Friday, June 24, 2011

What I Learned Watching Dora the Explorer

So, I'm a mom. I have three kids. The two oldest are in that "watch things on repeat" stage. We go the rounds with several different shows. Dora the Explorer. Go, Diego, Go! Wonder Pets. Anything with computer animation. Several times in any given day. Usually, I try to tune it all out. After a while, it all bleeds together, any way. But, I recently paid attention in a way that I never had before. I looked at it like a writer. And here's what I found:

In every episode, *something* happens. Usually, it's a problem that needs a solution. For example, Boots the Monkey loses his favorite stuffed animal. Oh dear! The world as we know it is going to end if Boots can't get his stuffed animal back. (Okay. Not really. But, it is the inciting incident.)

In order to find Boots' stuffed animal, Dora and Boots go on a journey. They have three distinct places that they must go. At each location, there is a task to accomplish. There is almost always an appearance by Swiper the Fox, who tries to do something that will prevent Dora from getting where she needs to go with the things she needs to accomplish her goals. Sometimes, Dora stops Swiper. Sometimes she doesn't.

Each episode follows the same pattern. Incident. Three challenges. A few twists and new characters. Triumph at the end. And the writer in me saw something that hadn't occurred to me before. In my own writing, I can't just leave it simple. There needs to be something to pull the story forward. There has to be complications. You can't make it too easy on your character. It doesn't have to follow the Dora the Explorer pattern, but it does need to be more than just one big problem that gets solved at the end.

So, friends, have you learned things from an unexpected place? What do you think of the Dora principle?


Melanie Stanford said...

I find it interesting that Dora is often saving "The Prince" or "The King" or another boy figure. It's a good message for girl power.

Angie said...

That's a great writing principle. I have read so many stories that lacked conflict, it's just amazing. There is no story without some type of problem or conflict.

Sarah said...

I love it! My kids watch Diego, and it's the same thing. Great example of story structure--things can't work out the first time or the story won't be satisfying (and will be short! and boring!)

ali said...

ROFL!! I learned that Dora the Explorer can teach me plotting! Who knew?

Except I don't think my characters can say, "backpack, backpack, backpack!" to solve their problems. :D

I am typically terrible at seriously impeding my characters the first time around. It's usually stuff that gets woven in during subsequent rounds of revision. Oh how I wish I were better at this!

Liesl said...

My two-year-old is obsessed with Caillou and all I've learned from that show is it makes me want to blow my brains out.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

Good points! There's always got to be something that prevents your MC from getting what they want!