I can’t believe it’s come around so fast, but it was World Book Day yesterday and I was in at the kid’s school volunteering to teach years one two and three. It was so much fun. I brainstormed a whole fairy story with each group, so that the children came up with a heroine, a baddie, a hero, a trap, a daring rescue and a happy ever after. Then they each did an illustration of part of their story, so that by the end of the session they’d created a whole fairy tale book.
I was amazed and surprised by their suggestions and how quickly they could subvert the fairy story clichés into something new and whacky and how each fairy story ended up being completely different, even though I was guiding them with a formula.
Our need for exploring conflict and resolution seems to be ingrained at a very fundamental level. Even by the age of five, children have a very clear sense of right and wrong, goodies and baddies and how female heroines have to use their wit and ingenuity to get out of a scrape.
What I found amazing – and a clear indication of real progress from when I was growing up – was the resolution of each story. Left to their own devices these young children all wanted a romantic resolution. But rather than a bossy knight on a white horse charging up, taking over, scooping up the heroine and taking her to a life of bliss – over which she’s had no say, they all naturally chose to have the heroine finding love with someone realistic who was right underneath her nose the whole time.
What was most interesting though, was that in each case and with each group, the love resolution was not the end – and this was very much prompted by the kids and not by me. Their stories all ended when the heroine either got her own back on her oppressors in a very public and satisfying way – pop-star Polly in New York winning a talent contest and thus a recording contract, thereby totally rubbing her mean, ugly sisters’ noses in it.
Or when, having won back her magic shell necklace and escaped an underwater cage, mermaid Lucy returns to coral castle to find that the elderly king is so impressed with her bravery and courage in defeating Snap the evil seahorse, that he decides to abdicate the thrown and make Lucy queen. At which point, she throws a rocking party for the whole kingdom …obviously.
I came away, as I always do from teaching children, enriched and a little humbled. It seems to me that many grown up writers could benefit by a refresher course with small children in the fundamentals of story-telling.