This post has been generously written by Leslie Carmichael, author of the Middle Grade novel, The Amulet of Amon-Ra.
Jennifer's fascination with Egyptian culture becomes more real than she can imagine when the gift of a scarab amulet sends her travelling back to Ancient Egypt. Trapped inside the body of a girl named Dje-Nefer, Jennifer must immerse herself in this mysterious new environment, thwart an assassination attempt on Pharaoh Hatshepsut and unravel the secret of her amulet in order to find a way back to her own time.
Leslie Carmichael's travel experience in this region is evident from the rich detail throughout her book. If you want to see a good example of this type of setting description in action, I recommend checking out The Amulet of Amon-Ra.
On the way to Pyramids: Tour bus at dawn full of sleepy tourists, no one on the streets, green-leafed trees shade the ground, sun rises behind the bus through the haze made red by dust, black vinyl seats, buildings packed tightly together of glass and stone, passing parks and soccer fields, cemeteries of stone mounds and packed earth, pyramids in the distance growing larger, separating into single structures, drifts of sand across the black asphalt road, vendor stalls with striped awnings and tables strewn with bright brass plates, men in beige, white or blue gallibayas and loose pants, some with turbans, smiling, white teeth through the dark beards, beckoning to come buy their wares, pyramids pointing at the sun, beige stone on beige sand
Exterior: men wandering the site, canvas bags over their shoulders, red leather shoes and wallets embroidered with gold thread in their hands, tiny booth with a woman in a navy headscarf selling tickets, line up of tourists clutching bags and cameras, tour guides pointing, the sphinx, massive head and shoulders seen above the lip of the land, suddenly you can see down into the great pit that has been dug around it, arms stretched out before it, massive blocks of stone carved into paws, stela poking up from the sand between them; men leading camels with their coloured tassels and embroidered saddles, camels stalking, lifting splayed feet, heads thrusting with each step, chewing, long eyelashes, disdainful expression, the broken stones of the sphinx's nose and headdress, seeming to be attached to the pyramid behind, waist-high craggy stones, piled one upon another up to the sky, bright sun in the brilliant blue sky, beige sand all around, broken by low stone mastabas (blotting out the sun in giant steps, chipped and fractured, space between no bigger than a piece of paper), the ruins of temples, walls with no roofs, wood and glass building that houses the sunboat, Cairo in the distance, smaller steps carved into the stones that lead to the Thieves' Entrance, irregular triangular hole below and to the right of slabs of smooth stone under the rough exterior, a pointed arch of four slabs, darkness lit only by incandescent industrial lights that shine upwards, stone floor slopes down
Interior: Passage opens into the Grand Gallery, wooden boards with dowels for steps, slanting upwards, narrow, rails on either side, tourists above watching and waiting to descend, industrial lights glowing yellow against the walls, King's chamber, wide and high, open stone sarcophagus built into the floor, one corner crumbled and worn, empty, shadows dance over the bare walls, people look up, take pictures, flashes of cameras, low tunnel to the Queen's Chamber, tall people ducking, passing tourists going in both directions, flat floor, lines where stone bricks meet on the walls, shadows
Early morning subdued greetings, discussion of the trip and warnings from the tour guide as she takes our money for tickets, rustle of clothing, squeak of seats, birds twitter, high echoing call of the muezzin floats above the city, ululating in Arabic, bus engine, other vehicle sounds in the distance, laughter, rustle of bags, excited talk, wheels crunching over sand, happy greetings from the vendors, switching from one language to another without pause, airplanes in the distance, sand swishing across the road, Arabic pop music blaring from speakers, camels groaning and snorting, "Marhaba!", "Salaam!", "Shokran!", "May I polish your shoes? No? I could polish your feet!", cheerful laughter, clank of dishes in the booths as tourists investigate, snap of the awning fabric in the breeze; scrape of shoes on rock, grunts as tourists heave themselves up the steps, panting, heavy breathing, blood thudding in the ears, distant voices, lights buzz, boards creak, shoes patter on the wood, railings squeak, hushed voices, subdued laughter, shuffle of feet, slap of a hand against the stone, murmurs, someone humming, cries of welcome to other tourists, jingle of coins, camera clicks, groans and complaints as people descend the Gallery, exclamations as they emerge from the pyramid.
Cigarette smoked by bus driver, greenery, diesel, leather, metal, hints of lemon, cumin, mint, cardamom, bean paste, garlic, deodorant, sunscreen, smoke, heated vinyl, dust, stone, water, perfume, aftershave, bad breath, fresh air.
Toothpaste, breakfast: bean paste, tomatoes, eggs, bread, feta cheese, olives, water, mints, gum, stone dust.
Soft seats, cool hard window glass, air conditioning cold on the skin, bus bouncing along roads, heat after exiting bus, sweat dripping and drying before it wets clothing, humidity, camel hair, hat pressing into head, skirt flapping in the breeze against legs, water soothing the throat, plastic bottle squeezing in your hand, camera button and lenses, rocks under the soles of shoes, pocked stone, sharp edges under palms, smooth metal railing, jouncing wooden boards, rough stone, shoes slipping on the boards, sweaty hands on railing, weight of history bearing down; pebbles under shoes, sun on back, breeze cooling the sweat.
--The words you choose can convey atmosphere and mood.
Louise gripped the rough edge of the stone, bounced twice on the balls of her feet, then leaped up to the over sized step. The irregular opening of the Thieves' Entrance, hacked out of the side of the Great Pyramid, swallowed the khaki-clad tourist who had clambered up the rock in front of her. This was it! The culmination of a dream. She stepped across the threshold, into the darkness.
Imhotep wiped the sweat from his forehead. The torch he held shed a puddle of light on the stone floor of the corridor that led to the lower chamber. The puddle moved with him, illuminating only a tiny bit of the darkness at a time. He was glad for his lack of height. Crouching all the way, as his supervisor, Merenptah, was required to do, would have made all of his trips to the Chamber irritating, if not painful. He clutched a small, wooden box to his side, the latest addition to His Majesty's burial collection, and hopefully, the last.
--Similes and metaphors create strong imagery when used sparingly.
Example 1: (Simile)
During the earthquake, not one stone of the pyramid had moved, it was that stable. And yet, Arthur could feel all that rock above him pressing down like the weight of centuries.
Example 2: (Metaphor)
The pyramid rose up into the sky, massive block by massive block, a staircase to the gods.