Vivid worlds come from the five major senses. What are your characters seeing? Beautiful colour or dreary greys? I injected visual feedback into Femme via my main character Kaley’s emotions. Skyscrapers that looked like rainbows heightened her wonder and excitement. She felt buoyant and energised by them. If Kaley had been in a decaying environment with dreary skies, she would’ve become serious, concerned or negative. Feelings and emotions are often impacted by our environment.
What about smell? Being a utopian world, Femme was filled with garden smells and very little pollution. I described the perfumes of nearby flowers. I perhaps overdid the delicious aroma of foods. (My book Femme is certainly one for foodies). If it had been a polluted world, I would’ve enhanced it using Kaley’s asthma (instead of curing it at the beginning, like I did). Smell also has the strongest association with memory, so you can use this by transporting your character back to a good or bad memory. Their association will cement them and your reader further into the world.
Taste… yep, back to the foodies and their fabulous dinners. But it’s not just that–when you smell something overpowering (either good or bad), you get an associated taste in the back of your throat. Your characters will physically react to that like salivating or gagging, Use things like that to make the world you’re in more vivid.
What they hear will tell you a lot about the world without you needing to rack up a lot of description. You can imply a diseased or unpopulated world by noting the absence of sounds, both animals and people. You can imply a natural or wild world by listening to the chatter of birds, buzzing of insects, hearing the landscape move (brushed grass, trickling waters, etc). In Axiom (Wanderer, Book One), Daeson is in a park near the docks at sunset. For this I had him listening to the deafening chatter of hundreds of birds (we all know of places where birds gather to be social at sunset), and in the distance he can hear clanging of bells (from tall ships) and the open static of ocean/beach sound. He smelled a difference in the air and tasted the brine in the back of his throat. They were clues as to where he was, but I couldn’t say it because he had no idea where he was at that point in time. Your reader should have something to anchor them, though.
And touch; this sense should never be forgotten. Characters should interact with their environment, otherwise they’re just tourists, along with your reader. Even if they can’t touch anything, something is always touching them–even if they’re floating a foot off the ground, naked, there will still be elements/weather on their skin.
It’s not enough that you know the world inside and out, you have to translate it. The best way is to use all five senses. Being Wanderers, some of my characters can use a few extra senses as well–but the natural, major five are still the best place to start.
BTW; There are more than five senses. Read this if you’re interested in learning more about that.