Putting sensory detail in writing connects the reader’s body to the character’s, puts them inside the story, triggering the very same associations that they would have in life on, say, hearing a cricket or needing a tissue for a dripping nose. That is what makes a story real for the reader. Don’t crowd out the reader’s associations by writing in too many of your own. This came to me as I was reading “Still Writing” this morning over coffee, so thanks due to Dani Shapiro.
For example, you could write, “she’s tired.” Or you could go for a sensory detail: ache in the feet, inability to catch her breathe, noise making her grind her teeth. Each one invokes a different kind of tired. And sure, you could explain the tiredness more clearly as from walking or running or from machinery. But a single image of feeling the stones underfoot lets the reader try on the sensation and come to the fatigue inside her virtual body. You get out of the way so the reader can live the story, and sensory detail is the key. I mean, readers must irl shut down sensory input to read. And since it is by our senses that we know the world, you have to give it back to them so they can live the story. Of course, every rule can be broken. But I suddenly understood the writer’s task on behalf of the reader is more than getting the story on paper. It’s letting go of author-focused telling and giving it to the reader to live it.