Writing Tips

Tips for Writing About Forests

Three Things Writers Tend to Get Wrong: Forests, Fainting, and Hunting

(Please note that this post has been revised as of 10/12/2015)

Forests appear in many fictional and nonfictional novels. If you are writing about a non-fictional forest, I would highly suggest that you research that specific forest for your novel. If you are writing about a fictional forest, then it might be a good idea to base it off of a real fictional forest. However, as a writer myself, I understand that research is time consuming and really distracting. So I have gathered, for you, a few tips for writing about forests from my own experience.

Six Tips for Writing About Forests

Here are six tips for writing about forests:

  1. Trails: Forests, without heavy human traffic, will not have a trail which leads exactly where the character needs to go. If people do not visit the forest on a consistent basis (as in a couple dozen walking through it every day) or there is a manmade path, then there will only be game trails to walk on. These “trails” are meant for deer— the sure footed animals that can jump really well. This means the “trails” are very narrow (often under a foot in width) and have lots of fallen trees over them. They pretty essentially follow the contour of the mountain (so you have to climb down or crawl up if you want to travel vertically instead of horizontally across the mountain.) And there is no chance that there would be one of these trails leading exactly where the character wants to go. So a character with experience with the forest would guide his path based more off of direction and what he sees around him than following a single game trail.
  2. Sunsets in a forest. These just don’t happen practically. First of all, if your forest is on a mountain or surrounded by them, the mountains will block the sun before you can see those beautiful red and orange colors in the sky. Second, the any relatively dense population of trees will block a good portion of your view, especially as you try to look towards the horizon. If you absolutely need a sunset scene in a forest, your characters should be in a flat forest (not in the mountains or a valley) and should be in a clearing.
  1. Quiet. Forests are strange in the sense that they have a constant muted, quiet feeling to them but there is constant noise if you stand still. Large game animals are surprisingly loud, and most forests have smaller animals such as squirrels and birds that are making constant noise. Also, it is difficult to walk quietly in a forests (though a few people have succeeded in walking relatively quietly with lots of practice and the right footwear.) Of course, leaves and branches snap and crunch, but even hard dirt makes a crunching noise, mud makes a slurping noise, and snow makes a sort of groaning or snapping noise (depending on how fresh it is.) Freshly fallen leaves or slightly damp dirt is the quietest to walk on. Also the sound of clothing rubbing together when you walk travels really well in a forest. We may not even hear these sounds in our day to day lives, but in a forest, they are surprisingly loud. Moreover, if you are in a hurry/running through a forest, you will make more noise.
  2. Running: Running can be difficult in a forest. Be aware of ground cover and bushes that can trip your characters and prevent them from being able to run. Also if your forest in on the side of a mountain, then it is highly unlikely that your character will be able to run for far. (He might be able to leap for about six yards until he trips.)However, if your character can find a game trail, then he had a better chance at running. Also the trees need to be more spread out to facilitate running—for instance, aspens are bad trees to try and run through. Now if you have a flat forest with sparely placed trees and little ground cover, then your character will be able to run. However, most forests seen in movies do not encourage running.
  3. Chase Scenes: As you can probably tell from reading above, chase scenes don’t work as well in the forest. So if you are writing a chase scene in the mountains, I would highly suggest changing it to a “hide-and-seek” scene instead. Unless your character knows the area very well, your character is very fit, and the pursuers are completely unfamiliar with the forest, out of shape, and don’t have/cannot use a gun or a bow then a chase scene is very impractical. And if your chase scene actually does fit all of the above criteria, then, frankly, your chase scene probably isn’t interesting enough to write. The reasons for this are as follows:

– Running in a forest takes more energy than running in a non-forested area because you have to jump over foliage and are not running in a straight area (also if the forest is on a mountain than it only complicates running)

– Running in a forest is very loud—the pursuers will easily be able to know where the chased character is, and will probably be able to find an easier way to followed said character since they are coming behind

– Long range weapons can still be used in a forest, though shots are difficult after 50 yards or so (depending on the density of the trees)

There are always exceptions to the rules, and this is why I suggest that you research about a specific forest for your writing.  However, I hope that this has given you a basic idea of how to write a general forest scene. Of course, writing doesn’t always have to be realistic, but it helps to suspend the disbelief of the reader.

Do you have any other tips for writing about the forests? Or perhaps you have an exception to share. Please comment below and help out your fellow writers!

*Please note, there are some very helpful comments below this post—especially some talking about specific types of forests. However, please note that this post has changed slightly since some of the commenters responded.

God bless,

Gabrielle

Six tips for writing about forests

 

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81 thoughts on “Tips for Writing About Forests”

  1. Oh, yes. These are very good things to remember. (I was actually planning on writing a post about forests, but it appears you beat me to it. xP) I have a forest in my backyard, and it is very hard to walk a few feet without getting smacked in the face by a branch.
    Though some forests will be less dense than others, making it easier to travel around.

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    1. That is funny, Katie! I’d be interested to read what you have to say about forest if you make that post. That is really cool that you live so close to a forest. My family lives right across the street from a giant open space filled with scrub oak, but I wouldn’t call it a forest.
      That is very true. I’ve been in some forest where you can barely move while I’ve actually been able to jog through others which had lots of giant rocks, spare pines, and no ground cover. Thank you for bringing that up!

