(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.
Here are six tips for writing about forests:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.