What My Six-Year-Old Taught Me About Storytelling

What My Six-Year-Old Taught Me About Storytelling

Writers Write creates writing resources and shares writing tips. In this post, Mia Botha reveals: ‘What my six-year-old taught me about storytelling.’

My six-year-old son taught me that as beginner writers we often underestimate the power of the antagonist.

Where’s The Baddie?

My knees are pressed up against my tonsils. I am scrunched up on a carpet next to a stain that I am praying is Granadilla Schweppes. All around me wriggling, squealing, bouncing bodies compete for a spot near the stage. My own little boy included. Bright eyes and big smiles all around.
“Mommy, this is so cool.” My son says pounding his fist on my knee.
I do my best enthusiastic mommy impersonation and try to move away from the stain. I barely get an inch. This place is a seething mass of miniature Ninja Turtle enthusiasts.
I hunch even more, hoping the three-year-old behind me can see over my head. His mommy looks mean.
It is December and I am in Sandton City waiting for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to appear on stage. Not my ideal habitat, but a mother does what a mother needs to do.
At last April O’Neil appears on stage complete with a fake American accent and distorting microphone. The Turtles explode onto the stage soon after. They start training and doing a bunch of moves. My son is enthralled.
“That’s Leonardo, Mom.” He introduces every one as they ninja-it around the stage. He bobs. He points. He is thrilled. I even forget about the lurking stain for a while. Happy kid. Happy mom. But it’s not long before he frowns.
“What’s up?”
“When are the baddies coming?”  He asks.
“What do you mean? What baddies?”
“Shredder. The bad guy, where is he? He always does something bad and then the Turtles have to go save everything.”
The baddie didn’t come. We left. He was quiet.
“Mom, I don’t think those were the real Turtles.”
“Why do you think so?”
“Because Shredder didn’t come. He always comes to make trouble for the Turtles.”
To console ourselves for the lack of real Turtles we went for ice-cream. Two scoops each.

But I want to remind you of the antagonist’s role:

  1. The antagonist is an opposition character who stands in the way of your protagonist. He or she stops the protagonist from achieving his or her goal. He or she should be as strong as your hero is.
  2. The antagonist does not have to be evil. Take the book Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, which is the sweetest picture book ever written. The Big Nutbrown Hare is the Little Nutbrown Hare’s antagonist, because the Little Nutbrown Hare wants to win and the Big Nutbrown Hare trumps him every time.
  3. Study the antagonists in the books and movies you grew up with. For example, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak both have antagonists.

I do believe a story should have inner and outer conflict. You protagonist will always struggle with his own shortcomings. We are own worst enemies, remember, but don’t neglect the outer conflict. Conflict drives fiction. We like it.

TOP TIP: If you want to learn how to write for children, join our kids etc. course in Johannesburg or sign up for kids etc. online

 by Mia Botha

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Posted on: 10th March 2015

0 thoughts on “What My Six-Year-Old Taught Me About Storytelling”

  1. Just curious to know who the antagonist could be in a romance novel. Possibly even the person the protagonist is falling in love with – they probably cause the most conflict. What do you think?

  2. My (Russian) grandfather used to repeat the same story to me when I was very young. He died when I was three. The story began “here I am in the dark alone…”

  3. Hi Kathy
    Identify the protagonist’s goal. The person opposing them/that goal will be their antagonist. It can be person they are falling in love with, aren’t those the best?

  4. Good post, Mia. I also agree with your comment for Kathy, that the force opposing the protagonist’s goal is the fastest way to identify the antagonist.

    I’d add that in some romances the antagonist isn’t a person, but an outside force. A demanding job, an on-going war, or even family feuds have all made for great romance antagonists.

  5. My youngest son, who’s 27 now, could name the ninja turtles before he could name the color they wore. He still loves them.

    My grandson, who’s eight now, asked when he was about four why there always had to be a bad guy. We tried to make up a story without one, couldn’t do it.