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      1. I think I’d enjoy living next to a forest if I could actually go in it year round. Poison ivy grows inside, so we can’t go in except for the winter, when the cold kills it.

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    2. Actually, I see the issue of running through a forest/woods mentioned in almost every post about the woods. However, consider this… you aren’t living in modern times where woods or a forest is left to it’s own.. people come and pick up the dead fall and even break off dead branches for their fireplace… This is only the first and most obvious point that we think of places from our own perspective which often are vastly different then the reality of other places and/or time. It’s easy to be certain about things we shouldn’t be so certain about. 😉

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  2. One thing I will say about running in a forest is that it depends on both the woods the character is running through and the character that is running through the woods. While definitely there are forests that are impossible to run through, and they may even be the majority of forests out there, some are quite traversable, at least for experienced woodsmen. I live in the Cumberland Mountains, and over 8 of our 15 acres are densely wooded. I personally can run up a hill at almost normal speed in them, but of course I am familiar with the territory.
    Also, it is possible to walk somewhat quietly in the woods (WALK; when I try to run quietly in the woods, I make about as much sound as a squirrel hopping in the woods with each step). You still make some sound, but you can keep it fairly quiet, especially if you look at your feet and step in places where the leaves are sparse and there are no twigs. You can keep it so that people that are maybe 50-100 feet away can’t hear you, or at least would hear no more than what could be chalked up to a bird hopping.
    Hobbits can run quietly in the woods. They are one of the fastest sentient species of Middle Earth, as well as being able to hide expertly and walk/run in dead silence.
    I agree with you on trails and sun.

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    1. One thing I forgot about walking in forests is that, even for experienced woodsmen, it is still almost impossible to walk quietly in the Fall, especially late Fall, when there are a lot of leaves in the woods that are especially crisp and haven’t decomposed at all.

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      1. Thanks for bringing up these points, Zane. I am mostly in the forests in the fall (I don’t really count the scrub oak area near my house as a forest), so I was under the impression that the forests were always very hard to walk in. But you are right; I bet most forests are much easier to walk in during the spring or late winter.

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  3. Yes, in the fall the leaves are especially crunchy and noisy, and they cover the sticks up well, but in other seasons they have partially decomposed, so they don’t make as much sound, and you can see and avoid the sticks. You will still make some noise, but not enough to attract the attention of anything but an elf or an animal or something like that.
    I have not walked in much crusty snow, but the times that I have, I definitely made noise, no matter how hard I tried (although last week we had freezing rain with the snow and then it froze hard, so if you were careful, you could walk on top of the crust without breaking it, and that was very quiet).

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    1. I have walked in snow a lot (from the hunting experiences; there is often snow during the season that I hunt.) And unless it is really dry and fluffy, it makes a lot of noise. Sometimes it crunches (when there is a ice layer on top), but more often, it just creaks. I don’t know how else to describe the sound.

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      1. I know the sound you’re talking about. This week and last week, as I said, we got a very crusty snow, and I heard that sound (these two weeks have been the extent of my experience with crusty snow)

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  4. Something else that helps with keeping quiet in a forest is your type of shoe. If your writing in medieval times, or any part of historic time period, they didn’t have shoes as we do. It was said the Indians could sneak up easier than Englishers because of their moccasins. That isn’t medieval times, but in the medieval era the poorer class did have leather shoes/ leggings wrapped with stripes of cloth. I myself haven’t tried either of these before, but it could benifit a character who is trying to be quiet. 🙂

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    1. Was just thinking that! and remembering sneaking up on deer as a kid (kinds dumb i know) barefoot because you had better grip and made almost no noise and getting poked by blackberries out in the redwoods. We ran around in the forest a lot and splashed through streams almost always barefoot and grew fantastic callouses from it. You kind of learn to dodge and weave a lot running in the forest and always get scrapes from dry twigs or whipped in the face or neck by green ones. Sometimes you step on an unpleasant thing like a mud hole, a slug or some animals leavings. eew! Don’t forget the smell of the forest. the earth and the trees and any water or flowers.

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  5. I’m super sorry, but this article is not really right on some points.

    1. Running through the forest is something that can easily be done if you are used to it. I grew up in the forest, and we would always play tag or capture the flag. It is really easy to jump over logs or avoid branches if you are used to the forest. It is actually the only place I can outrun city kids! haha

    2. Love this point

    3 and 4. Not really. The sun rises here before seven, and sets about 9 right now. Where you are in the world and the time of year really changes that. It only takes about an hour for the sun to come over the mountains, and it can go through the trees pretty easily depending on the type. Around here, we have evergreens and aspens and the sun get through them easy(because of the angle of the sun). Days become shorter in the winter here, so that’s a whole other story.

    5. Once again, you just have to be used to it. Once you learn how to step in the forest, it is not really a problem. I take wildlife photography, and I can tell you that it is something that you can learn. One of my hobby’s as a kid was to see how close I could get to deer without them noticing me haha.

    6. I can agree with this one. It’s easy to lose someone in the forest.

    It is a great article, though! One thing you could also mention is about food. Many writers rely on hunting in novels, and even experienced hunters have days where they do not see any game. If you are traveling, chances are very high that plant-life will be your major food source. Hunting and trapping is much easier if you are remaining in one spot. If you need any help with pointing out plantlife, I can name a few common plants.

    Thanks for sharing the article! I hope I did not offend you with my points.

