So two weeks back, I opened your eyes to the fact that all stories have a secret or two… or ten. It’s something built into our storytelling that builds the drama, conflict, stress, and excitement of a story. But now that you’ve inflicted your big, scary secret on an unsuspecting group of characters, you’re thinking… What else can I do to make this story awesome? My plot needs another boost! Help!
No worries. I’ve got it covered. Just add a baby.
Babies are instant drama, and the best thing is, unlike real babies, you can basically decide exactly how long it takes them to grow up and how much time you want to spend with them. They don’t have to be needy and their developmental stages can be pretty much whatever you want. Plot babies are very different from real babies in that way.
When you think about some of the dramatic plots out there, a lot of them include a baby at some point. A character getting pregnant (always a surprise) can put a real twist on the whole “running for our lives” issue or whatever your characters are facing. As soon as there is a baby, suddenly Evil Villain has someone to focus his/her threats on.
“Oh, save the world from my wicked reign, will you? What if I…. threaten your baby?“
Things just got real for your characters, I promise.
Well, at least this one seems to be off to a good start…
But particularly in a fantasy story, a baby is never just a baby. Think about it. This baby is:
- the Promised One who will save all of humanity (or whatever race you are working with – babies aren’t picky)
- going to somehow be cursed, thereby forcing your characters to race against a clock to find the cure
- going to have special powers (way more fun than being cursed) which are going to alternately impress and freak the parents out
- or… wait for it… going to be the perfect segue into that awesome sequel you want to write featuring your world twenty years later. Instant new hero(ine)! Just add baby!
In all honesty, we do have to be careful when we just go and get our poor characters pregnant, or introduce an infant at some opportune moment. Perhaps a mysterious child is thrust upon a character, who now has to take care of the little bundle of joy for the rest of the adventure. There are a couple major downsides to adding a baby to your mix.
First of all, you often have to stretch realism in ways you didn’t consider because babies can’t really be taken on the run without a whole lot of care and caution. They have needs. They need diaper changes every two minutes. They cry. They have very delicate little bodies and can get sick easily. The same goes for very young children, so don’t think that you can just age them a couple of years and still get the same “Oooh, cute little mystery child” effect.
On the other hand, if you are bravely taking on all of these challenges and make sure your character is seeing to the baby’s every single need, you run the risk of your audience getting supremely tired of the baby. I mean, babies are cute and all, but there’s a war against evil going on that is on every one else’s mind while your character is diligently changing diapers. Okay… that could actually make for a pretty funny storyline if handled well.
If handled well.
… but maybe I spoke too soon.
So if your story is flagging… add a baby! Just make sure you’re ready for the consequences. Babies are a commitment, people.
So tell me: what are some famous story babies? Where have they shown up to make a plot more interesting? And what were their special traits? Because all babies are special, right?
(P.S. – notice that this is another plot device used with alarming frequency in soap operas? Those soap operas are either really good at plot development… or adding babies can easily become a cheap trick to get reader reaction. Tread carefully, friends…)