Stories and novels (and non-fiction, such as travel books) become more vivid when readers are encouraged to touch, hear, see, smell and taste aspects of the setting. Compare these two passages:
‘I knelt and touched his cheek. It was clear that he was dead.’
‘I knelt to touch his cheek. It was cold, waxy. I jumped back. I’d just touched a dead body.
In the second passage readers are invited to imagine what it would be like to touch a dead man’s face. They are brought into the scene, closer to the action, and encouraged to respond along with the narrator; the sensual detail evokes a more imaginable, and therefore vivid, picture. But note, too, the clipped, abrupt style: it emphasizes the shock of the narrator and helps characterize him/her.
Sensory multi-laying engages readers.
‘She pulled her foot free of the mud. The sound reminded her of tearing a cotton sheet.’
The reader is being asked to hear a specific and recognizable sound in this sentence. [ It’s also a sound that tells us a small detail about the girl. What would a banker/an unhappy woman/a grieving father, hear?
Another important writers’ tip is also operating here: it’s better to be specific than general. The writer might have written ‘with a sharp sound’, but there are many kinds of sharp sounds; the ‘tearing of a cotton sheet’ is a much more precise description. Of course, there are many more. Think of some, but remember the sound must be relevant to the character’s life and personality.
More sensory detail to follow.