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    1. Don’t be sorry, Chey; I don’t mind dissenting opinions at all. They only help writers and those of us trying to find the best way to write a scene. But I do disagree with you on some points.
      I do agree that you can run for short distances in some forests (though many which I have been in are on a slop and the dirt is very loose, so you can get a good enough footing to actual run at all.) Some flatter forest, you can run in, depending on how dense they are, so thank you for bringing that up. However, I have found that running is forests can only be done as short sprints, and you can’t run for very long (unless it is not very dense at all and you are heading down a gentle slope.)
      I don’t know where you live, but points three and four applied more to a forest in the mountains. I think I mentioned that, but I would need to go back and read my post to make sure (it has been a while since I read this post.) I spend a good amount of time in the mountains each year, and the sun doesn’t actually rise there until 8 or 9 in the morning– though there is that pre-dawn glow for hours before that. Because of the tall mountains the sun has to rise over them before you can see it.
      Thanks for bringing that up. That is really cool that you can get the close to animals. I guess I just haven’t learned how to walk in forests yet 😉
      Great point about food. Another little mention is that when a hunter kills a large game, there is a ton of meat, and they can cook it until it is really hard, and it will store for a week or so. But you are right that even the best hunters won’t kill something every day.
      Thanks for your comment!

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      1. We must live in different forests! I live in the Alberta Rockies, and we don’t have very thick brush or loose soil unless you go to the drier sides of the mountains. I would not run downhill on a steep cliff(if I need to, I slide down) or anything, but running uphill or on other ground is possible. It’s actually a bit of an adrenaline rush because you have to think so fast on what to do. If you are not careful(or make a mistake) you could break an ankle or fall.

        Do you normally go to the same place around the same time of year? Because how high up you are and the time of year changes things. Being in a valley is not the same as being up on a mountain for the sun. Days also get shorter during the winter(meaning the sun is up for less time) , and it also changes throughout the year and for where you are in the world. You can’t really give a set time, unfortunately, because it’s always changing.

        Food all depends on the situation your character is in. Does he have salt? Salt helps keep away bacteria and keeps it dry. Is it humid? Bacteria like moisture. Is it hot? Bacteria likes warmth.
        In most novels, the character is on the move sunup to sundown, which does not give much cooking time. If they can dry and salt meat, it can last a month or more, but that takes hours(drying it completely takes about 8 hours here). Raw meats have to be thrown out after 2hours of sitting out, and cooked meats are thrown out in stores after 4 hours, but in some cases can remain edible for up to 4 days. That’s what the guides recommend, but it depends on the temperature and humidity levels.
        In the winter, the meat can be kept frozen, but in the summer heat, it’s way harder.
        We are so lucky to have air-sealed containers and refrigerators!

        Thanks for replying!

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      2. I live in the Rockies, too, but a bit south of you 😉 That adrenaline rush of running in a forest is awesome, but in my area, I could not do it for more than a dozen yards (ish)– so it would defeat the purpose of running in a novel.
        I’ve been in lots of several types of forests in a couple of states, typically in the early fall/late summer, but I’ve also been in forests in spring, late fall, and winter.
        Thanks for commenting with your food tips, but I have to disagree with you on one point. Depending on how fresh your meat is (so long as it isn’t in the direct sunlight, it is skinned and airing, and it is covered to keep flies away), raw meat can set out for 24 hours in the open air and be fine. The meat develops a thin, tough outer layer, and the inner meat stays good. Last year, when I was elk hunting, we had to leave several of our elk quarters up on the mountain (we hung them up from trees to keep pests away) overnight. The meat was completely fine.
        I try to reply to every comment on my blog, but it took me a while to get to yours. Sorry! I have been really busy of late.

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      3. 🙂 woot Rockies!
        At least we can agree that nearly all of characters shouldn’t be able to run without landing on their faces. 😛

        The light difference might be more noticeable since I am slightly further north. Like, in the winter, the sun starts going down before dinner. It really sucks haha.

        I was more so just going my what the officers at my wilderness survival camp taught me, but it might be just a general rule. I know meat goes bad super fast(hours) in tropical like climates(heat and moisture), so maybe they just teach that so you don’t risk it. Sort of like liability reasons because they don’t know where in the world you might try to eat the meat or something. That’s good to know! Thanks!

        No problem! Our posts have been slightly lengthy too, so it’s understandable. 🙂 thanks for bouncing opinions with me! It’s been oddly fun.

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  6. Ahh, to put it simply, while you may well be an expert on the forests in your area, that does not make you an expert on every forest everywhere. I think it’s safe to say that the density and other traits of forests depends widely on the region you are in. I grew up in my grandparents cabin in Northern Arizona near payson, and their house was backed by the treeline of the Mogollon Rim. Their backyard was literally an entire expanse of forest. It was very easy to run there. There were many trees but the ground was flat and the trees were widely spaced and very tall, so branches would only hit your face if you were at least ten feet tall. Not much brush there either. But drive thirty minutes up the Rim road, and there were so many pricker bushes, ferns, and trees that you can barely walk at a good pace much less run. Basically, you could go for miles right or left without brushing your leg on a bush, and you had to go straight towards the mountain for a mile or two before the brush and any hills started. And whether the sun shows in the morning has everything to do with direction–what side of a mountain you happen to be on, how far up or down it you are, and even what time of the year it is. Just because there is a mountain nearby does not mean you are not going to be disturbed by the sun in the morning. It may be your personal experience that makes you associate forests with the presence of mountains, but that is not always the case. Again, region matters. There are many flat areas of forest in Wyoming and Colorado as well. I have been camping in many different forest areas in Arizona and California in every time if the year from summer to winter and in summer I have been woken up pretty early by the sun in and its warmth. It stays pretty warm here at night and early morning in the forests of Arizona, especially in summer. It takes a pretty significantly dense forest to block out the sun in the way you described, and while that is your experience, that’s just not how it is everywhere. Sorry, I get the feeling you know a very specific area really well, but didn’t do much research outside your own personal experience when writing this article.

