By Brooke Thompson
Writing enchanting scene descriptions can be a difficult task to accomplish when developing your children’s story. We often ask ourselves questions like:
Is this enough description?
Is this too much?
Where do I draw the line?
There are many factors that play into creating scene descriptions. This type of description all depends on your audience. The amount of detail you use in describing a scene should be tuned to the age group you are writing for.
For example, you would not write a detailed paragraph about a scene for a children’s book geared toward 1st graders, nor would you write a two-sentence description of a scene for a young adult novel.
This article will provide some examples from famous children and young adult novels that will show you how other authors set up scenes that engage their audience. These tips have proved invaluable to improve your writing, especially if you self-publish your children’s books.
Table of Contents
Writing Scene Descriptions for Young Readers
You may also like: What NOT to Do When Self-Publishing Children’s Books
Writing for Kids under 7
When writing scene descriptions for young children, especially kids under 7, it is best to keep it simple. Over-explaining the scenery or what is happening will likely bore the child and might even turn them off from reading. Therefore, keep descriptions minimal.
Look at this example from the children’s book Curious George Gets a Medal by H. A. and Margret Rey:
“But instead of going into the pen the ink spilled all over and made a big blue puddle on the floor. It was an awful mess.”
In this passage, the Reys use simple adjectives to describe the situation. Short descriptions, such as “big blue puddle” and “awful mess,” highlight the way you can capture a scene in just a few brief words.
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Writing for Children 7-10
When writing scene descriptions for children between the ages of 7-10, you can start introducing a little more detail in your paragraphs. Again, use details sparingly as lengthy paragraphs can easily turn off young readers.
Take some time setting up your scene, too. You don’t have to mention all that is happening right away. Lay out subtle cues about your setting and use the five senses.
Let’s examine another example. In American Girl: Meet Felicity by Valerie Tripp, the author gradually sets up the scene of Felicity entering her father’s store. The slow introduction of detail about the setting allows the reader to immerse themselves in the protagonist’s world.
Tripp first uses the sense of smell, rather than sight, to open the scene:
“Felicity Merriman pushed open the door to her father’s store and took a deep breath. She loved the smell of coffee beans and chocolate, of pine soap, spice tea, and apples. No other place in the world smelled as good as her father’s store.”
Tripp next uses taste and sight to describe the setting:
“She popped the candy in her mouth and tasted its sharp sweetness. While her father weighed the ginger root and wrapped it in newspaper, Felicity looked around the store. The shelves were crowded with bolts of cloth, bowls, bottles, kettles and coffee pots.”
The reader easily pictures what kind of environment Felicity is in because it is described as she interacts with her surroundings. Tripp’s use of the five senses recreates the scene for readers as the sights and smells appeal to their own senses.
Writing for Teen/YA Fiction
When writing for teens, you have a lot more leeway for how detailed a paragraph should be. Remember the golden rule of writing: show, don’t tell. This means demonstrate to your audience what is going on, don’t simply tell them.
Write how you picture a scene, then add descriptive details. For example, don’t say: “Thalia had to cancel her plans because the sky looked as if it would rain.”
Instead do say, “Thalia realized she had to cancel her plans when she stepped out onto her porch. The air felt sticky and was surprisingly warm for an early spring day. She looked up at the sky. Swollen, gray clouds covered the once pretty blue sky, threatening to dispense rain at any given moment.”
The first example is simply telling the audience what the sky looked like. While the second example is showing the audience what the sky looks like, it also gives a better description of what is happening with the weather.
Beware: When describing a scene, do not write one long paragraph of details. That will get more books closed and forgotten than anything else.
Instead, break it up between two to three paragraphs, like the example from Meet Felicity. Keeping your descriptions moderately brief will not only progress the story, but also make it both interesting and immersive.
Let’s look at Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments: City of Fallen Angels.
“It was mid-October, and they’d just put their Halloween decorations up—a wobbly sign that said TRICK-OR-BORSCHT! and a fake cardboard cutout vampire nicknamed Count Blintzula. Once upon a time Simon and Clary had found the cheesy holiday decorations hilarious, but the Count, with his fake fangs and black cape, didn’t strike Simon as quite so funny anymore.”
Notice how Clare describes Simon’s environment yet is able to keep the scene moving? By having Simon interact with his surroundings, little details about the scenery are also able to say something about the story.
“Simon glanced toward the window. It was a brisk night, and the wind was blowing leaves across Second Avenue like handfuls of thrown confetti.”
The description of the “cheesy holiday decorations,” and Simon’s changed feelings about them, give the reader a clear picture of where Simon is, but also gives them clues about the scene’s significance in Simon’s thoughts.
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Final Thoughts on Writing Scene Descriptions
Like character descriptions, writing scene descriptions is an important part of developing a satisfying story for youngsters.
Describing a scene might seem daunting, but once you get into the mode and let your creative juices flow, you will nail it.
You know what your scene looks like, so just write it out. As long as you remember the golden rule of writing: show, don’t tell, you are on your way to creating scene descriptions that will amaze young readers.