• Chelsea Slack

Book Review: 31 Ways to Describe a Goat


Don’t Let Subpar Writing Get Your Goat

There is one thing all of those who work with words have to deal with at some point in time – lackluster prose. At a minimum, as readers we certainly have had to peruse a lifeless composition or two. Wanda Winters’ 31 Ways to Describe a Goat is a godsend for those who need help with either shaking the cobwebs loose or beefing up monotonous manuscripts. After all, no one wants to be the author of something that puts readers to sleep. The book may approach the problem in a simple and straightforward way, but rest assured once you read this guide you will have a rock-solid understanding of how to circumvent what is probably writing’s most common obstacle.

In a world full of writing volumes that make many (even English majors) cringe, 31 Ways to Describe a Goat is a book that actually makes the subject enjoyable. It is a short 41 pages long – a breeze of a read. This could be construed as a positive and a negative; for those who would rather sleep on a writing or composition book than read it, the brevity of the publication is the proverbial dream come true. For the novice novelist who wants and needs lots of explanation and examples, 31 Ways may not be comprehensive enough. However, at a time when reading rates across the board are decreasing, it becomes more and more important for educational publications to be palatable, and Winters’ piece is just that. Furthermore, it is available both as a paperback and as an eBook, which makes it more accessible for one of the largest groups of readers – millennials.

The book is divided into forty sections, ranging from memory and dreams to environmental forces and goofy. The array of subjects covered seems a little far-flung for a writing book, but the difference is in Winters’ dialogue with the reader. As if she is speaking to you herself, she questions the reader throughout each section. In the model of a teacher questioning a student, even beginners can start to understand how to form mental images and translate them onto the page. Many times writing works that deal with improving quality, especially descriptive quality, list examples of what strong imagerial writing looks like. Thankfully Winters makes a departure from this norm. That is not to say the book does not use examples, but rather starts a conversation with the reader and uses somewhat unconventional and eccentric illustrations to get the juices flowing, such as a bald, one-legged female heroine that makes her own wigs out of the scalps of her enemies.

31 Ways is principally about refining what you already have. This is well represented by the diction in the piece, which focuses on how a person, place, or thing might initially be described versus how questioning or revising that description could be beneficial. It reassures writers that creativity is not only correct, but instrumental in making words jump off the page. Some of the ideas in the book could be taken as radical, such as considering how a child would describe something that is so surreal or strange it is intangible. This makes things easier for beginners because it teaches them to write correctly in a natural and instinctual way that seems effortless.

Winters has created a must-read for all aspiring writers, especially those who are either just getting started or are striving for euphoric or bone-chilling expression. In the end, readers can walk away with an understanding the written word’s vitality and flexibility. Essentially a guidebook on throwing out the rulebook, anyone who is ever going to write anything, especially in the creative realm, should read 31 Ways to Describe a Goat. It is a title you’ll want on your shelf.

Winters, Wanda. 31 Ways to Describe a Goat. Charleston, S.C.: Independent Publishing, 2016. 41 pp. ISBN: 1520338597. $6.99.

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© 2018 by Chelsea Slack