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    1. I appreciate your comment, Hannah, but I just re-read my article, and I believe that I did mention several of the points which you brought up. I did mention that flat area filled with trees such as aspens or spare pine forests can easily be run in (see the bottom of my first point.) Also, I did bring up your point about where the sun rises (in a mountainous forest): “The mountains keep most areas in shadow until 9:00 to 10:00 am on the Eastern side of the mountain and about 8:00 am on the Western side which gets the sun first.”
      You are correct that I don’t have any experience with southern forests (like yours in Arizona), but I have been camping/backpacking in multiple different types of forests (pine, aspen, alpine, the Olympic forest in Washington—I’m not sure what to classify that one as, and several other areas) in almost all four seasons (late October is almost winter at higher elevations.) For the sake of writing, most author are putting their characters deep in a forest that is relatively dense, so I believe my article serves its purpose of helping out other writers, though it may not apply to every forest in the world. However, I do appreciate how you bring up that there are many exceptions to some of the rules which I lay down in this post!

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  7. This is so useful!! I wrote a scene a while back on character running through a forest, so i’ll need come to back to it and edit it. Thanks for posting this!

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    1. You’re welcome! I am glad you found it useful.
      I should warn you, however, that some people in the comments have made me aware that several of my points are only applicable for a denser forest in the midst of the mountains. Many of the points do still apply to all forests, but you might find the comments interesting 😉 Good luck with your forest scene!

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  8. I always wondered how people in books ran through the woods. I don’t live near woods myself, but I have relatives who do, and when I’d visit them I’d spend some time in the woods. Let me tell you…running (especially at night) is impossible.
    The other thing that drives me crazy in books and movies is when people hunt by stalking animals (especially deer). There is no way you can sneak up on a deer.
    Anyway…rant over…
    Thanks for the informative post!

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Megan!
      As a hunter, I would say that you can come upon deer and other large game while walking. Personally, I have (though it was at a distance of 200 yards– I spotted them across a ravine, and I could have shot them.) But I know many hunters than can sneak up on large game. It is very difficult, and you have to know how to walk (which is really difficult to learn– I am still trying.) Also there are random times up hunting, when someone is not trying to walk quietly or find deer (or elk in my case) and they will almost walk right into one. Seriously, it has happened to my dad twice that he was called from his hunting spot to help field dress someone else’s elk, and as he blundered up the mountain (without his rifle), he stumbled across an elk. Anyways, that is my take on those scenes. Since I hunt, I actually wrote a post about hunting. If you are interested, you can check out this link: https://writefortheking.wordpress.com/2015/01/29/seven-things-not-to-do-when-writing-about-hunting/

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      1. Really? I didn’t know that. I’ve never hunted personally, but I have family and member and friends who are really into it (especially deer hunting) and they always use a stand. They say it’s almost impossible to sneak up on a deer and much easier to stay still and wait for the deer to come to you.
        I’ll be sure to read that post! Thanks!

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      2. I agree that it is much easier to wait for a deer/elk to come to you (and you have a better chance of seeing one.) However, it is possible for a someone to sneak up on a large game animal if they know how to walk in the forest and watch where the wind is blowing.

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    2. As I believe I said in another post earlier, whether you can run through the woods or not depends on the forest. I live in a fairly dense forest, but I can run through it with some ease. The more grown up forests are very easy to run through.

      Stalking deer was actually a (semi) common practice in the 1800s (I don’t know about now). Hunters would find fresh deer tracks, and follow them through the woods until they were close enough for a shot. Not everyone could do it, because it is definitely hard to do, but it was a common skill among voyageurs. I know I can’t move quietly enough to stalk a deer, but I have lived in the woods for ~6 years, and I am already quiet enough to stalk a human in some situations.

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      1. Yes, I did say that. However, I would not say that all older forests are easier to run in– I know some very dense one.
        Very true, but those hunters often have been hunting in the forest since they could hold a gun or a bow.

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      2. You did say what?

        Yes, those people had plenty of time to learn the art, but my point is that it is possible, and the people that do it in books often grew up hunting themselves. If a book has someone who is very inexperienced stalk large game, I would join you in condemning them, but if it is an experienced hunter, then I have no problem with it.

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  9. You have made some very good points here, most of which will be very useful to someone who has limited personal experience of forests. However, as many have pointed out already, some of these things are at least debatable.

