Rebecca McClanahan's tenth book, The Tribal Knot, a multi-generational memoir, is forthcoming from Indiana University Press in 2013. Other books include The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings, winner of the Glasgow Prize in nonfiction, and Deep Light: New and Selected Poems. Her work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Poetry, The Pushcart Prize anthology, The Kenyon Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Sun, and numerous anthologies. Recipient of a Pushcart Prize in fiction and the Wood Prize from Poetry, McClanahan teaches in the MFA programs of Queens University and Rainier Writing Workshop.
Rebecca McClanahan's tenth book, The Tribal Knot, a multi-generational memoir, is forthcoming from Indiana University Press in 2013. Her work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Poetry, The Kenyon Review, The Gettysburg Review, and numerous anthologies. The recipient of the Wood Prize from Poetry, a Pushcart Prize in fiction, the Glasgow Award for nonfiction, and literary fellowships from New York Foundation for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council, McClanahan teaches in the MFA programs of Queens University and Rainier Writers Workshop.
I'm so pleased with this book that it's tough to figure out where to start. The author talks about working description into our stories. She could have steered us in the direction of pages and pages of static description, yet she doesn't. She could have pushed us in the direction of tired and overused techniques (having the weather too obviously match up with what's going on in the story, for example), yet she didn't. Ms. McClanahan happily points out pitfalls, trite and overused techniques, and things to beware of at all stages. Her exercises back this up, helping us to subvert the expected. She also has a wonderful, quirky sense of humor, and uses her own advice on writing descriptively to turn what could have been a dry textbook into a beautiful and inspiring, fun-to-read book. This book has no large margins. No space-gobbling quotes. No blank space for doing the (very helpful) exercises. No overly large font or ridiculous line-spacing. None of the traditional tricks for making writing books seem larger than they actually are. This book is every bit as thick with useful information as it looks. The range of topics covered in this book in relation to description is phenomenal. I could spend pages listing out the topics covered (and how well they're dealt with!), such as metaphor, "bringing characters to life through description," point of view, setting, narrative, the senses, and on and on. Whether you write fiction, non-fiction, or poetry, this book can make your writing sing. I have a better notion of where my weaknesses as a writer lie, and how I might turn them into strengths. And that's some of the highest praise I can give to a writing book! This is truly one of my favorite writing books, and it's well worth a writer's time and money to read it.
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Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan is, without a doubt, one of the best writing related books I have ever purchased. Oh, other reference books have come and gone -- mostly to an auction site or a used bookstore -- but Word Painting is one that stays on my shelf and won't be going anywhere.
Is it a book heavy on technical information? Absolutely. At times it reads like a textbook for a writing class, so that might surprise some. But the more I read this book (and I go back to re-read it regularly) the more I learn. To say that Word Painting is merely a book that teaches you how to write more descriptively would be an injustice to the material contained inside.
Word Painting tackles all the standard writing "must knows" like tenses and points of view, moves on to the art of creating your own, unique similes and metaphors (avoiding the cliche), tackles passive vs. active & cluttered vs. uncluttered prose, then moves on to the biggies like setting, and how writing descriptively weaves into narration, description, and exposition to form the larger framework of your overall story...how writing descriptively affects your narrative voice.
McClanahan teaches you to look at the world, people and things around you with an "artist's" eye, noticing texture and sound and light, then guides you through translating what you see and hear and smell and touch onto the page in words so the reader can experience that with you.
Not only did this book teach me the importance of description and how it helps shape a story, it taught me the importance of all the various elements of fiction writing AND how to write them in a balance. Each chapter is full of useful information, but I'm not going to lie and say that it's not heavy reading. It is.Read more ›
This book is a valuable tool for any writer, and I have been recommending it to all my students here at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Teachers, especially those who work with beginning creative writers in a community setting, will find the incredible exercises listed at the end of each chapter invaluable. I find myself asking, why didn't I think of that one? The examples she uses to illustrate her comments on using all five senses are drawn from the classics and from contemporary sources, all chosen for Virginia Woolf's "common reader." The language is very readable and approachable; and the charm and enthusiasm of the writer comes through. This is the best teaching tool I have bought in years.
I really have to stop getting sucked in by Writer's Digest Books. I am a writer who had read a ton of books on writing, and the Writer's Digest Books are always the same. They claim to be on a certain focus, such as description, and they are for the first few chapters. Then, after a hundred pages or so, they begin to ramble on about other subjects. The big problem is that all the information is the same information that appears in the other Writer's Digest books on writing. It is good for a beginning to read ONE of these sorts of books, but for an experienced writer, trying to go in-depth into one topic, they are useless.
THIS BOOKS TEACHES DESCRIPTION IN A VERY GENERAL MANNER. AND THEN IT GOES ON TO TALK ABOUT OTHER THINGS. IT IS NOT A BOOK ABOUT DESCRIPTION.
Also the writing itself is pretty off-putting. The writer did not seem to take much time to edit her work. Honestly, 1 star isn't low enough. From now on, I will look at the publisher before I buy, and if it is Writer's Digest, I won't buy.
To any new writer, I'd recommend buying "Writing the Breakout Novel" by Donald Maas, as it provides all the useful information that Writer's Digest has to offer. After reading that, do not buy any more writer's digest books. The rest are less clear and just reiterate all the information Maas presents.