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Just be sure that it’s a perfect fit, so it doesn’t read strangely.Descriptions often read a bit boring because they simply show how something looks, or feels, or sounds. Emotion, on the other hand, is stirring, awakening physical and emotional sensations inside the reader.When we add an element of emotion to a descriptive phrase—especially when the feeling isn’t overtly mentioned—it adds depth, like in the following example: There’s no mention of emotion here, but it still comes through because Anderson has used a comparison that expresses disconnectedness and resulting sadness.
Stiefvater could have focused on the boy’s eyes or musculature or coloring to describe his looks.
But by zooming out and viewing him as a whole, she was able to describe him from that vantage point and come up with something new and interesting.
This idea of turning tired phrases into new and interesting ones has intrigued me for a while—so much so that I have a notebook full of samples I’ve found in various books.
When I get stuck trying to describe something in my own writing, I pull it out and study the passages to see how the author was able to put a new twist on a well-used phrase.
But in the following example, Choldenko zeroes in on a different part of the body to show what her character is feeling.
The result not only conveys the emotion in a new way, it adds a bit of humor, which fits the tone of her piece: Everything that we describe has its fallback cues that we default to when we’re unsure how to explain something.To move beyond these clichés, focus on one aspect of the description and experiment with new ways to say that one part.Take this sentence, for instance: This is a great example of how a potentially clichéd phrase can be freshened up with a little extra thought and effort.Taylor adequately conveys the character’s emotion through an unusual but perfect comparison: the sound of nails pulling out of a wood plank.We’ve all heard that noise; it makes me wince just thinking about it.Weather is very often conveyed through the feel of the air.When expressing a character’s emotions, we show what the eyes and hands are doing.As a result, I’ve figured out a couple of tricks for how we can amp up our descriptions for both fiction and nonfiction works.The beauty of these techniques is that they work for settings, physical features, character emotion—all kinds of descriptions.Taking the time to explore other word choices can result in a phrase that sounds totally different.And don’t underestimate the impact of making up a completely new word.