    I’m from Finland, a country that is basically ALL forest, and I have to say that to make generalisations about forests is quite misleading. Once you spend enough time in different forests you realise that they all have different characteristics and, as a consequence, different atmospheres. All the thousands of variables (geology, micro and macro climate, plant species present, hydrology etc.) have their effect on the forest, and even two stretches of the same forest situated quite close to each other can vary greatly. I was in the Rockies last autumn, and the forests there were a little bit like some of ours, but still very different. So – I would be wary of making absolute statements of what can or can’t be done in a (generic) forest.

    (My two cents on running in forests: it’s not that hard, at least if you don’t try to run through a thicket or some dense undergrowth or something. And as for distances – orienteering is a very popular sport here in Finland, and they do run in forests for up to 10 km during competitions. Of course it’s more tasking that normal running but it’s not something you need to train for years and years and years. I can do it, and it’s lots of fun.)

    (Though I totally agree about the paths! Those game paths – you think they lead somewhere, and then they never do.)

    So, according to my experience, all forests are different and it’s important to have a clear idea of the setting of the story (=the specific forest, even the specific place in the forest) to be able to write about it realistically at least if you’re trying to describe someone who is supposed to “understands” forests). I guess it all boils down to knowing what you’re writing about. I’m not saying that you should have a degree in forestry to be able to write a scene set in the woods, but writing in great detail about something that you have never experienced yourself can have quite comical unintended consequences.

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  10. Just a quick technical correction to #4. The Sun actually rises in the East. That’s why Maine is 3 hours ahead of California in the US. I live West of the US Rockies and there’s a huge patch of snow on one of the mountains that never melts because it never gets enough direct sunlight.

    Otherwise I really like your recommendations.

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    1. Yes, I know. If you are surrounded by mountains and the sun rises in the east, then the light will hit the western mountain slopes first. There are lots of patches of snow that never melt in the mountains in my area, too. Thanks for pointing that out!

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  11. So, as writers we first need to do research. Where is your forest located geographically? What kinds of trees, bushes and other plant life would you expect to find? Will the trees and bushes be too close together to able to run, but will make hiding easier? What is the season? Are there leaves or snow on the ground? Are there any animals? If not then there won’t be any game trails. Are the animals edible? Could you even catch one and ride it to get away from or to catch your enemy?

    As with all writing, the more research you do, the more believable your story becomes.

    Gabrielle, thanks for the post and to everyone else, thanks for the input. As someone once pointed out about collaboration; “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we swap apples, we will each still only have one apple. If you have an idea and I have an idea and we swap ideas, then we will each now have two ideas”.

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  12. I have one or two things to say too 😉

    As far as it concerns one, it really depends on the forest. I live in Switzerland [as why I’m very sorry for possible mistakes in this text, as I’m mostly writing in German and English is my third language], so I’m used to a variety of woods. I live in a valley and the woods about 600 feet away are on very flat terrain and have very few bushes or trunks in it, so it is really easy to run trough it, even if you’re not expierienced. But I know other woods, if you trip there one time, you will fall down the whole mountain because there is a rapid falling. So for the chasing, it really depends on how flat the terrain is and how much underwood there is.

    But I mostly agree with your second point. If it’s a forest that lies on a mountain site, there is probably a path that leads you up to the top, even if its really zigzag [does this word really exist?]. So it depends on where you want to go.

    Sadly, sunsets/sunrises are not a thing that I’m really used to watch when I’m in the woods. Also because I live in a valley, where a mountain blocks the sun in the morning and another one that blocks it in the evening. But I can agree that it can get very cold, even in summer.

    Quietness is also just a thing about which forest, how used a person is to walk quietly and how often people are in this forest. In many of the forests that lie on a mountainside, there are regularly foresters/rangers that clean the paths, as to secure, that unexpirienced people won’t get hurt. If you walk on those trails, you can walk really quiet, but in most stories, the woods are pretty wild, so it won’t be easy to walk through quietly.

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    1. Hey, Luca!
      Yes, “zigzag” is a really word. English is strange isn’t it? We have another word “ok” which stands for “oll korrect” which is “all correct” misspelled, and it just means “I understand” or “I will do it.” Weird, huh?
      Anyways, thanks for adding in your perspective. I really appreciate it. However, I would take a pretty strong stance that in a forest on a mountain side there will be no trail that leads to the top. You will have to go from game trail to game trail. Unless, of course, many people walk to the top every day.
      Thanks for commenting!

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    2. I visited Switzerland and got to see a lot of forests that really helped my writing. Love what you had to say. What I noticed most about quietness is that pine needles make silent walking VERY easy. As for unexperienced runners, I had bad luck because I sprained my ankle (that was nearby in Germany, however).

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  13. Anyone ever wonder what the “eerie creaking” sound is often mentioned in books when they want to scare someone in a forest. I always thought it was just the overactive imagination of the character; but when your in a forest and it’s windy, the trees rub together and make indeed a very eerie creaking sound.

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  14. Very interesting writings on forests! Something else that makes a good point – along with the spooky creaking sounds (yes, trees or limbs rubbing together) – is in certain parts of a woods where a weird feeling overcomes you. This might be due to a critter watching you, such as a bear or a mountain lion or a bob cat or … who knows. This has happened to me many times. I normally try to behave as … normally as possible and light a shuck out of there. I enjoyed reading your remarks and all the comments. This is one of the very few sites I’ve enjoyed reading. Good luck on future observations!

