I read somewhere that one of the rules of writing vividly is to be specific. At the time, I never really got it. I thought I had, and I had tried to write more vividly, but never really veered off from my habit of writing non-vividly. It was only recently that I read a descriptive passage that Lee Lofland wrote in Police Procedure and Investigation (very awesome reference book if you use any policemen in your story) and compared it to mine, and found that my passage couldn't even complete the marathon that was vivid writing, never mind being first.
In response to the loss of that race, I went in search of the reason for it. After a few posts on the topic, I came upon another (can't remember exactly which) site that said something like this:
To create a vivid scene, don't use general descriptions.
And somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind, a little light bulb flickered to life.
It linked with the “be specific” advice I had read and formed a new idea. The importance of describing objects of interest in high detail. At first I had thought that this would lead to sloppy writing that would get old as quick as knock-knock jokes, but I was wrong.
Obviously, one does not add detail to every object that your character can see in his or her lifetime. You have to make choices; decide which objects can characterise, provide clues or create atmosphere. Those objects should be looked at and studied to create the vivid writing that keeps people reading.
There is another piece of advice that stopped me from advancing to more vivid writing. Use as little as possible adverbs and adjectives. But in fact, the advice was most probably given to prevent one from using general terms to describe things.
Compare these two sentences.
-The brown-coloured apartment looked pretty shabby.
-The peeling walls were painted a dark brown – just a few shades less than ebony – and filled with a variety of worn couches and tables in different shades of beige.
In case you didn't get it, the second sentence was supposed to be the better one. By being specific, you can not only pump that word count, but also create writing that is much more of a pleasure to read and gives a much better idea of the environment your character finds himself in.
In a previous post, I sort of discussed this topic, but it was not completely on the mark, though it hit the target with using the senses. Using all the senses that you can manage to put in will further increase the vividness of the whole scene.
General descriptions are to writers as monopolies are to humans (Yes, that's right, I differentiated between humans and writers). The prior will not kill the latter, but life is much more interesting without them.