

I think you might want to look at Tolkien too. Tolkien was obsessed with old sounding and cool language.

My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail is a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death

That's from smaug, in the hobbit.


These writers have great imagery that you should read and look at. You'll notice some patterns between them, if you're observant. If you liked the sound of the work of these writers, you should try them out and give their work a read! However, they are very famous and I suppose you already will have read some of their work.

I hope other people can post other skilled authors to this answer and add to what we've already amassed.

  • You can't argue with the bard, but I wonder if either of these passages are really what we shold call descriptive. They are, in fact, both boasts, and thus full of hyperbole. They do contain descriptive language, of course, but overall the purpose of the scene is to exaggerate the prowess of macbeth and smaug respectively, rather than to provide an a description of them. – user16226 Jan 5 '17 at 19:10
  • I just wanted to show the imagery. I think Tolkien and Shakespeare have such powerful imagery in their work that might help the OP @MarkBaker – Featherball Jan 5 '17 at 19:16
  • I understand, but imagery can be used for all types of writing, not just descriptive writing. Perhaps you could find examples where they use imagery for more obviously descriptive purposes. – user16226 Jan 5 '17 at 19:36

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.