Here's a technique that makes for more vivid, energetic and compelling fiction. I call it "zooming in." It allows the reader to experience a scene as the character does. Think of it as the zoom on a camera because you target elements of the scene and zero in on them. How does that help you as the writer?
It closes the emotional distance between the reader and the characters, it creates intensity and it makes the scene more immediate and vivid. It also helps the reader identify with your character.
Here's the way an amateur might write about a powerful event:
“Jeff had never been so horrified in his life. The woman next to him in the tent was dead. He was sure of it, and the worst thing was he'd been sleeping with her. She’d vomited and looked revolting. Made him want to puke too.
"He’d never seen a dead person before, and this disgusting woman was making him think of his own mortality, not something he liked to contemplate. He'd have to call the police, of course. What a rotten way to start the day.”
This isn't a terrible scene (I've read far worse) but it's lacking.
It's too abstract. The writer is "telling" about horror and fear instead of bringing the reader into the scene and "showing" him what the character is feeling. (Read my October 2013 for clarification of those terms.)
Anytime you describe the action rather than let your character – and the reader – feel it, you’re distancing the story from the reader. Make the sensory detail so vivid, it's palpable.
Here's the way a pro, Stephen King, rendered the same event in his novel, The Stand:
“He stared into her face for what seemed a very long time. They were almost nose to nose, and the tent seemed to be getting hotter and hotter until it was like an attic on a late August afternoon just before the cooling thundershowers hit. His head seemed to be swelling and swelling. Her mouth was full of that shit. The question that ran around and around in his brain like a mechanical rabbit on a dog track rail was: ‘How long was I sleeping with her after she died?’ Repulsive, man. Reee-pulsive. The paralysis broke and he scrambled out of the tent, scraping both knees when they came off the groundsheet and onto the naked earth. He thought he was going to puke.”
Notice the visceral immediacy, powerful action and rich sensory details King uses. He reduces the distance between his reader and his character, taking her so close that she can feel what the character feels.
Anne Patchett's novel, Bel Canto, is an excellent example of employing the technique with multiple characters. Another way authors use the zoom lens is to provide a panorama of the scene's location before narrowing the focus on action or a character's thoughts.
"Zooming in" does have its problems. It can rev up a scene to the point of melodrama, and long stretches of it may create stasis and overload. Some scenes don't deserve to be magnified because they're not active enough or important enough, but "zooming in" is an exceptionally strong tool if used with caution.