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(Elements of Fiction Writing)

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  529 ratings  ·  55 reviews
Description is most powerful when it's visible, aural, tactile. Make your descriptions fresh and they'll move your story forward, imbue your work with atmosphere, create that tang of feeling that editors cry for and readers crave.

Monica Wood helps you squeeze the greatest flavor from the language. She segments description like an orange, separating its slices to let you
Paperback, 171 pages
Published July 15th 1999 by Writer's Digest Books (first published 1995)
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Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Description by Monica Wood helps the writer create mental images of characters, places and events. The book discusses the importance for description to move a story forward, not stall it. Choices such as point of view, dialogue, setting and style depend on the story you are writing. The skill of "show, don't tell" is explored by the author. Description problems such as animals, weather, emotions and sound are discussed. This is a good book for a beginning writer.
Ksenia Anske
Jan 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Best book on description I've read, hands down. The examples alone are worth gold. I learn best this way, by seeing examples, and the ones here are clear and to the point, with important explanations on what works and what doesn't and why. Another book I'm going to buy to keep on my reference shelf and occasionally reread. And the best part? The dispelling of the show-don't-tell myth. I wish when I started writing I've read this book—it would've spared me all this agonizing over showing versus ...more
Leah Good
Sep 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, writing, 2016
As a writer, the most consistent feedback I get from readers is "your story is great, but I wish there was more description." There's no question about it. I'm a bare bones writer. Most of the time I don't even know what people mean when they wish for more description in my books.

Description by Monica Woods wasn't the easiest to read book on writing, but I feel like it gave me ideas on how to improve this area of my writing. Reading a book won't make it come naturally. Only practice can do that.
Jeffery Cotton
May 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: beginning and aspiring writers
Like most books in the Writer’s Digest “Elements of Fiction Writing” series, Monica Wood’s Description is aimed at the beginning or aspiring writer. The few 3- and 2-star reviews this book received on Amazon are from people who found the book too basic. But come on, you have to start somewhere, folks! Those same people invariably recommend instead Rebecca McClanahan’s Word Painting: a guide to writing more descriptively. Indeed, McClanahan’s books is truly excellent and I will be giving it a ...more
Colin Smith
Aug 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book for writers. I can't recommend it highly enough, and one of the reasons is that Monica Wood realizes that there really are no "rules" to writing. What she presents here are tips, advice, "best practices," and encouragements. Even when it comes to "show don't tell," she argues that both have their place. There are times when telling is better than showing, and too much of either can ruin a scene. She cautions against over-use of adjectives and adverbs, but doesn't ...more
Apr 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, writing
Very helpful. I like that the author seems flexible on what makes good writing. Sometimes books on writing get too caught up in "Writing Rules" or the author's own methods, but the information in Description is clear, concise, and fairly objective. I don't suggest reading it front to back like I did; it was tough to get through because there's so much information to absorb. It might have been more fun to jump around from topic to topic based on what interested me at the moment.
Sep 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing
A very good book with some useful tips, but I must admit I did struggle with it by the end of it.

It has many rules that I felt like breaking. She is of course right when she writes them, but everything should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Nov 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I fell in love with Monica Wood's writing in "The One-In-A-Million Boy." This love was solidified after reading her memoir "We Were The Kennedys." When searching for what else she had written, I was surprised to find this book...on my shelf...for the past 14 years (and 8 cross-country moves). I bought it with good intentions (along with many other "in my spare time I will be an author" references) but never found the motivation to read it, let alone begin that whole "author" thing.

It was
Lee Dunning
Apr 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Didn't agree 100% with her before and after versions, and in a couple of instances she dropped a section she'd been using as an example and used something else, which negated the whole point of using an example, but overall I liked this book a lot. I found it easy to read, accessible, and lively enough to keep my attention.
Val Lori
Oct 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
For a book now written almost 20 year ago, it’s pack with so much rich and relevant information for fiction writers. I loved the examples and plain language instructions. I am so happy to have stumbled upon it. It’s going to be my description bible for a long while!
May 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is the best writing advice book I've read. What I particularly like is the provisiion of "before" and "after" examples of every technique described - the examples make what the author is saying real and easy to understand.
Leon Aldrich
Nov 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
This is one book on the craft of writing that holds a special place on my shelf and one I will reread several times over.
Katherine Scott
Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book won't blow you away, but it may improve your writing. The topic is description as applied to many basic writing topics. There are many insightful examples. The book also contained one of the best explanations of the difference between third person omniscient and third person limited POV. Overall I would say it was worth the time it took to read.
Doug Farren
Apr 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Part of the Elements of Fiction Writing series published by Writer's Digest Books. If you are an aspiring writer or just want to brush up on your writing skills, then this book will prove to be a valuable guide. Clear, concise, and filled with informative and excellent examples.
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great reading! Never boring and fit for every writer. English is not my first language so some books don't really apply to me, but this one was so good.
Must read for every writer, no matter if you're writing a novel or just fanfics.
T. Alan Newton
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
A good overview but seems a bit odd to have no exercises.
May 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
To all writers out there, this is a must-read.
abdiwahab Ahmed
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book attracted me so much i could not put down til i gonna finish one Hour -i recommended this book any one likes to be writer read it
Christi Frey
Feb 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
You know how you hated reading good books in English class because you'd be forced to dissect them after, to the point where all but the most subtle metaphor seems ham-handed and melodramatic? And you try to avoid clichéd description like the plague in your own writing, which results in recurring spates of "what does this look like" and "needs more description" comments from your CPs? No? Just me?

