Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan: A Book Review. Great description. Doesn’t seem all that jazzy of a writing technique, does it? Certainly not a writing skill to spend much time developing. We’ve all heard the usual topic advice: only choose details you need, make sure your description isn’t static; after all, description stops the action and less is more, right?
Think again. Writing good description, no matter what genre, is so much more than relaying visual setting, details, and action so your reader can see a movie in their mind. Great description will build a world that pulls your reader in until reality takes a back seat to the imaginary world. Description can be one powerful device in your writing toolbox to convey attitude and information about characters, move your story forward, add drama, depth, mystery, suspense, mood…so much more than grounding the reader in time and place. No matter if you write fiction, non-fiction, articles, or essays, what you will learn from Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan will greatly enhance all creative writing endeavors.
Inside Word Painting
With an early chapter, Eye of the Beholder, the book begins with tips and exercises on how to observe the world in new, fresh ways. Next comes From Eye to Word, or how to translate your observances into writing so you go beyond the surface to write the details of your world in a meaningful way. A chapter called Figuratively Speaking: A Perception of Resemblances tackles how to go beyond contrived, not-quite-right attempts at poetic writing. Following techniques in this chapter will guide you to write effective simile and metaphor that grows from the story in an organic and authentic way. Other topics in this chapter include personification, paradox, allegory, and using symbols. Finally, for those of us who are metaphorically challenged, the section of the pitfalls of metaphor and how to avoid them is of immense value.
Chapter seven, The Eye of the Teller: How Point of View Affects Description gives wonderful insights into how different points of view (as well as different point-of-view characters) change description. This chapter also illustrates how to develop character and gives the reader insights on how to show (not tell) aspects of the character from the way they view their world.
Can description be used for pacing and plot?
Absolutely! Plot and Pace: How Description Shapes the Narrative Line tells the writer just how description can influence (and become a useful tool for) plot and story. McClanahan addresses topics such as how to use description in pacing, how to handle flashbacks and using description details to unify pieces of plot.
In addition to being a wonderful how-to book, each chapter ends with writing exercises so you can put into practice what you’ve just learned. The exercises will help you add new concepts into your own writing process. You’ll find so much more within than just a book on writing description. It will change the way you look at writing. Period.
I turn to my copy of Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan again and again, and its pages are highlighted with yellow for points I want to remember. Any book with that sort of impact on my writing gets 5 stars for just being too darned good to read only once. Get your copy of Word Painting today.
Award-winning novelist Kathy Steffen teaches fiction writing at the University of Wisconsin’s Writer’s Institute, Write by the Lake, Rhinelander School of the Arts, and at the How To Write Shop. Additionally, Kathy is published in short fiction and pens a monthly column, Between the Lines.