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How to Write Crisp, Evocative Descriptions (1)

“If description is the flowering, it is also the root and stem of effective writing,” wrote Rebecca McClanahan in her book, Word Painting, A Guide to Writing More Descriptively. I’m reading this book because I meet my Waterloo every time I have to describe something in writing. I honestly feel this makes my writing flowerless. This is such a good book and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to write well.

McClanahan says that description is one third of the story telling tripod; with exploration and narration as the other two legs. She emphasizes that “Description doesn’t begin on the page.It begins in the eye and ear and mouth and nose and hand of the beholder.” According to McClanahan, the most essential task of a writer is careful and imaginative observation. That means I’m in big trouble because I have no patience in noticing. My eyes skim scenes and gloss over details.

I’m only in the first chapter and so far McClanahan has not yet presented any exercises that I can do to help remedy my description deficit disorder. Thank goodness she offers some pointers on how one can discover and describe images. I am noting these under the heading “Things I need to do to become a good writer.”

  1. Engage my senses: touch, look, listen, taste and smell the real world, as well as the world of the imagination (tough)
  2. Find the words that will represent the world I discover through engagement of the senses. Or, wait for the words to find me (tough too)
  3. Consider how the descriptions shape the larger world of the story, poem or work of fiction (another toughie)

I’ll be using this blog to take notes as I read through this book, so this post is the first in a series. I hope you’ll learn along with me.

Lots to work on. See you tomorrow.




photo credit: P1010534 via photopin (license)


  1. Pingback: Oh, those Filtering Devices! | Writing on the Pages of Life

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