Details! Details! “Unseen Background Details” by Mary Deal

Unseen Background Details

by

Mary Deal

As a writer, you may find that TV characters can be emotionally flat time and again. What sets them apart, even what gets the viewer to like them, is that we can see them. We see their facial expressions and how they react to other people and occurrences. We see their actions, which express motivations and emotion. We see the background scenery and how they act and react in such a setting.

What we see on TV or in a film is exactly what many writers fail to include in their stories. What we see in a picture doesn’t have to be explained because we see it. When writing our stories and books, we have to describe most of this for the reader.

A simplified example: If the reader doesn’t know the character is caught out in a rainstorm, how will the reader know anything except that the character is walking down a street?

We must describe the setting. If it was raining, don’t stop there.

Was it a thunderstorm or simply sprinkling?

Did the character get caught without a raincoat and umbrella?

Was the sky dark, or was the sun shining through the rain?

Was the wind blowing?

Who else was nearby and how did they react to the rain?

We writers have to include in our written works anything that might otherwise be seen when viewing the same scene on TV or in a film. Yet, we cannot over-do the details by stopping the story and describing the background.

Every detail necessary should be woven into the action. Which do you prefer?

The sky was dark. Lightning lit up the distance sky. Thunder rolled. The wind was fierce. It bent her umbrella backwards. She discarded it. Rain pelted down. She wore a raincoat but was still caught in the rain.

Or this:

When lightning flashed and thunder rolled again and the deluge came, she grabbed the collar of her raincoat, drew it up around her neck, and began running. Her umbrella bent backwards as the wind tore it from her hands. Her hair hung in loose wet ringlets as water streamed off the ends and ran down inside the coat. How did she ever let herself get caught alone on a dark street with wind strong enough to blow her over the side of the bridge? And why had that dark sedan slowed its speed to keep pace directly behind her?

The rule is never to stop the story to describe the background or scene, but to include the surroundings among the action performed by each character and as it affects that character.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

About Mike Angley

Mike Angley is the award-winning author of the Child Finder Trilogy. He retired as a Colonel from the Air Force in 2007 following a 25-year career as a Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). He held 13 different assignments throughout the world, among which were five tours as a Commander of various units, to include two Air Force Squadrons and a Wing. He is a seasoned criminal investigator and a counterintelligence and counterterrorism specialist. In his last assignment, he was Commander of OSI Region 8 with responsibility for all of Air Force Space Command. He’s fond of saying, “If it entered or exited Earth’s atmosphere, I had a dog in the fight!”
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