My two year-old-son's favorite show is Go Diego Go!. For those of you familiar with Dora the Explorer, Diego is Dora's cousin and he's an animal rescuer. The Diego frenzy has gotten so out of hand that we gave my son's bedroom a Diego theme (see before and after pics here). In watching a multitude of Diego episodes, I've discovered a pattern I can apply to my fiction writing.
To demonstrate, here's a summary of one of my son's favorite episodes:
- Diego is at the rescue center and hears an animal in trouble calling out for help. Diego and his sister, Alicia, figure out that the animal is a chinchilla named Chinta. Chinta is stuck on a tree branch over the water and can't swim.
- Diego heads out to save Chinta and arrives at the waterfall. He has to figure out a way to get down the waterfall in order to reach Chinta.
- Diego uses his rescue pack as a hang glider, and on his way down, the Bobo monkeys are on the same tree as Chinta, causing trouble and scaring Chinta in the process. Diego uses his classic line, "Freeze Bobos", and gets the monkeys to leave.
- Chinta's tree branch starts to break, and Diego swoops down on his hang glider and catches her.
- Once they get to dry ground, Chinta is hungry, finds leaves to eat, and misses her Mami and Papi. Diego promises to take her back to her family.
- They set off but can't find chinchilla mountain. Diego uses his spotting scope to find it.
- Puma comes up behind them and scares Chinta. Diego and Chinta hop over cactus plants to escape.
- They arrive at a dark cave and must go through it if they'll get to the mountain. There are multiple paths in the cave, and Chinta uses her good hearing skills to choose the right path. They make it out of the cave and see the mountain again.
- The mountain is too rocky for them to walk up, so they hop up like chinchillas.
- They reach the top of the mountain and reunite Chinta with her family.
Did you figure out the pattern? With every victory Diego achieves, a new challenge instantly presents itself. The writers of Go Diego Go! have figured out how to harness a toddler's attention (and it works, believe me!). They never let the viewer rest or get too comfortable until the very end.
Sometimes the attention span of adult readers isn't much longer than a toddler's. I've read advice in books and blogs about keeping conflict high in fiction. In Camy Tang's Story Sensei blog, she goes so far as to ask whether you have conflict in every page, or even every paragraph. If we take this advice to heart in our novels, we just might capture and retain the reader's attention from start to finish (and maybe they'll even redecorate their room into the theme of your book). :-)
Do you prefer to read a novel with high conflict or low conflict? Do you find it easy or hard to infiltrate tension into each page of your novel? How do you keep it from feeling contrived?