I just finished reading “Word Painting”, the revised addition by Rebecca McClanahan published in 2014. I didn’t like what she said. It reminded of Mr. Kavolius my seventh grade English teacher. I had tried to get by in his class with my usual minimal effort, but what had worked for me in grade school didn’t cut it. Mr. K. demanded much more. This was no longer elementary school where I was competing against one small group of average kids—this was junior high. The students in Mr. K’s class were brimming with grey matter. I felt like I had been thrown into the deep end of the pool with concrete swimmies.
We dissected classic novels. We learned how a good writer could lead the reader one way then spring a surprise. We saw how H. G. Wells convinced us that invisibility was possible. We learned about character development, plot twists, foreshadowing, and much more. It’s where I was first exposed to what would become my favorite poem.
I never fully overcame my laziness that year. I was lucky to scratch out a “C” in the class and happy to be done with that torture. I thought I hadn’t learned a thing. It wasn’t until high school and college when I was receiving high marks in English classes on my creative writing papers that I realized how those days dissecting classic novels in Mr. K’s class had positively affected my writing. In my first semester of engineering school, it was the grade I earned in English class that bolstered my otherwise poor GPA.
Just as I didn’t like the lessons in Mr. K’s class, I don’t like lessons in Ms. McClanahan’s “Word Painting”. They make me work harder on my writing. Her book is packed with ways to pay more attention to our senses, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting in order to bring those experiences to the page in a way that will let readers feel what the characters feel. Through thought provoking discussions and examples she guides us in ways to develop, practice and energize our lazy descriptions.
Thank you, Rebecca McClanahan.