When it comes to describing coldness, there are numerous ways to create an immersive atmosphere that your readers can almost feel.
Here’s how to describe being cold in writing:
Describe being cold in writing by using sensory details, emotions, environmental factors, and the character’s physical reactions. Express coldness through shivering, numbness, the sting of the wind, or the crunch of snow. Leverage metaphors, similes, and personification.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to describe being cold – with lots of examples.
21 Best Tips for How to Describe Being Cold in Writing (Master List)
Let’s explore the best for how to describe being cold in writing.
21 elements to describe coldness:
- Shivering body
- Stinging skin
- Frosty breath
- Crystal clear iciness
- Numb extremities
- Ice formation
- Chilled-to-the-bone cold
- Frozen landscapes
- Winter darkness
- Cold-induced emotions
- Dull sounds
- Wind’s effect
- Wildlife reaction
- Cold-induced actions
- Icy textures
- Clothing adjustments
- Cold-induced pain
- Inanimate objects reaction
- Harsh environment
- Physical incapacitation
1. Shivering Body
When describing cold, a shivering body is often the first thing that springs to mind.
This is a primal, automatic reaction to a drop in temperature.
The body tries to generate heat by creating movement, resulting in the shaking or shivering we all know too well.
It’s the body’s desperate attempt to warm itself up, an internal fireplace stoking its own flames in a losing battle against the cold.
This can be a subtle shiver, a quiet, chattering of teeth or a violent, full-body tremor.
The degree of shivering can help to demonstrate the intensity of the cold, while also revealing a character’s physical state and resilience.
Example: “As he ventured deeper into the forest, a tremor started in his legs, slowly creeping up his spine until his entire body convulsed in a violent shiver. His teeth clattered like a rogue typewriter, each chatter a Morse code of distress against the biting cold.”
2. Stinging Skin
Cold has a particular effect on the skin, often described as a stinging or burning sensation.
This might seem counterintuitive, as we associate burning with heat, but the prickling sensation of freezing temperatures can feel remarkably similar.
The stinging can begin as a slight discomfort on exposed skin, gradually increasing in intensity as the temperature continues to drop.
Describing this sensation can be an effective way to create a vivid picture of cold in the reader’s mind.
Example: “The wind sliced through her clothing, each gust a thousand icy needles against her skin. It stung and prickled, the cold searing her as though she’d been kissed by frostbite.”
3. Frosty Breath
Visual imagery plays a huge part in describing the cold.
One of the most recognizable visuals is seeing your breath as a misty cloud in front of you.
It provides a clear visual cue for the reader and shows the difference in temperature between the body’s warmth and the air’s chill.
This frosty breath can be used to emphasize quiet, solitary moments or the harshness of the environment.
You can also use it to show the pace and depth of a character’s breath, reflecting their emotional state or physical exertion.
Example: “His breath ghosted out in front of him, a fleeting wisp of warmth swallowed instantly by the frigid air. Each puff, a testament to the bitterness around him, fading into the winter ether as quickly as it appeared.”
4. Crystal Clear Iciness
One of the unique qualities of cold weather is the crystal clear clarity it can bring.
Descriptions of this can paint beautiful, vivid pictures for the reader.
The frost-tinged world seems sharper, colors more intense, and every sound carries a different note.
The chilling effect of the cold can create stark, crisp imagery that contrasts wonderfully with the idea of a blurred, muffled world of warmth.
This characteristic sharpness can enhance the sense of isolation or the beauty inherent in a frozen landscape.
Example: “The world was etched in crystal, the coldness rendering every detail sharp and clear. The delicate frost patterns on the window, the frozen droplets clinging to the bare tree branches, every individual snowflake in its unique glory – all were highlighted by the cold’s glass-like clarity.”
5. Numb Extremities
The feeling of numbness is another key sensory detail when describing cold.
As the body’s defense mechanism against freezing temperatures, it redirects blood flow from the extremities to vital organs, causing a loss of sensation in these areas.
Fingers, toes, noses, and ears are usually the first to go numb, followed by hands and feet if the exposure continues.
The intensity of this numbness can be a powerful tool for showing the severity of the cold.
Example: “Her fingers had long ceased to feel anything, numb stumps on the end of her hands. Each attempt to move them was like manipulating someone else’s, the familiar connection between brain and limb severed by the cold.”
Snowfall, as a visual and sensory phenomenon, is an excellent tool to depict a cold atmosphere.
It introduces unique lighting, mutes sounds, changes landscapes, and adds a magical or ominous mood, depending on your story’s needs.
Describing how snow falls, its texture when it hits the skin, the way it piles up and transforms the environment can all help immerse your reader.
