There’s more to telling a story than simply relaying events to a reader in chronological (or whichever you prefer) order.
No, readers need to be drawn in. They need to share experiences with the story’s characters. That can’t really be done if the reader can’t get a sense of what’s going on around the characters.
Where are they?
What are they seeing?
Touching? How does it feel?
What are they smelling?
What are they hearing? How clearly?
I’m not saying that I’m looking for five pages of pure description. But still, hinting at a characters surroundings would be good. Otherwise we readers have nothing but a thick white mist around the characters in our mind.
So how does one do that? Especially since writers can’t use pages of description?
By having the character notice things. Not a million things at the same time. Just the most immediately pressing ones in tense situations. So seeing and feeling, most likely.
If a situation is more relaxed, people tend to notice more. And so should your character. Only don’t make it obvious. Think of how you perceive things. Do you make a point of making a list of every single thing about a new room? Most likely not. But certain things will catch your eye. Like a window glinting. Or a scatter cushion being out of place. Something like that.
The same for the other senses. Your character won’t try to take stock of every tiny little thing. But something will stand out. A high pitched whistle. The smell of unwashed bodies. The dry, almost gritty taste of smoke.
Always remember two things:
1) It’s about balance. Never focus on only one sense at a time. But don’t use all of them at the same time either, unless the situation is overwhelmingly strong. Or if you character has keen powers of observation.
2) Quality over quantity. Too much description can slow a story to a halt, so rather go for well chosen and well blended moments that mean more and put a reader firmly in the story.
Look Out for These:
1) “White” scenes where the characters don’t react to or interact with their surroundings.
2) Pages and pages of meaningless description.
3) A lack of certain senses in description. Especially taste and smell, since they seem to be neglected the most.
Which senses do you forget about in description? Do are you a minimalist when it comes to description? Or do you have to restrain yourself?