Writers: How would YOU describe the dazzling fall foliage?

As writers, we love to paint word pictures for our readers. How can we include descriptions of fall’s brilliant foliage without resorting to cliches? Here are 7 ways you can describe fall foliage.

fall foliage on Erie Canal, Fairport

After days of dreary rain, the sun burst on the multicolored hillsides of my world, here in Upstate New York. I live in the Finger Lakes — a gorgeous region filled with resort areas, wineries, hiking trails and picturesque small towns. It’s a writer’s dream for Setting, with scenery so lovely it takes your breath away.

But how do we describe the natural splendor of fall foliage without parroting a thousand writers who’ve gone before us? Can we do it with even a smidgen of originality? After a delightful walk in the woods with my faithful mutt, Layla, I set myself to the task of trying to do just that.

Let’s see if any of these attempts work — or if they all end up dull, dull, dull.

1. Do it with metaphor, always popular.

Fairport, Erie Canal, fall foliageBlinding yellow flames lit the hillsides around us. The oaks were angry red bombs scattered among the more common birch and aspen. Lower down, the maples formed a simmering orange heat. We drove on, humbled by the battle all around us…

2. Or switch to simile, often easier.

fall trees red n yellow black fenceThe road leading into Mill Valley was festive with fall color. Stands of deciduous trees along the verge looked like carnival clowns holding giant bunches of yellow, orange, red and green balloons…

3. Mix in some reverence, if the spirit moves you.

roadside fall maples red n greenHe knelt on the forest floor to catch his breath, and absently gathered a handful of V-shaped helicopters. For a moment, he marveled that these tiny seeds could produce the giants that formed the gold and crimson canopy above him. The blood-red leaves scattered nearby reminded him of his perilous situation…

4. Try Minimalist:

Fairport fall trees in orange n redThe air was crisp outside her cabin window. Fall’s cold brush had repainted the treetops, almost overnight…


5. Perhaps a poetic approach appeals:

fall fairport trees in red yellow n greenRed was the badge of the courageous oaks, towering over the lesser trees. Pretty pale poplars paid homage. The others, cloaked in ocher, umber, orange and rust filled the gallery…

6. Consider hyperbole, better than the best of all the rest?

Erie Canal fall trees orange n yellowFrom our perch by the road, the valley below looked infinite, filled with endless twists and turns. Millions of trees and billions of multicolored leaves formed an endless, seamless quilt. Among the emerald evergreens, blinding splashes of garnet and gold made a mystic pattern, larger than life…

7. Sometimes humorous prose is the way to go.

bright yellow trees and birdhouseWe took a walk in the woods, camera in hand, to capture the colors of fall. We found beautiful beeches all bloody and red, majestic maples the color of pumpkins, and kicked through muddy brown oak leaves. Oh, and we learned a valuable lesson — never, ever stand beneath a walnut tree that’s loaded with hundreds of big green golf balls!

We’ve all seen variations of these in books we’ve read. My personal style leans toward a mixture of minimalist and metaphor, with a dash of humor whenever possible. As you can see, I’m no poet at all!

»all photos by Jim Bessey (attribution please)

questionDo you buy into any of these methods? Have you used any of them in stories or articles you’ve published? Or would you skip the whole attempt as futile?


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  1. Thank you so much. I find it very difficult to describe, this is very helpful. I like all 7 ways.

    • Jim Bessey says

      Does any one of these 7 seem like the “better” approach, Priska; or do you think everything revolves around the ability of the writer to blend the description seamlessly into the story?

  2. All of these beautiful methods each have their place and time, as does another element, the mythical. “Giant maples dress as gods in red and guide phalanxes dressed in lesser yellows to fleeing verdant greens in valleys below”. Great post, Jim! ~R

    • Jim Bessey says

      Oh, great addition, Raymond — I love the idea of “mythical”!
      As we toured the mountains of Pennsylvania directly south of us this weekend, we found ourselves breathless and rendered speechless by the fleeting beauty of this year’s leaf displays. To find a way to express that beauty at a “mythical” level is so appropriate, thanks!

  3. Jim:

    I really enjoyed this. As you know, I’m inherently blunt – which can tend to take some of the ‘color’ out of my writing at times.

    What a great reminder of several reasons to take some time and mix it back in. Seriously, I’m bookmarking this one.


    • Jim Bessey says

      Thanks, Gary!
      Sometimes blunt is best of all. But blunt can be beautiful, too, right? Comes down to word choices and phrasing. When you’re good, you’re good!

