When I create I new manuscript, my first draft generally focuses on plot. What happens and why? Obviously, this is also pulls in character since someone is making things happen. What tends to get slighted is setting which I add in later drafts. Just how much I add depends on what I’m writing.
In picture books, I keep it super brief. Visual details are best left to the illustrator. That leaves me with:
Sound. Sound details are my favorite when it comes to a picture book. I often try to work in a bit of onomatapeia especially if it can be used as a specific verb — the plink plunk of water drops.
Motion. Motion is a fun one to work in as your character interacts with their environment. This also helps you avoid the talking head problem in which you give the illustrator nothing but talking heads to depict throughout the story. When I set my character free, she can climb hills, leap streams and duck under branches. Reader learn about the setting and the illustrator has plenty of variety.
Touch. As my character gets things done, I look for touch-worthy details. Changes in temperature, tactile descriptions as she works with her hands, even how food feels in her mouth can all become touch details in a picture book.
Taste and Smell. These are often to two hardest details to include about a setting or story especially if it isn’t a story about food. Face it — you really don’t want your character going around tasting certain environments. But work them in as you can, focusing on scent where taste just won’t do. I’m very in tune to the smells around me so this is one I can include without too much trouble. Various out door settings, ranging from open fields to lakes, have their own unique scents. Churches, stores and other indoor settings also come with unique scents. I try to work in one or two in the course of a picture book manuscript.
Don’t let these setting details slow your story down but do add them where appropriate to enrich your manuscript. Details in a novel is a different beast and I’ll write about that one day next week.