It’s not my fault. I have littles, and the littlest little (that’d be Wee-er Than Wee Dave Dave, for those keeping track at home) woke up. That wouldn’t sound like an issue, but it’s a delay of at least half of a clock rotation. If you dig on analogue. Which I do. And them there’s the fact that Senior Plague Rat brought something home from Sunday School (I think, coulda been the winter market at which Mrs. Dave hawks the jewelry she makes for fun. Regardless, Wee Dave brought the crud, the crud has been broughten, shared with Junior Plague Rat, and passed on to yours truly. So no Daves slept well last e’en.
Second Coffee come early, and be ‘lert to me.
I love my littles, despite their habit of preventing paying work. They’re adorable, which is a survival mechanism for the small and vexing. And that’s more pleasant than it could be. Also, they generally smell good, which I’m given to understand is some kind of spiffy evolutionary marker. BZ, evolution. Well played, that mechanism.
They’re also helpless, which is useful to you, the writer.
I’m reading through several of Dave Freer’s offerings (I highly recommend Changeling’s Island. Point of fact, I have recommended it, and I’ll be pushing it at pretty much anybody with any interest in reading, young or less young) and a recent scene had a pair of sometime allies worked together to prevent a rather hard-to-kill magical hybrid from re-kidnapping one’s toddler daughter. Two highly skilled swordsmen should have been more than equal to the creature. Would have been. If they hadn’t had a small child to worry about.
Kids are physical complications. They just get in the way. They’re always underfoot, and, especially at certain ages, innocently suicidal. Almost *anything* can hurt or kill an infant. Or a toddler. Really, humans are just fragile. It’s a good thing we heal well, though both of those are subjects for future posts. But the physically immature are worst off. Lousy mobility, terrible coordination, and they all use everything as a dump stat. No strength or dexterity, no constitution worth mentioning, and let us not even speak about their wisdom scores! Kids just get in the way of doing. The littlest one is doing her darnedest to prevent me finishing this post, for example.
They’re always under foot and demanding attention. “Watch this!” “I’m cooking the food you were in tears for not having two seconds ago, Child.” “Yeah, but stop that and watch what I’m doing now! And then play with me!” And Dave’s veins start to throb. Or playing with suburban expedient caltrops in the kitchen. That’s a favorite. A Duplo took a nickel-sized chunk out of a buddy’s foot not that long ago. And then there are the miniature wheeled conveyances.
And they have needs. Changing, feeding, playing. Lots and lots of cuddles. And where does all of that come from? Yes, I hear that voice in the back! It comes out of Dave’s writing time!
And this is just in the mundane setting of the contemporary home. In a less advanced milieu, you have the added adventure of medical danger. Any cough or cold can become a raging fever, which can easily kill in a pre-industrial society. Or in many industrial ones for that matter. A nice stressor to heap on your characters. Good for relational stability, that.
Or suppose your characters are fugitives. Maybe the authorities view them as kidnappers, whatever they or the reader believes. They have a vested interest in staying undiscovered. Well, and has anybody let the child know that? And would a toddler even care? What about a babe-in-arms? How do you convince the tired, cold, angry, hungry, and now damp and souled infant to stop squalling before so the magically equipped tracker doesn’t discover them? Asking for a friend.
On the upside, children can make excellent comic relief. Wee Dave makes some pronouncements that have Mrs. Dave and I rolling. I’m given to understand this is normal. So pit that in your story, too. Is the plot getting a little too thick, with the darkness that makes your reader wonder if the kid is going to make it? Toss in a kids-say-the-darnedest. Maybe a mouthing off to a minor villain moment.
And then there’s the demideus ex machina moments. Characters – and more importantly, author – wracking brains trying to come up with a solution to one problem or the other? Out of the mouths of babes… Seriously, have the kid toss off a line that shines a light in your hero’s foggy thoughts. Great fun, especially if you can then twist it into a plot-advancing failure.
Everything always costs more and takes longer, and such is especially the nature of reality when dealing with children. So complicate your story, and your characters’ lives, and make them responsible for a child. Best way I know of to force them to grow.