One of my favorite pieces of writing advice is to describe setting and details as the character interacts with them, that way those details stand out to the reader. Those details become not just words, but memorable sensations.
What do I mean by that? Well, it’s similar to advice you’ve already heard about showing vs. telling. While telling the reader things certainly has its place—and one day if I remember I may write a post in defense of telling, because it is so often maligned, like adverbs—showing the reader a detail creates sensation and memory.
For example, let’s say there’s a special kind of yarn in your world (since half of my world revolves around yarn…) and you want to bring it up in the narrative because it’s a plot point later. Well, you can have your character exposit about the softness and where it comes from and how hard it is to find.
But that’s skimmable. What’s memorable?
Perhaps your character sees someone wearing a scarf made from this fancy yarn. Whoa, right? (I so love yarn.) Maybe your character gets a chase to touch it (and you get to describe this deliciousness) and ask about the yarn. Or someone tries to steal the scarf because it’s so valuable! Exciting!
Now your readers will remember the yarn and how coveted it is. (It is now my hope that whenever you use this technique in the future, you think about yarn.)
You can use the same idea when you’re describing a new setting. Don’t just say your character is walking through a forest; mention deer crashing through the trees or way sunlight splinters through the branches. When describing a new room, let the character drag her fingertips across the desk or table. Is it rough or smooth? What does that say about the place your character just stepped inside? And how does your character react?
There’s so much you can get across with careful showing, and the deeper you go, the stronger memory you can give your reader. Though please, for the love of commas, keep your descriptions tight and easy to read. You don’t want to bog down the pace by describing everything. But by forcing yourself to choose the strongest, most important details, you’re helping them stand out even more in the reader’s mind.