Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively” as Want to Read:
Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  563 ratings  ·  51 reviews
Let Rebecca McClanahan guide you through an inspiring examination of description in its many forms. With her thoughtful instruction and engaging exercises, you'll learn to develop your senses and powers of observation to uncover the rich, evocative words that accurately portray your mind's images. McClanahan includes dozens of descriptive passages written by master poets a ...more
Paperback, 250 pages
Published August 15th 2000 by Writer's Digest Books (first published January 1st 1999)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Word Painting, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Word Painting

On Writing by Stephen KingThe Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.Bird by Bird by Anne LamottWriting Down the Bones by Natalie GoldbergEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Best Books on Writing
704 books — 1,240 voters
Setting by Jack M. BickhamWord Painting by Rebecca McClanahanDescription & Setting by Ron Rozelle
3 books — 2 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.05  · 
Rating details
 ·  563 ratings  ·  51 reviews

Sort order
Mar 01, 2010 rated it did not like it
Mostly a waste of time--

There are some useful advice and exercises, I admit, but after about page 100, it loses focus and starts to ramble on about topics that are MUCH better dealt by other books, such as characters, point of view, setting, and plot. It actually made me angry and frustrated to be reading about something that, to me, had little to do with "description."

Her useful advice can be listed as follows:

-Use descriptive, not explanatory or labeling words
-Use sensory, concrete details
Tasha Christensen
Feb 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was an excellent guide for someone like me, who has always been much better at writing action and dialogue and plot than at description. If you're one of those people who always has to pare down your writing, then this may not be for you.

You can tell right off the bat that McClanahan is a poet. I'm not overly fond of much poetry, but to read a writing book from the perspective of a poet was immensely helpful in taking me outside of my usual habits and prejudices so that I could actually lea
David Williams
Apr 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Rebecca McLanahan has produced a book that is both useful to writers and a great pleasure to read for its own sake. She manages this partly by her judicious selection of examples, but perhaps even more so by her graceful descriptions of her own writing techniques, subtly toned and coloured with touches of autobiography.

She gets the details right too. Consider, for example, this modest little paragraph:

'Much of our writing energy is expended not in illuminating the deep mysteries of theme and s
Mar 25, 2012 rated it liked it
A decent book with a lot of good advice, but man can it be long-winded at times. It starts to drag about halfway through and entirely loses focus by the end, delving into territory that's covered much better, and in greater detail, by other books.

Honestly, if this book were half as long it would've been twice as good, because the beginning is actually pretty great. I loved the section on metaphor, simile, and other figures of speech, for instance, but the absolute best thing I took away from th
Pauline Youd
Feb 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Overwhelming at first, but extremely practical by the time I finished. Slow reading if you do the exercises. Now to apply all I learned...
Alex Duncan
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Tough to get through but there are some gems in there if you want to improve your writing.
Raimey Gallant
Apr 12, 2019 rated it liked it
The book, valuable for writers who want to write more descriptively, is worth reading for the examples alone. Definitely new takeaways for me. My chief issues: 1) the author, at times, forced quotes about writing into arguments they weren't well suited to; 2) I accidentally read the older edition, and so I can't speak to whether the non-woke passages have since been revamped.
Jul 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic read. McClanahan has created a readable, informative and practical guide to improving a writer's descriptive power. I was attracted to the title and cover, "Word Painting" and a reproduction of Manet's impressionist look at Monet and his wife on a boat. I had never connected writing to painting. While admitting that they are both a form of art, I was always too intimidated to consider painting, I can't even draw a nice stick figure person. Anyway, as I started to read I reali ...more
Kenya Wright
Oct 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
This just took too long to say things, and when she did it was things that I already knew, which was probably why I was bored.

I do wish I'd read this a year ago, but the things in this book are the things that my editors have beat into my head.

