Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
March 5, 2012

Place Descriptions - Part 2: Waterways

By Sharla Rae

In my first blog on place descriptions, Place Descriptions: It’s about Atmosphere Not A Travel Log, I promised to deliver more place descriptions. Today’s list is about waterways, lakes, oceans, rivers, and seas.

I was very tempted to list all kinds of boats and ships and marine life. I had to remind myself that this blog isn’t a research source. My lists serve two purposes.

  • To show examples of place descriptions
  • To "inpire ideas for your own manuscripts

When it comes to waterways or any place description, don’t overlook descriptive verb choices. The great thing about descriptive verbs is their ability to eliminate wordy adjective and adverb phrases that make descriptions boring and clunky.

When I’m not sure what kinds of descriptive verbs to use, I reach for a handy dandy book called  The Word Finder by J. I Rodale. Look up for example, at the words, ocean, lake, river, and sea. The Word Finder lists adjectives, adverbs and verbs that describe a subject. In the case of waterways, I’d go a step further and look up marine life, ships, boats etc. And don’t forget poetry books for unusual descriptions. Use your creative noggin.

Note: In some cases The Word Finder has become pricy. However at Amazon, I did find used copies.

Verbs that may describe the sea: Find more in the phrase list below.

Descriptions of waterways are not just about the water itself. They include surroundings and actions that take place in and around water. With this in mind, I compiled the following term and phrase list.


Arching wooden bridge over the creek
Bait and tackle box
Bashing against sand and rock only to shatter and retreat
Bay forested with sailing masts
Beached the rowboat
Beaver dam stretched across
Big wheel paddleboat spanking and churning
Boarding up windows against an incoming hurricane
Brackish swamp water
Broken sea shells and rotting fish
Burble of the rivulet heard from deep in the woods
Caught in the cold tenacious arms of a rip tide
Choppy on the open sea
City of ice fishing shacks on a frozen lake
Clouds sketched the ocean sky
Coast/ seaboard/ seashore/seaside
Cranking a turn on a surfboard
Cruise ship disappeared in the fog bank
Deep sea fisherman
Dipping and swaying on swells
Disappeared to the lake bottom
Dotted with islands
Driftwood for a cozy riverside fire
Dry river basin
Eerie creaking and popping of the ice as it shifted below him
Favorite fishin’ place, the “honey hole”
Fished for channel cat (cat fish) on the St. Louis
Fishing off the pier
Fishy aroma saturated the air
Gained the cove in no time
Gray mist was sucked out to sea with the tide
Green briny deep
Green marbled waves exploding
Harbor patrol/ coast guar
High tide/ low tide
House on stilts in the teaming swamp
Ice skating on the pond
Lake resort with log cabins
Lazy, dozy day on a sluggish meandering river
Lilly pads with their pink blooms contrasted the murky water beneath
Mangrove roots snaked out of the brackish water in a tangle
Marine life
Merciless surge and retreat of the ocean
Miles upon miles of endless lonely sea and sky
Mirrored reflection of the forest on the water
Mournful howl of the foghorn
Mr. Bruin (bear) chased the fisherman for an easy catch
Occasional gust of wind across the bow
Old mill stream
Pebble startled the water into ringlets
Petty traders and tars working the docks
Pirates keelhauled a man on high seas
Popeye was a seafaring man
Quiet cove on a desert island
Quiet, verdant surroundings of the pond
Raccoon paused on the riverbank to wash his face
Ran aground on a sandbar
Ran the full length of the reef
Rhythm of the sea
River bed/river bottom/riverbank/riverside/shoreline
River raft of logs bound tight
River receded and left behind rotting fish, silt and debris
Rocks slippery with green moss
Sailor’s wife stood upon the rocky promontory
Salt spray
Sand castles and laughing children
Scent of river water and creosote bush
Sea gulls/whales/porpoise/sea turtles/sharks
Seahorses danced like sea fairies amidst seaweed
Seasick Landlubber
Sharks knifed through the cold dark waters
Ship impaled on a reef
Ship perched on the shoulders of the sea
Ship tossed up on a coral reef during the storm
Shoreline vanished beneath greedy fingers of fog
Silvery sheen of the moon on the water
Skin diving in an underwater cave
Skinned and boned fish at the lakeside fish house
Sleepy lagoon
Slushy sand filled in my footprints, denying my passage
Spidery river tributaries on the map
Spike on the end of the ice fishing pole stabbed into
Spume across the bow
Steel blue rim of the ocean
Stem to stern/port to starboard
Sun glinted/shimmered on the becalmed water
Surfer riding the crest of a mighty wave
Swam near the murky river bottom
Sweet-voiced burble of a creek/stream/brook/burn/riverlet
Teamed with marine life
The wave’s trough
Tide withdrew leaving sea life in the tide pools
Threw the ice chest into the tour boat
Turquoise water of an Alaskan glacier
Victim of Davey Jone’s locker
Waded the river shallows
Warm, sea-scented beach
Waterfront bars
Waterskiing, jet skies, speedboat, kayak, paddleboat
Waves quenched on the rocky shoreline
White froth against the treacherous rocks
Yacht lurched precariously

Don’t forget that definitions are also descriptions. Whole books have been written with glossaries that define waterways, professions that utilize waterways, land near water, ships, marine life, and all the jargon that follows For that reason, I’m listing only a few definitions here as examples. For more ideas see the links below.


