I am taking an interesting class right now: food writing for historical novelists with Camryn Rhys.
We just had our first homework assignment-- a first-hand account of a real-time food experience. I wrote 512 words about cooking and eating fried eggs and toast. I had to compose details that showed: Taste. Touch. Sound. Sight. Scent.
The next assignments will be trickier: incorporating them into my story in a way that "creates an important pause in the emotional arc."
For example, to compose sensory details of taking a shower, I could describe how the water feels--its temperature, the spray, is it slippery soft or hard. The shower stall--walls smooth, shiny hard. How the water tastes; the shampoo tastes--and smells. How it looks and sounds on the shower curtain or door before we enter. Once we are inside, how the water and soap bubbles run off my body and down the walls, down the drain. The scent of the soap. The texture of a washrag. The squeakiness of my hair after I rinse out the shampoo.
Once I have these options, I would pick ones that mesh with the emotions of the scene. Is the heroine distraught over a lost love--the spray could feel like knife cuts. I could describe how she feels through her experiencing the spray. Use the few words of a sensory detail to show how a character is feeling.
Or an essential memory. What if my character as a young child was scrubbed harshly by a mother whose husband had just smacked her around? What if she remembers playing happily with her younger brother in a tub--and now she'd just learned he drowned? What if she is in the shower with her lover and he slips on the soap--something she has always feared could happen.
I like writing these evocative details. I can see that I can't just list five or six of them to create the mood of my setting. I need to choose the details that I can link directly to the emotion in the scene.
More good stuff to learn.