An exercise that makes countless children sigh involves writing descriptions. For those who have a vivid imagination, describing a make-believe world might actually be a bit of a relief - they get to spill that alternate universe they’ve been imagining into a piece of paper. But for those who struggle to find a place to describe for a story, I hope some of these tips might be useful.
Let’s dive right into it:
To start, think of what kind of story you want to write. Is it a realistic one? Is it fantasy? Does it involve lots of action and adventure? Once you have answered that question, the rest might be easier to work out.
Once you know what kind of story you want to write, think of the characters. If you know your characters, it will be easier to picture them somewhere. Do you know who they are and what they want in the story?
Now try to step into your characters’ shoes, one character at a time. If the story is autobiographical (about yourself), you may find it easier, though some writers thrive in a world as different as possible from their reality.
Close your eyes. Where is your character? If she stretches her arms, what can she touch? Tree branches? Elephants? What can she smell? Is it something nice and familiar? Or something off-putting? How does the ground feel under her feet? Can she hear any sounds? Talking? Singing? Is it incredibly quiet where she is? What is the weather like? Is she shivering? Or complaining about the sun and the heat? Now let your character open her eyes. What can she see around her?
You don’t need to read this exact whole paragraph out loud to your child – you can come up with your own version of it, and help your children engage their senses when writing a story, especially when it comes to describing a place.
The real thing
Another more concrete exercise involves the simple formula of sitting + looking = writing. Invite your child to sit somewhere they like, a familiar environment such as their bedroom or a local park, or a totally new place, like a station, a library, or a friend’s shop (not sure shops not owned by friends will allow your children to sit there for half an hour and write!).
Take a notebook on your next trip, wherever it may be, and take some time to sit down and look around. Children who enjoy drawing can also sketch out the place they are writing about.
Allow your child to have a good look around and start describing the place and everything in it in the order they prefer – from floor to ceiling, from biggest to smallest objects, from left to right, from one color to another. The point of this kind of exercise is to help your child describe a place they can actually see so that they can practice those sentences that include not just interesting adjectives but their own reaction to the place through their five senses.
Then they can move on to a place in their imagination (go back to the first exercise above).
Remember that descriptions can put the reader to sleep or can make the story come alive! The setting is an important aspect of the story, almost like another character in it, and the time we put in developing the setting can take your story to the next level.
Just a quick reminder that more does not necessarily mean better, so do not worry if your child’s descriptions are not hundreds of words long, as long as they have clear purpose and are meaningful. More on this on my post about Word Count.