(view spoiler)
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Apr 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
An acquiring editor who had a blog on writing for newbies said that perhaps nothing separated amateur from professional fiction as a paucity of description. That what you find in professional fiction above all is a wealth of sensory details that immerse the reader in the author's world. He even suggested trying to evoke every five senses within every two pages--I've tried it--it's not as easy as it sounds, especially since as Wood puts it, I'm at the Puritan rather than the Baroque end of the ...more
Wendy Christopher
I've been waiting for a book like this.

There are a metric ton of books out there about the craft of writing that cover the fundamentals; story structure, plotting, the process from outlining to finished novel... they're great, but sometimes you need help with the smaller-picture (but no less important) aspects of creating great stories. Description is one of those aspects. It's often (wrongly) assumed that writing description well is something writers just pick up by osmosis while they're
Geoff Lynas
Learned a few new things from this book. Elements of writing that Monica Wood calls "telling detail" and "pathetic fallacy". Lots of good examples and suggestions on how to use description effectively. Some were not so brilliant - which could be down to my taste. She almost lost me right at the end with a truly dreadful bit of writing as example of how to write sensory description (again - maybe matter of taste) but saved the day, and the book, with chapter Nine, a glossary of hints and tips. ...more

This is a solid book on that part of the craft a lot of people have problems with. In particular, I've learned how to avoid melodrama, describe emotion compellingly, and using narrative and scene effectively. Those being my weaknesses at the moment, Monica Wood's practical tips have definitely helped me in dealing with them.

For anyone suffering from problems in description, get this book and not Word Painting, which was, to me at least when I read it a while ago, chock-full of impractical
May 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ref_writing
This was one of the first books I read to learn how to write better and it's perhaps the one that has been more useful for me.

As the name says, it's a book about description. It deals with issues like the level of detail, the difference with showing and telling, how to bring the story forward, the use of dialogue, point of view, style and setting, plus a section of specially difficult descriptions, like describing animals, weather, emotion and sound. Wood has a clean style, a hands-on approach
Jan 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Novice writers
Description is such a general term that basically Monica goes over the basics of every aspect of writing. It ends up being an idiot's guide to becoming an author. It would be great for beginning writers who've never taken a writing class...or an English class...or read a book. One thing I found strange: this self-help writing book was published in 1995. In it she mentions that her first novel was published in 1993. Really? Two years as a professional writer and she's qualified to teach others? I ...more
Adam Heine
Nov 16, 2008 rated it liked it
This is my 2nd reading, as description is among my biggest weaknesses. There are a lot of useful tips in here: using all 5 senses, choosing revealing details, sticking to concrete images, etc. But there were just as many times when the author lost me, most often when suggesting that an example had subtle shades of meanings I didn't see -- even after being told what those shades were.

I felt like I was in HS English class again, being told that Mordor was a metaphor for war, and the ring the atom
Matt Ward
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was one of the better books of the series. Wood's examples really illustrate her points well. Most of the advice are techniques that have very high skill caps. Beginners can make attempts at them, but even the best writers will have places where they can use these techniques in new and inventive ways (unlike many of the platitudes told to writers). This is probably the most worthwhile book of the series.
Ruth Jacobs
Aug 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Writers
Shelves: books-on-writing
Not being great at description, probably because the way I write is to report on the scene as I watch it unfold in my head, I focus more on the characters and what they are doing. This helped me to learn ways to use description, and though still not a wordy describer, I think it has made me better at description and the various methods of using it in my writing.
Wesley Fox
Mar 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
Good introductory text on fiction-writing. Easy to follow, plenty of examples, and lays it out clearly. For those that have already done some serious writing or have a background in English Lit back in college, this book is probably beneath your level.

I wanted to read it because I believe my descriptive writing needs help.
Sep 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
For about half of the book I mostly skimmed through, trying to find tidbits of insight. It wasn't until the second half when she got into the meat of describing setting, which is what I really wanted to know. It was helpful, with great tips and examples. Recommended for those just beginning to write who need pointers on how to write descriptions.
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Monica Wood is the author of four works of fiction, most recently The One-in-a-Million-Boy, which won a 2017 Nautilus Award (Gold) and the 2017 fiction prize from the New England Society in the City of New York. She also is the author of Any Bitter Thing which spent 21 weeks on the American Booksellers Association extended bestseller list and was named a Book Sense Top Ten pick. Her other ...more

Other books in the series

Elements of Fiction Writing (1 - 10 of 11 books)
  • Beginnings, Middles & Ends (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Conflict, Action and Suspense (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Dialogue (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Manuscript Submission
  • Plot
  • Scene & Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Setting: How to Create and Sustain a Sharp Sense of Time and Place in Your Fiction
  • Conflict and Suspense (Elements of Fiction Writing)
  • Voice and Style
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