The density and speed of snowfall can also reflect the intensity of the cold.
Example: “The snow began to fall in earnest, a curtain of white descending from the sky, each flake a silent whisper against her cheeks. The world around her softened, swallowed up by the relentless onslaught, a cascade of icy feathers blanketing the world.”
7. Ice Formation
The formation of ice and frost adds a visual and tactile element to the description of cold.
Ice can form on surfaces, plants, water bodies, and even eyelashes or hair, presenting opportunities for some stunning imagery and metaphorical language.
The texture of ice—whether it’s slick, sharp, bumpy, or brittle—can reflect the intensity and impact of the cold.
The formation of ice can introduce new challenges or dangers for characters, adding to the plot.
Example: “An icy rime clung to every surface, a glistening crust that squeaked underfoot. It wrapped the world in a glacial embrace, turning every leaf, branch, and blade of grass into delicate glass sculptures, brittle and beautiful.”
8. Chilled-to-the-Bone Cold
Describing a deep, internal cold can help convey an extreme, unbearable coldness.
This kind of cold is often described as reaching into the bones or marrow, affecting a person from the inside out and leaving them feeling as though they will never be warm again.
Such visceral descriptions are useful not only to emphasize the cold’s severity but also to underscore a character’s resilience or vulnerability.
They can contribute to the sense of despair, dread, or determination that extreme cold often evokes.
Example: “The cold was inside her now, a deep, marrow-chilling frost that seemed to leech the warmth from her very soul. She felt as though she’d swallowed an iceberg, every breath, every heartbeat only spreading the icy chill further.”
9. Frozen Landscapes
Describing a frozen landscape can set the scene for a cold environment.
The transformation of familiar sights—rivers turned into ice, snow-covered mountains, frosted trees—can effectively convey the impact of the cold.
Additionally, describe how characters interact with this altered landscape:
- Trudging through deep snow
- Slipping on ice
- Huddling against the wind
It also provides opportunities for beautiful, poetic descriptions that can enhance your story’s atmosphere.
Example: “The landscape lay locked in ice, a world paused and muted by winter’s grip. What was once a babbling brook was now a still, frozen snake of ice, trees sagged under the weight of their snowy coats, and the once vibrant green fields were now an unending expanse of white.”
10. Winter Darkness
Cold often comes hand in hand with darkness.
Shorter days, long nights, and often cloudy or overcast skies can add to the sense of coldness.
Describing this lack of light, the different quality of winter sunlight, or the unique brightness of a moonlit snowscape can contribute to the atmosphere.
The darkness can also reflect a character’s mood, add to the sense of isolation or vulnerability, or introduce new challenges.
Challenges such as limited visibility or the need for artificial light sources.
Example: “The sun had barely risen before it began to dip again, a weak, watery light that did little to penetrate the cold. Darkness fell like a heavy blanket, the world reduced to the circle of light thrown by their lantern, the winter night as cold as it was dark.”
11. Cold-induced Emotions
Using emotions to describe the cold can offer a more internal perspective, adding depth to your character’s experiences.
You can explore how cold affects mood, thought processes, or psychological states.
This might be discomfort, irritation, dread, or even joy and exhilaration, depending on the context.
Relating the cold to emotions fosters a more personal, subjective experience, grounding the reader in the character’s perspective.
This approach can also be used to highlight a character’s resilience, fears, or vulnerabilities.
Example: “A deep melancholy settled over him, as pervasive and chilling as the winter around him. Each shiver, each frosty breath was a physical echo of the icy dread that filled him, an emotion as biting as the wind.”
12. Dull Sounds
Cold weather often affects how sound travels, making noises seem more muffled or subdued.
This can create a sense of tranquility or isolation, depending on your narrative’s needs.
Describing the quality of sounds—the crunch of snow underfoot, the crackle of ice, the hush of a snow-covered landscape—can help to create a more immersive sensory experience.
The muted world can mirror a character’s emotions or add to the overall mood of a scene.
Example: “The world was quiet in the grip of winter, sounds muffled under the blanket of snow. Her footsteps were a soft crunch in the silence, a whisper in the frozen stillness. Even her breath seemed louder, a frosty mist that hung in the air like a silent exclamation.”
13. Wind’s Effect
The wind can significantly intensify the feeling of cold.
A strong gust can steal the breath away, sting exposed skin, and cause heat to dissipate more quickly.
It can also create visual effects, like snowflakes swirling in the air, trees bending under its force, or loose snow being swept away.
Describing the wind’s strength, direction, sound, and effects can help to convey both the objective coldness and its impact on characters and their environment.