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  15. I learned a couple interesting things about forests due to my experience visiting Germany and Switzerland. In Germany there was a large forest of mostly tall straight trees (don’t know species). One very important thing to keep in mind about walking quietly and running in forests is how much sunlight your trees block out- this often has to do with the age of the forest. No sunlight means less plant life on the ground which means not necessarily easier footing, but you can see the footing. For running it means you are able to quickly perceive obstacles and for walking it means you can avoid twigs and other giveaways. That being said, when you sprint through one, you don’t see the unevenness quick enough to respond, and you do things like sprain your ankle. I was having a stick sword fight and I decided to run away. I looked up from the ground for less then a second and twisted my ankle badly on a tree root. One other interesting thing about a forest with little undergrowth is that it often has a pine needle floor (dependent on type of trees of course). Like leaves, when they die they litter the forest floor. Unlike leaves, pine needles making walking quietly VERY easy if you watch out for bigger twigs. The older your forest is, the more spaced out trees will be because there isn’t root room or nutrients or sunlight because of the few large trees. Younger forests will provide more trouble with low hanging branches as well.

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  16. I have a question. In the book I’m writing there is a forest that the characters spend a good part of the book in but it’s in the middle of winter. I imagine the trees in my forest spread a part. Would snow make it easier to run and walk through because bushes are dead? Anything else I should know about winter forests as I write?

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    1. Much of the time that I spend in the forest happens in the winter (and in the snow). The fact that most of the plants have lost their leaves (and the ground cover is dead) makes it easier to run (also if the dirt is frozen, there is less chance of sliding). A little snow (less than four inches) will effect running very little– unless it is melting and wet. More snow than that will slow anyone running, and if the snow is much more than a foot, it is very tedious and tiring to walk through. Here is one tip for snow: it is surprisingly loud. Old snow develops an icy layer on top that cracks when you step on it, and fresh, powdery snow creaks as you step on it. Hopefully, this helps you! Let me know if you have any other questions.

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    2. How the snow affects movement also depends on where you are. In Tennessee, when we get what we consider a big snow (4-6″), it rarely lasts long enough to get a crust (it’s usually gone by the end of the day, and almost never lasts past the next day), so it only makes the creaking sound, and it usually doesn’t even do that. Snow is very quiet here. We have had crunchy snow (once, I think, in my memory), and the creaking is not quite unusual, but snow sounds really depends on where you are.

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  17. Thanks for this very useful post.

    Please don’t be offended, but I find the phrase “off of” in your post really annoying, and I wish people would stop using it. It’s grammatically incorrect (although apparently acceptable in idiomatic usage), and sounds really awkward and ugly. I appreciate that it’s probably an American thing, which, as an English English speaker, I am unused to, but I still would love to stamp it out. I’ve been weeding the garden. Maybe that’s why I’m in this mode. Sorry.

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    1. Well if you’re going to be so picky then maybe you should get “off of” this website.
      I’m not trying to be rude, I’m just making a joke. Haha 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Just wanted to add that the pine forests I have experienced are quite different to other types of forest which may have a thick understorey (or understory) of vegetation. In the pine forests I have walked through, there was almost no ground cover of vegetation at all, and no leaves on the ground either (only needles). So a reader might accept a character walking silently or running, if the fictional forest is a pine forest. If the wind is blowing through the pines, it creates a kind of white noise that could cover any noise made by walking.

    Also, some species of trees have roots that seem almost designed to trip and break ankles, whereas other species have no roots above the ground.

    Something that writers might want to consider is that, throughout history, the powers that be have often set fire to forests to flush out people hiding there (often the good guys in a story).

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    1. Thanks for the insight. The forest I’m writing is definitely a pine tree forest. But would it be unrealistic to have bushes?

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      1. Hi Carmen. I think there must be something in the pine needles that inhibits the growth of other plants, like a sort of herbicide. And in some old pine forests the canopy is so thick that very little light reaches the ground, so nothing else can grown anyway. But I guess it would depend on the species of pine, and if it’s a monoculture, or there are other types of trees in the forest too. There could be clearings where bushes could grow, and around the edges of the forest.

        I love pine forests, for that reason – that they are not choked with undergrowth.

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      2. Good speculation, L Brown, but what the pine needles actually do is they suffocate and prevent light from reaching the undergrowth. The needles also insult the roots of the trees. (I live in a place with lots of pines, so that is why I know it.) Bushes do occur in pine forest, but not directly under the trees (so around a stream), in an open glade, or under other trees (such as aspens).

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    2. Great points about pine forests. They really are very different. While they often don’t have much ground coverage, they can have some, and I find that there is more moss in these forests. However, I would say that pine needles are loud to walk across, especially since they tend to hide twigs which snap underneath. Maybe not as loud as some other forests, but I would not say that pine forests are quiet.

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  19. I used to play in a pine/cedar forest for hours as a child, and although it did have less undergrowth than some surrounding woods( fewer brambles, poison ivy, Muscadine grape sprouts and such) it had a lot of wild blueberries. Moss and wood sorrel was also very common which helped deaden sound. A note which should be remembered about deciduous forests in general is that there are lots of holes about six- eight inches deep, perhaps resulting from where the stump on a tree has rotted away( I am speculating for I only know this by experience), which are almost always rendered invisible by fallen leaves. Also, it is amazing how wet one can become running through leafy undergrowth after a rain, or a heavy dew. These are just some little details which I have sometimes considered putting in a story. Loved this post and comments! ~Jane

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  20. I have no contrast for any of your points here because I know that many of these things are highly affected by the vegetation and other factors present in your setting.

