How to Create Atmosphere in Children’s Books By Suzy Davies.
What is atmosphere? How do we craft a story so that it is evocative? In this article, I will show you how I achieved this aim in “Snugs The Snow Bear,” my debut children’s book.
Atmosphere in a book is the way in which we describe how it “feels” to be in the company of the characters in our book, the most important character being the lead or the hero. We can create a backstory early on in our book to situate the character, and convey information about him. Make him larger than life and memorable! Don’t show all of him, just enough to whet children’s appetite! By showing forth our lead character through the eyes of others, we give him credibility, and kids know something of his personality traits early on.
“Don’t you know it’s Snow Bear – he doesn’t eat people – he’s a friendly bear – not at all like other white bears! You know, for a bear, Snugs is easy to get along with … I know bears who claw and growl, but Snugs doesn’t.”
“Now, how could anyone, with a name that sounds like snug, and a hug, be fierce, eh? Snugs is a real softie…”
“Sir, I’ve known him since I was born! We’ve played snowball, and built snow-houses together that are called igloos, and once, when one of Santa’s reindeer was sick on Christmas Eve, Snow Bear stepped in to help with the presents …he’s very kind, and clever, and strong, you know!”
Now we need to create a setting that will show forth this character, Snugs, to best advantage. We always associate snow bears with their natural environment, but how about if we put this snow bear, Snugs, in an old lighthouse on a wintry day? How about if we introduced him to a old wise man – a lighthouse keeper. Snugs is young with off-white fur, and the lighthouse-keeper is an old grandfather with gray hair! Now, we have cast Snugs as a kind of bear-child visiting an elder! All children can relate to that.
“Snugs! Ha Ha! I’m so glad you’ve come!” said the very old, and very gray Mr. Merryweather.
How do we set the scene so it is enchanting to young minds? Remember, a place can also have personality. Here we need to consider all the ways we “interpret” our surroundings – through our eyes, ears, through touch and smell. We have to put the reader into the setting. Remember – it is always good to write about what you know, and lighthouses and the sea have always been a draw for me, ever since I was a child.
“The lighthouse looked out onto the big, bright blue ocean. Snugs saw some sailing boats going out to sea, and he waved.”
“Trudge, trudge, trudge, James’s legs were aching … higher and higher, slower, and slower still, they climbed …”
“He extended a giant weathered hand, and hugged Snugs with an iron grip that almost swallowed the little bear up.”
I create the suggestion of smell with one that is likely to be familiar to children – the memory of hard-boiled eggs cooking.
“A little later, Snugs heard a strange sound, through the lighthouse walls. The moose were fast asleep, and they were snoring. Snugs heard the sound of the sea. It was high tide, and the sound of the waves coming in sounded like the breath of an enormous dinosaur.”
A final touch is to get kids eager to go to bed with this cinematic description. Notice we have a combination of a long shot, a medium range shot and a close-up. I employ a combination of vision and sensation.
“Round the lighthouse, on the opposite side to Snugs’ room, Mr. and Mrs. Merryweather put down the blinds and blew out the candle. They were very tired, and tomorrow was Christmas Eve on The Isle of Wight.”
In the next chapter, which opens outside the lighthouse, again I use a combination of “camera shots,” but this time I let the reader take in the “new scenery” outside the lighthouse. Point of view adds another dimension to the scene. Although Mr. and Mrs. Merryweather look out on the same scene, what they perceive is different from what Snugs notices. This, of course, is how we show forth character and emotion. The Merryweathers are concerned about the rough sea. Snugs is excited about the snow! We notice what is important to us!
“When they looked out of the lighthouse windows Mr. and Mrs, Merryweather saw that the sea was very rough and gray.”
“When little Snugs looked out he saw that the roofs of the cottages, that nestled close to the lighthouse, were now completely white. At ground level, sleet was blowing over the garden, and along the paths. It wouldn’t be long before The Isle of Wight would be snow white – he was sure about that!”
When I wrote Snugs The Snow Bear, I wanted to capture the thrill children have when they first see the snow arrive!
Copyright Suzy Davies, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Cover Design Copyright, Peter Hall 2016. All Rights Reserved. No copying of “Snugs The Snow Bear” text or cover image without the written permission of the copyright holder.