How To Write Good Fiction: Insights From A Two-Year-Old

The Master StorytellBelieve it or not, but the dozen or so English phrases my almost-two-year-old grandson has mastered illustrate all the elements needed in the writing of good fiction.

Believe it or not, but the dozen or so English phrases my almost-two-year-old grandson has mastered illustrate all the elements needed in the writing of good fiction.

I recently spent about a week with Max and got to hear him talk. He only has about twelve words/phrases total, plus a few family terms like “Mommy” and “Daddy.”

He can say:

  • There it is.
  • Oh yeah!
  • Rrrrr! (motor noise)
  • Awwww!
  • No! (disagreement)
  • I don’t know.
  • Uh oh!
  • Oh no!
  • Ouch!
  • No-oooo. (smiling response to humorous teasing)
  • Oh!
  • There you go!

As  linguist, I have studied language structure and acquisition, both adult and child language acquisition. I have always been fascinated by the universals of how children learn language around the world.

As a writer, I have read many books on the craft of writing. And now here I am faced with the fact that children also learn the universal elements of story, as well as language. Linguistics and storytelling, already forming in the mind of a toddler. Is storytelling hard-wired?

My grandson had these concepts under his belt for quite a while. And then, they were the first phrases he learned to say, the first ideas he felt the need to communicate. So all day long, he walks around (runs, actually, more often than not), looks at the freeze frame of any event in his life, analyzes it and immediately gives it one of the twelve labels below. Like any good writer, he describes his life as a series of scenes, each with a storytelling purpose.

Granted, his terminology is unique, but if you don’t believe that these simple phrases do indeed illustrate the commonly-accepted elements of a good novel, go read something by Donald Maas or James Scott Bell.

Here’s his vocabulary list again as he would say them (I’ve added some consonants to a few of them, to make them recognizable), together with the corresponding elements of writing craft:

1.  There it is = Narrative Description

2. Oh da! (‘oh yeah!’) = Joy and Beauty

3. Rrrr = Action

4. Awwwww = Love and Relationships

5. No! = Conflict

6. I don’t know! = Tension and Suspense

7. Uh oh! = Trouble and Challenges for the Main Character

8. Oh no! = Tragedy and Challenges

9. Ouch! = Pain and Suffering

10. Nooooo *smiling* = Humor

11. Oh! = Resolution

12. There you go! = Good Ending

Well, there’s also Da (or Apa, i.e. ‘diaper’), and that would be, well, you know…


About Bill Davis

Writer, speaker and translation and language learning consultant. I write technical articles, poetry and humor, and I am working on my first novel which is set on the island of Palawan in the Philippines.
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9 Responses to How To Write Good Fiction: Insights From A Two-Year-Old

  1. ninaterol says:

    I can see the resemblance in his eyes, Bill! I’m sure you and Donna enjoy being around him 🙂

    Would you mind if we reposted an excerpt in WBP then linked back here? 😀

  2. esarsea says:

    And then of course we have, “Uh oh! Rrrr…Oh! Apa!

  3. That last one was the kicker. Very funny. The universal expletive.

  4. Malou says:

    He’s so cute!

    • Bill Davis says:

      Salamat, Malou. We think so, too (smile). It’s so fun now to have grandkids. He has such a joy for life, too. Glad you liked the post!

      • Malou says:

        My little girl is 4 1/2 and is such a big source of joy to her grandparents. I can imagine how you and Donna are enjoying this nice phase in your lives. 😉

      • Bill Davis says:

        Yes, it’s very special. We loved it when our daughters were little, too. 4 is a super fun age! Our grandkids are so far away now, but we will be near them in CA by the end of this year… can’t wait.

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