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Advice on Use of Descriptions in Middle Grade Novels

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I realize this question can't be quantified but any advice on how descriptive a middle grade novel targeting boys should be?  I like stories that paint a picture for me but I read somewhere that that is necessary for a middle grade novel.  Any advice on how to strike a balance?
#1 - February 13, 2019, 09:20 AM

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One tip is to focus on your main character in the situation. What would they notice? For example, a kid walking down a hallway at school, isn't going to pay attention to the lockers on the wall unless they're brand new, or the paint color, unless they repainted over break. Sameness isn't noticed. So what would they notice? A teacher yelling at a student. Someone dropping papers in front of them. That depends on the personality of your student and what interests them.

The next thing to consider is the pacing of the scene. If your main character is being chased by villains, they will not stop to notice anything that is not in their way or useful to them. I jumped over a rake that was pointing in the wrong direction and then ran up the steps two at a time to try the door. The knob felt greasy but it was locked anyway.

Or I jumped a rake and  ran up the steps to try the door. It was locked.

So description is based on character and pacing of the scene. I hope this helps.
#2 - February 13, 2019, 06:18 PM
« Last Edit: February 14, 2019, 08:23 PM by Debbie Vilardi »
Website: http://www.debbievilardi.com/
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I cheer for Debbie's tips :yay
Also, when the pacing allows for description, I try to think about the thing that draws attention (some of which is hardwired into us):

1. New. We will pay much more attention to something new to us than to something we see all the time. We may spend hours standing still and studying the grand canyon on our first visit, but we're not likely to do that with our bedroom.
2. Movement. We are hardwired to be distracted by movement. So if I want to draw reader attention to something, I'll put a character in a still place and then make something move.
3. Surprise. This can actually overlap "new" and "movement" but we can also be surprised by sudden sounds which will then make us look closely in a direction to figure out the sound. We can be surprised by sudden light sources.

Since those things will make anyone look (as they are hardwired into us for survival), they work for even the most inattentive character. Now how much time (words) I will spend on the description is set by the pacing I need for that section, but even with a tense scene and short sentences, I will use those three things I listed to get in description when I need it.

#3 - February 14, 2019, 05:39 AM
ASKING QUESTIONS ABOUT HOW HOLLYWOOD MOVIES GET MADE [Cherry Lake/2015]
GHOST LIGHT BURNING [ABDO/2015]
MONSTER HUNTERS [ABDO/2014&2016]

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I agree with what Debbie and Jan said, and want to add that I'm a freelance editor, and one of the most common problems I see is LACK of description, not too much. Writers have heard over and over that they have to tell stories via action and dialogue, and not "stop" for description. This leads to many manuscripts in which characters seem to act on a bare stage. The reader can imagine a lot, but you've got to give them something to work with.
#4 - February 14, 2019, 08:22 AM
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One tip is to focus on your main character in the situation. What would they notice? For example, a kid walking down a hallway at school, isn't going to pay attention to the lockers on the wall unless they're brand new, or the paint color, unless they repainted over break. Sameness isn't noticed. So what would they notice? A teacher yelling at a student. Someone dropping papers in front of them. That depends on the personality of your student and what interests them.

The next thing to consider is the pacing o the scene. If your main character is being chased by villains, they will not stop to notice anything that is not in their way or useful to them. I jumped over a rake that was pointing in the wrong direction and then ran up the steps two at a time to try the door. The knob felt greasy but it was locked anyway.

Or I jumped a rake and  ran up the steps to try the door. It was locked.

So description is based on character and pacing of the scene. I hope this helps.

Thanks for the great advice.
Charles
#5 - February 14, 2019, 12:22 PM

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I agree with what Debbie and Jan said, and want to add that I'm a freelance editor, and one of the most common problems I see is LACK of description, not too much. Writers have heard over and over that they have to tell stories via action and dialogue, and not "stop" for description. This leads to many manuscripts in which characters seem to act on a bare stage. The reader can imagine a lot, but you've got to give them something to work with.

Wow.  More great advice.
Charles
#6 - February 14, 2019, 12:23 PM

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I cheer for Debbie's tips :yay
Also, when the pacing allows for description, I try to think about the thing that draws attention (some of which is hardwired into us):

1. New. We will pay much more attention to something new to us than to something we see all the time. We may spend hours standing still and studying the grand canyon on our first visit, but we're not likely to do that with our bedroom.
2. Movement. We are hardwired to be distracted by movement. So if I want to draw reader attention to something, I'll put a character in a still place and then make something move.
3. Surprise. This can actually overlap "new" and "movement" but we can also be surprised by sudden sounds which will then make us look closely in a direction to figure out the sound. We can be surprised by sudden light sources.

Since those things will make anyone look (as they are hardwired into us for survival), they work for even the most inattentive character. Now how much time (words) I will spend on the description is set by the pacing I need for that section, but even with a tense scene and short sentences, I will use those three things I listed to get in description when I need it.



Thanks.  I like "draw attention" rule.
Charles
#7 - February 14, 2019, 12:24 PM

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Jan did a much better job of explaining what I meant by my example with the lockers and paint color. We notice change from the norm.
#8 - February 14, 2019, 08:26 PM
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Might be worth checking out classic juvenile (meaning "for grade school boys") SF e.g. Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo (1947). Penned over 20 years before Apollo 11 yet eerily prescient.

Boys in the grammar phase of development crave detailed descriptions of things and how they work. Basically techie stuff and not too much dialogue.

A bit of clever banter & good-natured kidding, internal dialogue & reactions--sense of wonder, chills up the spine, primal emotions--appropriate to the occasion are good too, just not too frequent or too long.

Vivid descriptions from all senses--sight, sound, vibration, smell, etc.--are indispensable, the more vivid and brief the better.

BTW most "real" boys don't care a whit what color lockers are. Kewl stickers on a locker, that's a different matter.
#9 - February 16, 2019, 06:35 PM
« Last Edit: February 16, 2019, 06:38 PM by A. S. Templeton »
Persist! Craft improves with every draft.

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