Friday, September 29, 2006

I've found myself a purpose.

One thing I've had difficulty with in writing this blog is figuring out what to focus on. Some days I feel like a teacher. Most days I feel like a writer, so you never know what you're going to get when you come here because I tend to write about both. Most of you are writers so I've been trying to focus on that. But there's like eighty million other blogs, so what do I have to offer? I've been having trouble finding my identity, I suppose.

The idea behind the title of my page comes from the fact that given only a white board and some markers I can entertain and teach for two hours. But I also want to write for television, and many writers rooms use the white board to organize episodes, so I figured it had dual meaning for my dual personality.

But there is one thing I have to offer that most screenwriting blogs don't and I realized it this morning when I contributed to Scott the Reader's weekend box office discussion. I spend all day around teenagers and they're a huge part of the film and TV market. I am in a unique position to know what interests them. I think it's time I shared.

I'm not a professional writer yet. But I do write teenagers well because part of me spends all day as one, so I'll try to post some tips on writing for the teen market on a regular basis from now on. And maybe one day I'll have the credit to back myself up.

I used to teach redneck kids in the middle of nowhere North Carolina. Now I teach Latino kids in South Central Los Angeles. They have more in common than you think, but they differ greatly in their experiences, as you may imagine. So with that in mind,

Teenage tip #1: Stop writing precocious teens.
Everywhere you turn in film or TV, you see the precocious kid, the one who is so wise even though he's only ten. He knows things and says logical and clever comments just when they're parents are out of ideas. The teenage daughter on Shark chooses to stay with her father even though he's less stable than her mother because she wants to learn all about him and occasionally pass along her great wisdom she's learned in all sixteen of her years.

That makes no sense. A kid will always pick stability. I don't care how smart she is, she will choose what's best for her. She may be smart, but she is still unsure about what the right answer is and she'll want someone to tell her.

My smartest kids are of two kinds: Shy or loudmouth. This kid who knows just when to say the right thing? I haven't met him yet in my six years in education. That's not to say there aren't smart kids out there, but they don't speak with the kind of authority and wisdom of so many kids on TV these days.

So give you teenager some doubt. They don't know everything and no matter what they act like they don't think they know everything either. If they act like it, it's because they're covering for their own misgivings. And that in itself makes for interesting character quirks.


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  2. I'm not sure about the stabiltiy stuff, but I think a kid would chose a parent whose most comfortable. Where there is trust and love is where you go. Naturally.

  3. Anonymous6:27 PM

    Comfort is important, but I've seen a few cases where the kid "get's along" better with one parent only to choose the other who's more of an authority figure. I'm assuming there's trust and love from both parents. By the time someone's a teenager, he or she's able to separate friends from family. You can always visit and have relationships with friends. But I wouldn't have wanted to live with one growing up, no matter how much I felt they were like me. Of course when I was eighteen that all changed. :)

  4. I guess I should clarify. The father has never paid any attention to her. Her mother is the better parent in every way. The only reason the kid chose her dad was so she could "get to know him better."

    I just used that as an example of a precocious teen that we've seen so much of on the screen because as soon as that kid hit the TV I was annoyed at her incredibly unrealistic wisdom.

  5. It sounds like you're absolutely correct, Emily, about how silly that set-up is. It would be more believable to me if a teen chose to live with the bad parent because it meant the rules would be more lax and that teen would have the freedom to get away with more stuff. Or something like that. That rings true to me.

    Ahh, kids...

    Ya may know, we just started a study on character depth and it seems to me that even with teens on a TV show, you still have to construct some really fun contradictions in order to make that character interesting. A kid that acts one way but is really another way. Says one thing but means something else in order to accomplish X. Or something like that. I wonder, can the truthes we find in adult characters get translated into teens in high school?



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