    However, I have a few comments I would like to throw around here, if no one minds.

    I grew up in a very densely wooded area that was a mix of swamp and deciduous forest, so that’s pretty much all of my background on this topic.

    1. From personal experience I can say that point one is pretty much dead on (at least, around here). Though from my experience I didn’t find these game trails/ deer runs to be as hindersome as you described. In fact, they are very useful for making your way through tough areas such as thick brambles and areas with lots of thorny bushes, as well as slight uphill inclines with lots of vegetation. The only restriction: you have to be agile enough to maneuver through them!

    2. There is a lot of debate on your point about sunrise and sets, and I say again, this depends heavily in how much vegetation, The types of trees, and other environmental factors. Around here the dominant tree life are pine trees and they are usually not too densely populated. From my experience, there are clearing areas one may find to see sun rises/sets, but not often if you are very deep in the forest or swamp. However, the sunlight will often shine through the trees and cast an orange glow over everything, which is, in my opinion, more beautiful than a sunset itself.

    3. I agree with your point on noise. Even after living in and exploring the woods for nine or so years, I still have difficulty being completely silent. Trying to do so means you have to go very slow which can be counterproductive if you’re trying to stay on the move. Ideal conditions for complete silence almost never arise, especially with deciduous trees due to dry leaves on the ground (which happens year round, not just in the fall, though there are more fallen leaves in the fall). The best conditions: very fine sand, young plants such as grass or very young ferns, perhaps heavy rainfall to cover up your sounds and make plant life softer to step on.

    4. Running can be difficult. If you are deep in a forest it most definitely will be. One must consider fallen trees, tangled vines, spider webs, thorns, undergrowth, nests of stinging insects (around here some stinging insects nest underground and if you step on them the whole hive will be after you…), etc., etc. The most likely area in which you will be able to run quickly is near the edge of the forest or in an area where humans or heavy population of other creatures have worn down the vegetation.

    5. Rather than running, the go-to in a forest will most definitely be hiding, as was stated.

    On poison ivy, poison oak, sumac, etc.:
    Poison ivy and the above are allergic reactions to those specific plants. Most people are allergic to the chemicals and oils these plants have on them, which results in festering bubbles. These bubbles are the body’s reaction to the allergy inducing substance as the body tries to contain it. When popped, these bubbles release the oils and chemicals from the plants that the body was able to contain, which spreads, resulting in more bubbles as the body continues to try to contain it. As poison ivy, oak, and sumac afflictions are allergic reactions to the plants, just like most other allergies, not everyone is allergic to them. Some people, such as myself, can walk through a patch of poison ivy and have no reaction whatsoever. This immunity may be related to early exposure (?). For example, I could be walking through the woods for an hour or so with friends, return home, and the next day discover that most or all of my friends have poison ivy rash, but I do not.

    Finally, not only do travelers in forests need to consider wildlife such as game and birds, but also insects. As mentioned above, forest goers need to consider stinging and biting bugs such as bees, wasps, mosquitoes, spiders, poisonous caterpillars, other poisonous bugs, and red bugs. In areas with lots of Spanish moss, there will be lots of red bugs (shudder).

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    1. One thing your point on noise reminded me of is that you actually don’t have to be completely silent to go undetected sound-wise. If you can’t be completely silent, which is most often the case (though it is possible to be completely silent with experience and/or proper conditions), you can mimic the movement sounds of animals. If you sit quietly in the woods, you will hear all sorts of small (and large) animals moving around, and they make quite a bit of noise. There are certain key aspects of the sounds they make in leaves when they move that are easy to mimic. It does slow you down a bit to mimic them, but not nearly as much as staying entirely silent does, and it is nearly as useful in most cases.

      On running, perhaps the reason I can run in dense underbrush is that I don’t really care what I run through. I often wear thick clothing when I am in the woods, and I have resigned myself to a certain level of pain that I don’t really mind, so I will often charge headlong through thorns. The only thing that really stops me is a patch of vines that my momentum isn’t enough to break through and doesn’t have a hole big enough for me to bust through. If you don’t want to act quite as recklessly, I suppose it would be pretty hard to run through most forests.

      On poison ivy, oak, and sumac (the oil that causes the reaction is urushiol) immunity, there are a few ways to gain immunity. I am not sure early exposure in and of itself is enough to gain immunity, but I am sure it helps. I know from personal experience that frequent exposure builds immunity (though this may have to happen in relatively early life). I used to be quite allergic to urushiol, and both of my parents are still (hence my caveat that the exposure may need to be in early life), but I got exposed and reacted repeatedly for long enough that now I am virtually immune. I will still get it occasionally, but about the worst I have had it recently was from working in poison ivy infested raspberry bushes for 2-3 hours and not taking a shower afterwards, and I got about a half inch streak on my wrist. Another way to gain immunity is by drinking the milk from a goat that has eaten poison ivy recently. This only lasts as long as you are getting repeated doses of the milk, but it does grant you temporary immunity.

      I assume by “red bugs” you mean chiggers. Yeah. I think “shudder” describes that well.

      Wow, I thought that was going to be a quick note. Oh, well. I hope it is helpful.