I do think new writers would learn a lot from this book, but they would need to be patient with long-winded discussions.
Katia M. Davis
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was a pleasure to read. Not only was it informative, it was well written. Although aimed more towards the literary, there is no reason why the well structured advice cannot be applied to genre fiction. In fact, genre fiction is probably where it is most needed. How many times have we read a good thriller or crime novel that keeps us turning the page because of intrigue or action, only to feel detached from the characters, or get that icky feeling when the emotion of a scene jars with t ...more
Dec 11, 2018 rated it liked it
It has taken me three tries to finally finish this book.
The advice is great. It is obvious from the start (with the description of apples) that the author knows her stuff. But as the book progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to keep engaged with the words.
The first half is absolutely useful. I learned a lot from it.
The second half... not so much. The author starts going on tangents and giving abstract explanations instead of the precise simple ones she was giving at the beginning.
Not a
May 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
Great advice. The author sounds like a literary author from her style, seems to write "literary type things" and often quotes literary type authors (like the total snob Gardner blech) but she is not at all rude about genre fiction when it is mentioned. Basically, she offers a lot of good advice for if you want to have the richer, deeper descriptions that are found in literary works more often than in genre fiction, but doesn't put down genre writers. It is really refreshing to see this, and I'm ...more
Oct 15, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is geared more toward the budding writer. Experienced authors won’t find anything new here. On a side note... the fact this author chose passages using the N word is unacceptable. I also noticed the author has a major problem with “fat” people as she uses the term or passage examples repeatedly. Same goes for sex. Her own “word painting” told a tale of a woman with many prejudices.
Jennifer Louden
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Best book about writing description. Get it!
Charles Garard
Jan 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In a constellation of gemstones gleaming in the writer's universe, Rebecca McClanahan's valuable text WORD PAINTING: A GUIDE TO WRITING shines among the brightest, and this includes books on writing that I have read and even taught (like Janet Burroway and X.J. Kennedy) in college writing courses. Like me, Rebecca is also an experienced teacher (we are also both Virgos -- but unless you are a Virgo, you probably won't appreciate the significance or humor in this) who extends her wisdom beyond th ...more
K. A. Parker
Jul 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ref-and-how-to
I've hated writing description for as long as I can remember. Hated it. I always wanted to get to the good stuff like dialogue and rip-roaring action and not be slowed down by having to begrudgingly describe, for a winded paragraph or page, my characters' eyes, hair, skin, etc. Thus, my skills in writing description have suffered immensely, all because I never sat down and took the time to study how to properly use what I outright refused to understand something essential to all writing, not jus ...more
L.A. Jacob
Dec 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book on description. The author uses classics and other writers to illustrate different types of description, in addition to her own works (only a very few number of times, though, thank heaven). This book has great exercises that will help you see your writing in a more descriptive way. If you have problems with describing your people, places and things, this book will help with that, as well as give you quick pointers on tone, plot, and theme. Here's a tip that I've learned: Scatt ...more
Literary Mama
I read this book about five years ago and can still recall passages. There aren't many books I can say that about, and I think this demonstrates her point: original, sensuous writing is memorable writing. McClanahan draws many of her examples from her students' work. One of my favorites, from her chapter on figurative speech, was written by a second grader: "When my mama sit down, it's like the whole world be resting."

Read Literary Mama's full review here:
Feb 18, 2013 marked it as to-read
Shelves: writing
Let Rebecca McClanahan guide you through an inspiring examination of description in its many forms. With her thoughtful instruction and engaging exercises, you'll learn to develop your senses and powers of observation to uncover the rich, evocative words that accurately portray your mind's images. McClanahan includes dozens of descriptive passages written by master poets and authors to illuminate the process. She also teaches you how to weave writing together using description as a unifying thre ...more
Kayla Asher
Feb 19, 2015 rated it liked it
this book was in equal parts 5 stars and 2 stars. it was equally really helpful, and so obvious and simplistic, the only reason i thought i didnt know the info was because it was broken down into such minuscule parts, i didnt recognize it, and then when i recognized it, i was just like, oh, this, and skipped it.
i skipped a lot.
BUT there were also some real pearls of wisdom in this. so it was helpful, but it was also just too long winded and annoying to read because it was too long. a lot of the
Justin Tonna
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
As a writer I found this book really amazing.

Not only is it packed with solid advice and examples, it also is chock full of exercise to get your descriptive muscles working. You can't be a writer if you don't write and this book will have you writing and reading in equal measure.

