By Yvonne Blackwood ~
Nothing occurs in a vacuum. A children’s story must take place somewhere and at sometime. That being said, let us segue into a key component of any story whether it is fiction or non-fiction—it must have a setting.
What is setting really? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary setting is “the manner, position, or direction in which something is set; the time, place, and circumstances in which something occurs or develops.” You will note that this definition covers a lot of ground, but important ground that will make your story either seem real or fake.
In your story, Johnnie Rabbit is up to his tricks. The questions your readers will want answered are: Where are the escapades taking place? Is he in his neighbour’s garden or running around in a park? When is he doing his tricks—day or night? Is he doing them in the winter or spring? When farmer Brown chases him, does Johnnie run north or east?
Without placing the story in an appropriate setting, your young readers will not be able to visualize the scenes. While Johnnie Rabbit and his friends are important to the story, the setting can be just as vital. Imagine the Goldilocks story without the house of the three bears in the woods. Where would all that interaction take place?
How much setting is required?
The right amount of setting based on the context of the story is also important. For example: In Nosey Charlie Goes To Court, the second book in the Nosey Charlie Adventure series, the title gives readers an idea of setting from the beginning. The story is going to deal with something in a court. My young readers are not led astray or disappointed! There are a few scenes set inside a courthouse with a judge dressed in a robe and wig to boot! In addition to the court scenes there are other settings showing how and why Charlie came to be in the courthouse. Of course, you are writing a picture book. The artwork will provide answers to some of these question, however, you and the illustrator must first grasp the situation.
Context is the ingredient that seasons the story, and you spice it by setting up scenes. I injected character into the courthouse by stating that it has gleaming white tiles on the walls, that the hallway is wide, and the courtroom is filled with dark wooden benches. Even without looking at the illustrations, a young reader could visualize the room, and although Charlie could not be seen in the courtroom pictures, I know readers are able to imagine him hiding under a bench.
Writing picture books does not require a lot of description; good illustrations cover most of this, but placing the story in a proper setting is crucial for young imaginative readers.