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  21. As a person who lived in the mountains of BC for most of her childhood, I can say that these are really good tips! Another thing about sunsets… especially in the mountains, night can seem to come in seconds, just like God switching off the light-switch =)
    Also, trees are not that easy to climb. The bottom branches, if it’s a thick forest, may be dead, and most trees have a most annoying abundance of twigs all the way up the trunk that crowd you and try to steal your hat.

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    1. Good point about how night comes in the mountains.
      I think tree climbing depends on the tree. Some pines (no all) have branches that are to close together and have too much sap and too many needles to be good climbing tree. Others don’t have branches close enough to the ground. But there are plenty of good climbing trees in my area. Oaks are typically good along with cotton woods. It all depends on the type of forest.

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  22. Hey there would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re working with?
    I’m looking to start my own blog soon but I’m having
    a tough time selecting between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and I’m looking
    for something unique. P.S Sorry for being off-topic but I
    had to ask!

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    1. Sure, Kiersten. I use WordPress. I really like how my dashboard and reader work, though in general, the themes are not very unique. However, I have also heard that Blogger is very good. Good luck with your blog!

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  23. Hello, great list! I would like to make a suggestion on #2 and 3 though. I live in the Rocky Mountains on the edge of a thick National Forest. You absolutely can write a sunset scene in a mountainous forest – even if your character is standing in a valley. Let me describe it:

    You are walking through a forested valley and gradually, so gradually you hardly notice it at first, the light grows sharper, the shadows more slanted, and every color takes on a warmer hue. Pale-trunked trees like birch and aspen almost glow against a background of dark pines. Dark-trunked trees seem warm and redder hued. All of this is much more pronounced if your story is set in the fall and trees, ground, and path are covered in a dusting of bright leaves. Fall leaves can look almost electric in a sunset, even in the forest. Beams of light cut though the canopy of leaves above and begin to contrast sharply with the deepening shadows. In the winter, the snow exchanges its blue shadows for sparkling warm highlights. AND as any clouds in the sky above change from gold to pink to purple the show will reflect these colors! You look up through the trees and you can see breathtaking bits of painted sky above. No you can’t see all of the sky, but that sky, visible or not, is changing everything about the way the forest looks below. It’s sooo magical and more so because it all feels secret. All the beauty of the sunset is hidden under the canopy of trees. It takes your breath away.

    Number 3 is pretty right, but let me add: if your character knows what they are doing and moves slowly they can move silently on damp dead leaves, damp pine needles, fresh powdery snow, or damp (not muddy) ground. Dry undergrowth is almost impossible to be silent in. I’ve been trying for years, you have to have good lighting so you can see what you’re stepping on and move at a snail’s pace, even then it’s almost impossible. Can’t imagine when that would be worthwhile. However, if there is fresh powdery snow on the ground, no wind, and more snow falling in big flakes, the forest is almost perfectly silent. Animals and birds have mostly all hunkered down somewhere to keep dry and the falling snow muffles sounds. It’s so quiet it can feel like you are the only creature alive in the whole forest. Maybe in the whole world.

    #4 & 5, hahahahaha, you’re so right! There are ancient fallen logs everywhere. You’d have to be constantly jumping over those or ducking under. Then there is the underbrush to push through and be scratched up by. Then, often hidden or partially hidden below smaller plants and grasses are smaller fallen trees and branches about as big around as your arm. Beneath all that the ground is uneven. Can you say broken ankles? Ain’t no way a chase scene could go through dense forest. Less dense… a little.

    My church has a yearly camping trip where we do an orienteering race. It’s not for kids so they make it hard and we are racing in teams to find flags over a large, mostly trailess area. We do end up running a lot, but you have to mix running in more open spaces with settling for a brisk walk in denser areas. Some areas are so dense you have to go around them. When you’re trying to follow a compass in a straight line these super dense areas become a major problem. And it is WORK and it is LOUD; a group of average people can’t do it that long. They accidently made one team all out of very athletic people one year and we ran most of the course (running on and off for an hour), we won by a looooong shot as the race usually takes 2-3 hours. They never put that group together again.

    Also you better be wearing very sturdy shoes and you really have to watch your step vigilantly. Good way to get super lost if you were unfamiliar with the area as it can be hard to keep an eye on where you’re stepping and where you’re going at the same time. Sprinting is out of the question because your attention is too spit. Attempting to run through a forest at night would quickly end with a broken or sprained ankle. Animal trails are weird too, they just kinda begin and end randomly. Following them is another good way to get lost.

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  24. Really good article! Hear, hear!

    I’m Finnish, from Eastern Finland and in Eastern Finland there are rocks in the forest, under all that vegetation in different stages of life. Which means that there are holes under the vegetation. You don’t only need to avoid the branches and bushes, you also need to avoid the rocks and holes you can’t see even in the daylight.
    But it is surprisingly possible to run in a forest. I mean, if deer, dogs and bears can do it, so can humans. At least, I have that experience. One gets a certain, specific sense about what is under one’s foot, and can adapt very quickly to the experience… but I have been running in woods since I was 7, so I suppose that gives me an edge not everyone has. It could be used in books, though, if your character is used to running in forests.
    I also don’t remember there ever been pitch dark in a forest… but that’s me, again.
    I suppose the best advice is that people go and try out what they write their characters doing, to get it more realistic.

    About shooting – people do hunt in forests, don’t they 😀 Some things are more obvious than people assume 😀

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