Causeway: raised passage across wet ground or water; highway
Tack: lower forward corner of a Fore-and-aft sail; to alter a ships course by turning the bow into the wind
Tars: historical name for sailors taken from the fact that they tarred their coats and hats against precipitation.
Tide-rip: (sometimes called rip-tide) rough patch of sea caused by opposing currents or rapid currents passing over an uneven bottom
Tidewater: (also, tideland) water affected by the ebb and flow of the tide; low-lying coastal land
Tsunami: large waves caused by a considerable displacement of a large volume of water


A Sea Of Words, A Leicon and Companion for Patrick O’Brian’s Seafaring Tales by Dean King, with John B. HattenDorf and J. Worth Estes. An excellent reference on sea-faring, ships, sailors, equipment etc with most definitions applying yet today.
Sea Words, Water, Wind and Waves by Michael W. Williams (Much like A Sea of Words)
Glossary of nautical terms From Wikipedia but an excellent list!
A Dictionary of Sea Terms
Glossary of hurricane terms from the National Hurricane Center
Watch videos of storms at sea These might inspire your own creative ideas

Okay, your turn. Got any waterway descriptions or great places to find them? Share with the rest of us.

0 comments on “Place Descriptions - Part 2: Waterways”

  1. Great post. Sometime this week I'm going to reach the part in my WIP where I have to describe the Neva River in St. Petersburg. It's such a part of the city (like the canals in Venice) that it's going to be tricky, but I'll let you know if I come across any great resources.

  2. Sharla,
    I'm saving all the descriptions - they're wonderful! But the sparkling gem in this for me, was the reminder to use verbs to make descriptions fresh, and convey emotion - which is always more powerful than a simple description. We want to know how the scene impacts the character who sees it - if they're afraid of water, the verb choice will be way different than someone who grew up on the water. Unless, they grew up on the water, and were afraid of it . . . .now THAT would be interesting!
    Thanks for this!

    1. Yes I agree! Using verbs to describe scenery is a little nugget of gold I have squirrelled away for future harvest.
      Yvette Carol

  3. Sharla, I do so love when you do posts like this ... yes, indeedy ... I do. I am in loved, enamored, fascinated, captivated, inspired and awed by water. My parents called me a water-baby, mom told me I had sea water in my veins like my sea-faring dad. Can't live too far from water. It soothes and calms and makes me whole. I also use it to couch some of the stories that take place along Shore Parkway in Brooklyn ... a road that hugs the shore-line of Brooklyn from the never changing Narrows under the expanse of the Narrow's Bridge, and wraps around to all the beach areas heading out to Long Island. Darn I am in love with water. Lived in Northern Manhattan, surrounded on three sides, eight blocks wide and banked by two rivers and a channel that connects them at the tip of Manhattan. In fiction, I had a love affair with Steinbeck's Cannery Row, the tide pools and the Pacific Northwest near Salinas. Or A River Runs Through It. I will most certainly save this post, as it is a marvelous "keeper." Thanks 🙂

  4. Another great list, Shar! You know, your lists would probably sell like hotcakes on Amazon if you put them together in a book. Authors are always looking for good reference material, and your lists are terrific.

  5. Yeah, I love the putting these posts together in a book idea. Good one! This really gave me food for thought Sharla. I haven't used books or lists or travel brochures or anything like that for my scenery. I visualize the scene and then write what I see. Works for me. However there's always room for improvement!
    Yvette Carol

  6. Visualizing is great. When I'm having a difficult time, I've been known to close my eyes and just type. I put Xs if I can't think of the right word then look it up later. Works great. The lists have proven a nice way to start my own engines, though. 🙂

  7. Serendipity! Thank you, Sharla. My WIP takes place on the ocean. By the way, I always write with a battered copy of The Synonym Finder at my side.

  8. Sharla, this is a really excellent article. While I don't have a waterway to describe at the moment, when i do I'm sure I'll remember this. best wishes -R.S.

Subscribe to WITS

Recent Posts





Copyright © 2024 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved