How to Write Descriptively – Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan


Descriptive Writing stands out to me. I have posted a couple of times about books in which Laura Ingalls Wilder has written descriptively, and the opening lines of Bridge to Terabithia  are what captured me about that book.

 Something Wicked This Way Comes

First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren’t rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say. Take September, a bad month: school begins. Consider August, a good month, school hasn’t begun yet. July, well, July’s really fine: there’s no chance in the world for school. – Prologue Something Wicked This Way Comes.

I heard the above passage at the beginning of the movie Something Wicked This Way Comes, and even though everything else about that scene was also working beautifully, it was the word–the outstanding description that seized me.

Because I appreciate descriptive writing, I have decided to spend a chunk of time studying it and to begin a bank of what I consider to be some of the best descriptive writing. If you discover some beautifully descriptive lines, please email them to me, and I’ll add your contribution to the bank. I’ll tell you more about that project in another post. In this post, I want to share portions of Rebecca McClanahan’s fabulous book about descriptive writing: Word Painting. 


All of the Remaining Image Credits to Amazon, where you can buy this book.


McClanahan offers the following definition of Description:

“In literature, description refers to the language used to bring …attributes to the reader’s mind. Description is an attempt to present as directly as possible the qualities of a person, place, object or event. When we describe, we make impressions, attempting through language to represent reality. Description is, in effect, word painting.” McClanahan, Word Painting, p. 7.

McClanahan offers a list of things that Description is NOT:


Let’s consider a few of these points individually:


As we begin learning to write descriptively, you may initially write things that are excessively flowery. After writing for a while, however, you’ll begin to distinguish your excessively flowery writing from good, solid description.



When we begin to write good description, we are often compelled to describe things that are not pretty and pleasant to behold.


Writing with good description does not require using the biggest and most pompous words in the dictionary:


McClanahan’s entire book is wonderful, and it is filled with tips for writing descriptively.







4 thoughts on “How to Write Descriptively – Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan

  1. I like the notion of word painting. Makes me think of Frost’s verse. He establishes winning scenes, settings, and actions. Adrienne Rich accomplishes the same, though her images and actions are harsh by design.

    I like your paintings, which speak to me. You know, your flowers do that, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Couch, i have been waiting all day to hear from you. I found the most beautiful song last night. Please reward yourself and listen to it:


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