The house was red and the dog was spotty. Sentences like these don’t tend to provide enough description to capture an audience and gain writers the agents they need to be published by big publishing companies and make it BIG. But how exactly do you describe the house? What does the spotty dog look like? Better yet, what sounds, smells, tastes, or feels surround these items?
In Description, Wood begins to lay out some of the elements of description vital to a writer creating not just a story but a work of art.
The book, unlike You Can Write a Novel which I had read prior to it (and which, funnily enough, looked so similar to Description, I feared the books were written by the same person) is well laid, includes incredible examples, and provides lessons for writers that I found helpful and accurate.
I actually expected something entirely different from the book. The title “Description” made me think of my poetic language describing the berry grove in The Criminal or even the quicker sentences that describe the swordplay Harmony and Chase engage in throughout the novel. While I think that some of these things are actually what I do best in my novel (I have gotten encouraging feedback about my world-building), I do believe there is always room for improvement and with a topic that can be done so well or so terribly such as description, I knew (if the author of the book were any good) there would be something I could learn).
I did learn plenty but it wasn’t all that I was expecting.
Wood does talk about the kinds of descriptions that people think of when they hear the word (associated with writing). She does discuss the difficulties with writing descriptions of weather, animals, emotions, and sound. She talks about minimalism and maximalism and notes that descriptions of settings can be lengthy and thorough but ONLY when the setting adds something to the plot. Otherwise, the descriptive paragraph is something that readers will skip. She has a couple of chapters giving lessons and, better yet, examples of good and bad descriptions just like one might expect in a book entitled Description.
What one doesn’t expect is a book that notes how Description is related to point of view, to dialogue, and to other elements of a novel. Everything in a novel is so intertwined (or at least it should be) and if the author is not using tools of description in some of these other elements, they are doing something wrong. Wood shows how. She opened my eyes to some of the mistakes I had made and some of the areas where I hadn’t made mistakes but could improve upon my writing greatly.
And she did so with wonderful examples.
While You Can Write a Novel mostly includes examples from Jaws and Jurassic Park with the occasional example from the author’s own novel, the examples in Description stand alone. Many of the examples in You Can Write a Novel require background information or are confusing. In Description, Wood creates an example and then often continues to use the same example for multiple pages, changing it to show how different tools affect it.
For example, she might tell a story about a woman boarding a train for Alaska in the first person and then demonstrate how a different POV would change the story.
The best thing about her examples, however, is how beautiful they are. I have never read Wood’s novels and, having looked at them, I am not sure that I will (they aren’t really up my alley) but the prose within her writing book is absolutely stunning and it lends authority to everything else she is saying. She isn’t borrowing these stunning examples from someone else (ex. Jaws, or Jurassic Park) but instead, she makes them up herself. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t occasionally refer to her novel (only a few times) or refer to another accomplished author’s work. Both of these things, in moderation, add authority to her work and show that she knows what she’s doing. But the fact that she creates most of her own examples is impressive, makes me believe what she’s saying, and helps her demonstrate what she’s saying better.
The book was so helpful to me that I have purchased a copy from ThriftBooks. I want to be able to have a copy on hand as I go back through The Criminal, looking for things that I can edit and change to make it even better. Having my own copy will hopefully allow me to earmark pages I find the most useful and return to the things I need to re-read over and over again without having to keep checking it out from the library!
This book is not too expensive for the information it contains (even better on ThriftBooks) and is small (thus a quicker read) and I would encourage you to get your own copy to add to your Writer’s Toolbox. It isn’t a well-known book so you might not have heard of it before but don’t judge this book by its cover for what it has inside it juicy information you won’t want to miss!!