Including Background Scenery



I write a lot of first person. That means that I use “I” a lot. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but because I’m so concerned about my story’s action getting out that I tend to forget to put sufficient background into my story. You know that old writer’s maxim = Show don’t tell? Well I am forever telling.

Not good.

Background scenery is what literally grounds your scene. It allows your readers to visualize themselves right alongside you in your story.  And it is absolutely necessary.

So how is this done?

For me, I go ahead and write my “I” story. I don’t worry about details in the first draft. I just get the storyline out of my head.

Then I go back and work my way through my five senses:

  • Sight
  • Smell
  • Touch
  • Feel
  • Hear

I ask myself questions for each sense. What did I see? What unique smells were important to that scene? How was the weather? What did I feel on my skin? What sounds caught my attention? How about colors? And so on.

Scenery writing is a good example of how the parts equal more than the whole. By adding these specific details, you are in control and can craft how your reader “sees” the action.  You can make your reader feel something that wasn’t there in  the “I” statements. Adding detail is an incredibly powerful writers’ tool.

When working on my scenes, I also ask myself how I felt emotionally. For example, was I anxious? If so I write in something that *shows* I was anxious, instead of just saying it. For example, if I was anxious about a child’s safety I might use this:

“I fingered the small rock in my pocket, given to me by my daughter years ago when we were at the shore.
“Here, mommy,” she had said “Hold this rock, while I go play.””

Do you see how that’s so much better in terms of storytelling than simply writing –

“A sense of foreboding overcame me.”

Writing means constantly balancing your need to write your story with your readers need to place themselves within its pages. One way to make everyone happy is to include those specific details which make your background scenery pop to life, inviting your readers to join in.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). ( She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

10 thoughts on “Including Background Scenery

  1. I absolutely agree! Your example was perfect. First person is an amazing POV in the way it draws the reader into the narrative, but I agree with you…it tends to draw us the writers in as well! 🙂 So your advice is terrific. The one sense that still eludes me is smell. OMG! It is sooo hard to describe directly…it seems that we almost always have to use metaphor.

    Great post!

  2. Great post. Running through the 5 senses is a good way to really breathe life into a scene. I also try to include “props”, which you did with the pebble in your example, because I feel like they can add something extra. Especially during extended dialogue, because generally in real life no one ever sits totally motionless while having a conversation.

  3. Pingback: Including Background Scenery #wrtr2wrtr | Words Can Inspire the World

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