Hello! For the month of February, I want to share with you a story that I have recently read which has left a deep impression on me. It is none other than The Tale of Despereaux, an award-winning story written by Kate DiCamillo. It is a heart-warming fantasy about a mouse named Despereaux Tilling who goes on an adventure to rescue the princess he loves from the clutches of evil rats.
The Tale of Despereaux (Kate DiCamillo)
Recommended level: Primary 3 and above
When we are first introduced to Despereaux, we are immediately made aware of how different he is from the other mice; with his “ridiculously small” body and his “obscenely large” ears. He is so sickly that his own father thinks that he would not survive long after being born. He also shows “no interest in the things a mouse should show interest in”. For instance, when his sister, Merlot, took him to the castle library to show him how to nibble paper from a book, he refuses to do so because he was afraid that it would ruin the story.
Throughout the book, Despereaux has to face many difficulties which he is able to overcome due to his bravery and determination. Despite facing such great odds, he shows compassion towards others, even those who have wronged him. One cannot help but become really fond of this tiny mouse with a very big heart.
Apart from Despereaux, the book is filled with many interesting characters, including Chiaroscuro, the rat who is born in the darkness of the dungeon but longs for the light; Miggery Sow, a lonely servant girl who wants to be a princess; and Princess Pea, the kind princess who readily forgives those who have done her harm. Ms DiCamillo uses contrasts to good effect; her story is all the more enjoyable because her characters are complex and have depth. For instance, even though Chiaroscuro becomes bitter and is determined to take revenge, he redeems himself at the end when he helps the princess.
By now, some of you might be asking – how is this relevant to my own writing? Well, for starters, think about the main character and the main antagonist in your story. Do they always seem rather one-dimensional? For instance, is the hero (or heroine) always someone strong and attractive while the villain is normally an outcast? If the answer is ‘yes’, then maybe it is time for a change.
Application to writing
Let’s walk through this step-by-step to create an unexpected character for your story. We will use the example of Despereaux for discussion!
Step 1: Determine the function of your main character.
Is he/she going to create the problem in the story? Is he/she helping to solve the problem later?
e.g. Despereaux is going to help solve problems. (He is a hero!)
Step 2: Consider the typical identity for such a character.
e.g. In our book today, Despereaux is a problem solver who stands up against villains. Hence, readers may expect a typical hero who is big, strong and muscular.
Depending on the problem in your story, the expected identity of the character with that function will be different. If your main character is a problem solver in a story revolving round honesty in school, readers may expect an honest person such as a prefect to solve a problem.
Step 3: Go against what is expected!
e.g. Instead of being big, strong and muscular, Despereaux is an unlikely hero, being so tiny and sickly.
Create your own unlikely character now by going against the expected. For example, if the prefect is expected to be the honest character, let him become the dishonest one instead! The villain can be a person no one suspects, such as the prefect who turns out to be the class thief or the neighbourhood vandal is actually the friendly man who lives next door. Similarly, a timid boy who is often bullied or a girl so weak no one thinks she would succeed in a race can become victorious.
Such things will add an element of surprise to the reader, making your story unique and fresh. Remember to describe your characters vividly, especially their manner, speech and actions. This is so that they come across as real people with real emotions.
I hope that you have found this writing tip useful. I encourage you to check out the book so that you can see for yourself what a wonderful story it is. In fact, there is even a movie with the same title released which you may wish to check out too. Till next time, take care and have fun reading!
If you are thinking of growing your library of children books, you can view our recommended list by our lil’ ones and teachers. These are children books we love, and once you have read them, you will fall in love too.