on Writers Helping Writers:
One of the things that pumps me up the most when I’m reading a book is when the author phrases things in a way I’ve never seen before. It could be a familiar concept or image—red hair, an urban street, fear—but when it’s written differently, I’m able to visualize that thing in a new way, as if I’m seeing it from a new angle.
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 study those passages to see how the author was able to put a new twist on a well-used phrase. 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.