Setting the scene, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, works to draw the reader in. When people refer to books as boring or dry, it’s because the author didn’t set the scene properly, if at all.
We learn best through stories. Whenever I find myself trying to haul too much stuff in one load, my mind goes back to the Dick, Jane, and Sally books we read in first grade. (What? You forgot about Sally?) I won’t say how long ago that was for me, but TV programs were broadcast in black and white back then. So let’s say this story has stuck with me for a while.
In one of the stories, little Sally wanted to take her toys somewhere. So she waited and she waited and she waited until her mother was done washing the dishes. Then she took the dishpan (remember those?) and used it to carry all her toys at once. But it was so heavy she could barely lift it and she struggled to get her toys to wherever. Had she taken the toys in two or three small batches, she would have been done long before Mother finished the dishes, saving her time, and in hindsight, saving little Sally’s back.
That was the day I learned what a “Lazy Man’s Load” was. The story of Sally and her toys is forever welded to that phrase in my head.
I struggled through Algebra and Geometry. With effort, I could eke out a B grade, but I never enjoyed the classes. The textbooks and the teachers never supplied real life applications of what we were learning. As I sit here, I can’t even come up with any examples of how to apply these subjects in real life. Or at least in my real life since I didn’t go into engineering or, you know… Algebra-ing. I have a vague idea that something from Geometry might come in handy when triangulating a course for a sailboat—maybe. I am sure that Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry have practical and useful applications in everyday life. If my textbooks had included some, I might have learned and retained more. Instead, I am forever stuck with the image of little Sally, on tiptoe, waiting at the kitchen counter for Mother to finish the dishes.
As you’re writing your book, look for ways to illustrate your points. You can use your personal stories, case studies of clients, or relate the findings of studies done by others. Use language to set the scene. If you’re telling the story of how you got started in business, search your mind and go back to the moment you made that life-changing decision. Was it day or night? Were you hot or shivering with cold? Was it raining? Were you hungry? Were you with friends or alone? Did the decision come about because of a spark of an idea or because you were so frustrated you were desperate enough to do anything? Describe where you were, how the air felt on your skin, how you felt physically, mentally, emotionally. Describe your surroundings at the time, the sounds you heard, even the smells, faint and strong.
You want your reader to be able to place themselves right alongside you, to experience what you (or your main character) experienced. Literally, you are putting them in the picture. Once in, they have a vested interest in seeing the book through.
Setting the scene helps your readers learn, keeps them engaged, and keeps your book off the remaindered shelf. Take the time to share stories that help your readers see the relevance of your information in their lives.