Read it, write it, enjoy it!
Dec 04, 2012 rated it liked it
Fantastic title! The book itself? It wasn't bad, as craft books go. It had a lot of good reminders, and it was well written. But, the title made my expectations very high and the content left them a bit unfulfilled. If you're a new writer and haven't had many/any classes on writing creatively, this book is for you!
Nina Fitzgerald
Jan 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
Not exactly a "page turner," this book is a fairly good guide to improving your writing techniques. If you have forgotten the difference between a metaphor and a simile, then this book is for you! It helped remind me to look at the everyday world in terms of its descriptive qualities. Exercises are included but I didn't do them.
Rosalind M
Jul 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, writing
Reading this was like reading a song. Not everyone embraces this reference, I know, but the lyrical quality of the writing here and the tangibility her words give to her descriptions....she inspires me.
Jul 22, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing, nonfiction
I feel that description is one of my weaknesses as a writer, so I bought this book. I learn some things from it and I think it contains some useful exercises, but I'm too lazy to do them. Besides, I rarely write anymore these days so have had no opportunity to really practice.
Selina Kyle
Apr 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Great book for getting you out of a rut, for helping you revisit old passages, and for helping you look at things from multiple angles. Whether you're a professional, a student, or just in it for fun, I recommend this book to anyone who writes.
Laura Gilfillan
Sep 24, 2016 rated it liked it
This book had a thorough discussion of the importance of description; of getting all of the senses, and movement involved with descriptions; and the relationship of description with other important elements of writing. The author got kind of fancy with some of her description examples.
Clarissa Draper
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: textbooks
This is one of the best books I've ever read on descriptions. It's not just for poets but for all writers. She includes examples from the best writers out there to prove her points.

I haven't done all the exercises yet but I want to because I know they will help my writing immensely.
Antoinette Armocida
Dec 16, 2011 rated it liked it
It's good, but it does repeat itself. I was a writer who didn't understand the dynamics of writing descriptively or its value. I now understand both how it works and its value. So it wasn't a waste of money, but i didnt finish reading it because it was overload.
Aug 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I'm sure I'll be re-reading this often. There is a lot of great insight in this book for budding authors.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Breathing Life Into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional & Psychological Depth
  • Description
  • Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing
  • Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing
  • Dynamic Characters: How to Create Personalities That Keep Readers Captivated
  • What Would Your Character Do?
  • Showing & Telling: Learn How to Show & When to Tell for Powerful & Balanced Writing
  • Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View
  • Writing Dialogue
  • Getting the Words Right
  • Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time
  • Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
  • Creating Character Emotions
  • The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life
  • Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction
  • Description & Setting
  • Story Structure Architect
  • The Productive Writer: Tips & Tools to Help You Write More, Stress Less & Create Success

Goodreads is hiring!

If you like books and love to build cool products, we may be looking for you.
Learn more »
“One of the most effective ways to quicken your story’s pace is to move from a static description of an object, place or person to an active scene. The classic method for accomplishing this is to have your character interact with the subject that’s been described. For instance, let’s say you’ve just written three paragraphs describing a wedding dress in a shop window. You’ve detailed the Belgian lace veil, the beaded bodice, the twelve-foot train, even the row of satin buttons down the sleeves. Instinctively you feel it’s time to move into an action scene, but how do you do it without making your transition obvious? A simple, almost seamless way is to initiate an action between your character (let’s call her Miranda) and the dress you’ve just described. Perhaps Miranda could be passing by on the sidewalk when the dress in the window catches her attention. Or she could walk into the shop and ask the shopkeeper how much the dress costs. This method works well to link almost any static description with a scene of action. Describe an elegant table, for instance, complete with crystal goblets, damask tablecloth, monogrammed napkins and sterling silver tableware; then let the maid pull a cloth from her apron and begin to polish one of the forks. Or describe a Superman kite lying beside a tree, then watch as a little girl grabs the string and begins to run. You will still be describing, but the nature of your description will have changed from static to active, thus quickening the story’s pace. Throughout” 1 likes
“But as musically evocative as Fitzgerald’s diction is, it’s his luxurious syntax that choreographs the scene. Like the liquid movement of the partygoers, his sentences “swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath.” Fitzgerald’s long, languid rhythms rise and fall seamlessly, then “with triumph glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing light.” His language is as opulent as the women’s costumes and as free-flowing as the champagne, continuing breathlessly to the end of the passage. As readers, we may eventually forget Fitzgerald’s colorful and musical descriptions, but we probably won’t forget the atmosphere of his fictional dream. Long after the last guest has departed and we’ve closed the covers on the novel, something— a fragrance, a snatch of song, a feeling—will remain in the summer air. ATTITUDE” 1 likes
More quotes…