      • Very true. I may have to get some “Blunt is Beautiful” T-Shirts made up! 🙂

        • Jim Bessey says

          Methinks you’d have to be careful where you wore said T-Shirts, Gary!
          Esp’y if you in any way resembled Jamaican Man, Man!
          Next thing you know, the ATF helicopter would be carefully searching the fields near your home, “just to check,” you know?
          Here are my 2 favorite local T-Shirts (Rochester, NY)
          1. “There was no picher tooken” — an ACTUAL quote from a local student who had been accused of pointing his smart phone down the cleavage of fellow students
          2. “Me? Not me. I dint do anything wrong” — from a west-side chief of police accused of misconduct. Um, he’s now spending several years trying not to get “offed” in the Attica State Prison for Maximum Offenders. No joke.

  4. Wow – I liked them all…but if I had to pick…#3. It really spoke of the mystery, power and beauty of nature. You write wonderfully!

    • Jim Bessey says

      I’m so glad you liked that one, Jane!
      I know how creative and introspective you are, so your choice says a lot. Compliment most appreciated. I’m still waiting for a reader to respond: “not one of those works for me!” -grin-

  5. I definitely prefer the minimalist approach. Even though I knew I was reading samples, I found myself doing what I do when I’m reading descriptions in a novel… skimming. I don’t mind descriptions, most of these just seem so… elaborate. More than is needed, at least for my tastes.

    Then again, I live in Florida and have never seen such beautiful scenery… so who knows? If I found myself under ” giants that formed the gold and crimson canopy” who knows, I might be struck poetic as well!

    • Jim Bessey says

      We both read with that same impatience, don’t we, Kim?
      I’m all about plot and character development and tend to flash right by descriptive passages. I love it when a writer drops the occasional adjective — just enough — to establish Setting. If I had to go “long,” I’d try to do it through the character’s eyes, in that char’s voice.
      I am glad, however, that you enjoyed “gold and crimson”! -smile-

  6. My favourite was the minimalist description – probably because that’s closest to how I write. However I also loved the metaphor description – probably because that’s how i would love to be able to write!

    • Jim Bessey says

      Well said, Angie!
      Metaphors are fun when you get them right. But when they suck, they really suck. -grin-
      Thanks for taking time to comment. I love your site’s name!

  7. Absolutely wonderful – I loved every one of them!! I live in New England – I can assure you I will see Fall with new eyes! 🙂

    • Jim Bessey says

      Thanks very much, Lori. Great to hear from a “neighbor”!
      Are your leaves nearing peak there? We were in PA this weekend and the scenery was camera-worthy, even if only at about 50% of peak.

  8. Wow… how different and beautiful all the ways are!
    Personally my stories do not have long discriptions. I am into minimalism and prefer to keep it short, I am more focused on emotions and thoughts instead 🙂

    • Thank you, Ani!
      Your focus on emotions and thoughts makes perfect sense. That’s part of the reason I wrote this post at all, as in — how much description of Setting should we bother to include in our writing? None? Some? It’s always a tough decision.
      Thanks for your feedback. Very nice to meet you, Ani!

  9. I prefer the minimalist minimalist approach – don’t even mention the scenery 🙂

    As a reader, I skip past all scenery. As a writer, it is then quiet unnatural for me to write in descriptions of fall foliage. I suspect writers have an inclination to appreciate, and therefore write about details more than non-writers. At least that’s what I hope.

    • Jim Bessey says

      I was nodding to myself as I read your reply, Amit.
      But then I thought about it some more and changed my mind. A series of images from one of my new favorite authors, C.J. Box, flashed through my mind (who knows why?). Box writes the Joe Pickett series, set in Wyoming, and the setting in this case really matters. So Box does plenty of scenery-describing; he must. And yet it has never bothered me (tho I do agree with you, Amit, about a minimalist approach). So maybe Box just does it well and unobtrusively. I’ll pay closer attention when I read the next installment.
      Thanks for your feedback; I value your opinion and enjoy your writing!

  10. A fun coincidence today–
    I was reading “Clockwork Heart (The Nexus),” by Scott Lovesy, and the author decided to include this fall foliage description:
    “The trees arrayed in lines whizzed by the windows on either side. Golden leaves had begun their weakening, and gradually began to let go of their old lives for a new fading existence below on the surface world. The road was aglow with reds and oranges, accentuated by the dancing rays of light which pierced the clouds and took their chance for one last foray in the world; a final reverie before the depths of winder cut off their access.”
    Cool, huh? 🙂

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