Example: “The wind cut through her, a biting, bitter gust that seemed to come from the very heart of winter. It tugged at her clothes, stole her breath, and sent a fresh wave of shivers through her body, a relentless, icy enemy.”
14. Wildlife Reaction
Observing the behavior of wildlife can be another way to depict a cold environment.
Many animals have particular responses to the cold, from hibernation and migration to physical changes like growing thicker fur or feathers.
Describing these changes can provide a sense of the season’s progression, enhance the sense of realism, or create opportunities for metaphor and symbolism.
It can also underline the natural order’s relentlessness and the struggle for survival that cold often represents.
Example: “The squirrels had vanished, their chatter replaced by the cawing of crows, the only brave souls to defy the winter. Their footprints dotted the snow like tiny messages, a testament to life persisting in the frosty silence.”
15. Cold-induced Actions
Describing actions induced by cold can provide both visual cues and a sense of the cold’s impact on characters.
This might include shivering, rubbing hands together, huddling for warmth, pulling clothes tighter, or quickening their pace to generate heat.
Such descriptions can help to illustrate the physical discomfort and the instinctive, often futile attempts to ward off the cold.
They also add movement to the scene, creating a more dynamic picture for the reader.
Example: “He pulled his collar up, burrowing deeper into his coat as if he could hide from the cold. Every few steps, he would stop, stomp his feet, rub his hands together in a vain attempt to generate some warmth, each action a dance in the rhythm of winter.”
16. Icy Textures
Describing the textures associated with cold can enrich your story’s sensory experience.
This might include the crunch of snow underfoot, the smoothness of ice, the crispness of frosted leaves, or the stiffness of cold-soaked clothes.
Textures can evoke tactile sensations, engaging the reader’s sense of touch.
This can enhance the realism and immersive quality of your descriptions, helping to create a more believable, relatable cold environment.
Example: “The snow crunched satisfyingly under her boots, a crisp, compacted sound that was music to her ears. Each step was a tactile delight, the delicate surface giving way to her weight, a dance between her and the frost-touched earth.”
17. Clothing Adjustments
The kind of clothing characters wear and how they adjust them can also convey cold.
Bundling up in multiple layers, pulling on woolen socks, tying scarves tight, and donning gloves or mittens are all effective images that instantly suggest a chilly environment.
These details can also offer insights into your character’s preparedness, personality, or experiences.
A character used to the cold might dress more efficiently, while a character not accustomed to such temperatures may be ill-equipped.
Example: “She wound her scarf tighter, pulling it up to cover her nose, the wool scratchy against her skin. Every piece of clothing she had was layered on her body, a makeshift armor against the cold, yet she still felt the chill seeping in, relentless and unforgiving.”
18. Cold-induced Pain
Cold can cause physical discomfort and pain, from the prickling sting of freezing skin to the deep ache of chilled bones.
Describing this pain can underscore the cold’s severity, its impact on the characters, and the physical challenges they face.
This approach can add tension, elicit empathy, or test a character’s resilience.
Painful sensations can make the cold feel more immediate and real, grounding the reader in the character’s physical experience.
Example: “A deep, gnawing ache had settled into his bones, a constant reminder of the unforgiving cold. Every shiver was a jolt of pain, every breath a sharp sting in his chest, the cold no longer an external force but a cruel tormentor within.”
19. Inanimate Objects Reaction
Describing how inanimate objects respond to the cold can also help to establish a cold environment.
This could include a layer of frost on a window, a frozen water pipe, condensation on a cold surface, or the creaking sound of contracting metal.
Such descriptions can make the cold seem pervasive, affecting all aspects of the environment.
They can also create sensory details, enhance the scene’s atmosphere, or introduce practical challenges for the characters.
Example: “The window was a sheet of ice, the once-clear glass now opaque with frost. Each breath he exhaled added to the condensation, his world shrunk to this tiny, frost-fringed view of the winter outside.”
20. Harsh Environment
Describing the harshness of a cold environment can convey the challenges and dangers that characters face.
This might include treacherous ice-covered paths, blinding snowstorms, the risk of hypothermia, or the difficulty of finding food or shelter.
The harsh environment can serve as a plot-driving force, testing characters’ resilience, decision-making, and survival skills.
It can also contribute to the story’s overall mood, whether that’s one of dread, desperation, or determination.
Example: “The world was a maze of ice and snow, every path a treacherous challenge, every gust of wind a potential threat. The cold was no longer just a discomfort; it was an adversary, a ruthless, relentless force of nature.”
21. Physical Incapacitation
Cold can lead to physical incapacitation, such as slowing movements, stiffening muscles, or causing fatigue.
Describing these effects can heighten the sense of danger, underscore the characters’ vulnerability, and increase tension.
