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 writing scene descriptions. This type of description depends all on your audience. Your use of detail and describing the scene relies on the age group you are writing for.
For example, you would not be writing a detailed paragraph about the scene in a children’s book geared for 1st graders versus writing a two-sentence description of a scene in a teen or young adult novel.
This article will give some examples from famous novels that will show you how other authors set up scenes that are engaging for their audiences. These tips are proved invaluable to improve your writing especially as you self-publish your children’s books.
You may also like: What NOT to Do When Self-Publishing Children’s Books
Writing Scene Descriptions
For Young Children
When writing scene descriptions for young children, 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.”
From this passage, the Reys use minimal descriptions that still allow the reader to understand the severity of the situation, as the ink spill made a huge mess. Short descriptions, such as “Big blue puddle” and “awful mess” highlight this.
For Children Between 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 to set up your scene, too. You don’t have to mention all that is happening in a paragraph. 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. How she adds details about the setting allows the reader to immerse themselves in the protagonist’s world.
She 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’s unique choice of adding the variety of scents really draws the reader into the scene as it allows them to visualize what kind of place Felicity was walking into.
Tripp then uses taste, then sight, further along the page:
“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.”
Her descriptions of the store may be brief but by adding the details of what the store sells shows the reader what kind of environment Felicity is in.
For Teen Fiction
When writing for teens, you have a lot more leeway into how detailed a paragraph should be. Remember the golden rule of writing: show don’t tell. This means, display 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 dispel 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 about 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 easily 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, she is about to insert little details about the scenery.
“Simon glanced toward the window. It was a brisk night, and the wind was blowing leaves across Second Avenue like handfuls of thrown confetti.”
From feeling nostalgic about the “cheesy holiday decorations” to peering out into a late autumn night, not only do these details give the reader a clear picture of where Simon is but also gives them clues about what makes up his character.
Describing a scene might seem daunting, but just give it a try. 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 an amazing scene description.
Be sure to check out part two of this article where we discuss character descriptions for youngsters!