A 3D distinct lattice spring model (DLSM) is proposed where matter is discretized into individual particles linked by springs. The presented model is different from the conventional lattice spring models where a shear spring is introduced to model the multibody force by evaluating the spring deformation from the local strain rather than the particle displacement. By doing this, the proposed model can represent the diversity of Poisson's ratio without violating the rotational invariance. The local strain of the spring is calculated through a least square method which makes the model possessing meshless properties. Because of this and explicitly representing the microstructure, DLSM is able to model dynamic fracturing problems and can be used to study the microstructure influences. The material parameters inputted in the model is the conventional material parameters, e.g. the elastic modules and the Poisson's ratio. Relationships between microscopic spring parameters and macroscopic material constants are derived based on the Cauchy–Born rules and the hyperelastic theory. Numerical examples are presented to show the abilities and properties of DLSM in modeling elastic and dynamic failure problems. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.