The progressive nature of such symptoms can also create a sense of urgency, pushing characters to seek shelter, find warmth, or make difficult decisions.
They make the cold a tangible threat, adding stakes to your story.
Example: “His movements were slowing, each step a herculean effort against the numbing cold. His muscles had stiffened, his mind was foggy with fatigue, the cold slowly but surely claiming him, turning him into a statue in a frozen world.”
How to Describe Warming Up After Being Very Cold
Focus on the gradual return of feeling, the soothing comfort of warmth, and the relief it brings.
You might describe the thawing of frozen fingers and toes, the gradual easing of shivers, or the flush of warmth spreading through the body.
Here’s an example:
“His frozen hands clasped around the hot mug, the warmth seeping into his stiff fingers, bringing them back to life. The hot drink slid down his throat, a trail of warmth that radiated outwards, fighting back the cold that had settled in his bones. Slowly, the shivers that had wracked his body eased, replaced by a comforting warmth that cocooned him, a welcome reprieve from the biting cold.”
How to Describe Someone Being Woken Up by Cold Water
When describing someone being woken up by cold water, focus on the shock of the cold, the suddenness of the wake-up, and the physical sensations.
This could include the gasp of surprise, the jolt of cold against skin, and the instant alertness that follows.
Here’s an example:
“A sudden cold shock jolted him awake, the icy water dousing him like a wake-up call. His eyes snapped open, a gasp tearing from his lips as the freezing wetness soaked him to the skin. His heart hammered in his chest, his body reacting to the sudden intrusion of cold, snapping him out of the sleepy haze into a world of shivering alertness.“
How to Describe Being Extremely Cold
Describing being extremely cold often involves a balance of physical sensations, emotional reactions, and environmental details.
It’s about capturing the numbing, all-encompassing nature of extreme cold—the way it seeps into the skin, chills the bones, freezes the breath in the air, and stings any exposed skin.
It’s a cold so intense it transforms the landscape into a frigid wonderland and slows life down.
As if each movement is a battle against an unseen icy force.
When your character is extremely cold, they might slip into hypothermia.
Here is a good video that describes what hypothermia feels like:
Words to Describe Being Cold (30 Words)
Here are some great words to use when learning how to describe being cold in writing:
Phrases to Describe Being Cold
Sometimes you need good phrases to describe characters feeling cold in your story:
- Cold as ice
- Nipped by the frost
- Chilled to the bone
- Caught in a deep freeze
- Icy grip of winter
- Biting cold
- Skin-prickling chill
- Freezing to the marrow
- A cold that cuts through you
- Frozen solid
- Teeth chattering from the cold
- Numbed by the frost
- Bone-deep chill
- Piercing cold
- Shivering in the icy air
- Frigid as the Arctic
- Ice in one’s veins
- Frostbitten fingers and toes
- Cold enough to see your breath
- A chill that steals the breath away
- Caught in winter’s icy grasp
- Snowflakes on the tongue
- Bitter as a midwinter night
- Winds that chill you to the core
- A frosty morning air
- Breath frosting in the cold
- Wrapped in a cloak of cold
- Shivering despite the layers
- Walking through a winter wonderland
- Blanketed by snow
How to Describe Being Cold (3 Full Examples)
Here are three full examples of how to describe being cold in writing:
Example 1: The air was icy, a frigid gust that cut through his clothes like a knife. He could see his breath misting in the cold, each exhale a puff of frost in the wintry air. His fingers and toes had gone numb, no longer responding to his commands, stiffened by the relentless chill. His teeth chattered, an involuntary reaction to the bone-deep cold, the sound a sharp staccato in the otherwise silent night.
Example 2: The cold wrapped around her, a biting, bitter enemy that penetrated her every defense. Despite the layers of clothing, she felt the chill seeping into her skin, a frosty tattoo that numbed her to the bone. Every breath she took was a sharp sting in her chest, as if she was inhaling shards of ice. The wind howled around her, carrying with it snowflakes that stung her face, a harsh reminder of winter’s unforgiving wrath.
Example 3: The world was a frozen tableau, locked in the icy grip of winter. Trees stood tall and still, their branches weighed down by the frost, and the ground was a blanket of white, sparkling in the weak morning sun. He trudged through the snow, each step a crunch in the otherwise silent landscape. The cold was harsh, a sub-zero bite that stole the warmth from his body, turning him into a walking icicle in this chilly panorama.
Final Thoughts: How to Describe Being Cold in Writing
In stories, you often find yourself needing to describe characters in different situations – cold, hot, tired, beaten down, lost, terrifed, etc.
Hopefully, this guide will get you started on the challenge of describing coldness.
For describing other circumstances, check out some of our other guides below.