Words…words…descriptive words

by | Jun 9, 2009 | Fiction Book Reviews | 2 comments

In Rebecca McClanahan’s book Word Painting, she explains the difference between explanatory words and descriptive words. This definition really hit home with me to help with my understanding of the using words that count; heavy-weight words. 🙂

Explanatory words give generic qualities to the object. Some of McClanahan’s examples are ‘old, remarkable, lovely”. To me, it seems like these words are like viewing colors with your sunglasses on. They are kind of tinted by a dark film, not really delving into the richness of the colors.

Descriptive words add spice, color, specific flavor to the objects. Again, McClanahan’s word choices are ” bug-eyed, curly, bumpy, frayed…” What makes these words different? They evoke something more than an mental recognition, they pull in the senses. We can almost taste or touch the words. Our emotions respond, not just our minds. Memories of items or experiences where we felt something bumpy or touched a frayed edge of a piece of cloth, draw us into the story in ways the explanatory words do not.

Of course, the explanatory words are great…important, but giving our objects defining words to prick our senses will make our writing become more alive.


  1. Jeannie Campbell

    very cool idea…making your words count. 🙂 what size book are you going for? i just don't see how people write the 55-60,000 word books…i have WAY more to say than that. 🙂

    thanks for the email…

  2. Pepper Basham

    I'm so with you on your word count, Jeannie. My books are usually well over 75,000 words…unfortunately for some publishing houses


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