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Friday, May 08, 2009

Children's TV Drama Specs: Common Mistakes

Thanks to thegodofallbens, I got my first Twitter-induced blog question! Apologies for taking so long, God. Please don't smite me.

The Great One asks:

What's the most common mistake writers make when writing for children's TV?

As you know, I get rather a lot of TV specs these days - and I'd venture at least half of them are aimed at the children/family market - the kind of slot Dr. Who, Primeval and Robin Hood inhabits (the rest is loosely made up of "grown up" sci fi and period drama. Interestingly, I very rarely get medical drama, cop dramas or crime-related drama without cops or family dramas with actual families in it. Weird).

Well you know me, why talk about ONE common mistake when I can talk about FIVE things that regularly afflict the children's TV series I see? Here ya go, whack your chops round these:

5. The Series That's Too Like Another Series. Yes, originality is overrated, but there is such a thing as being TOO like another series. Whatever you're dealing with, whether it's dinosaurs, demons, daleks or whatever, you need to bring something NEW to the table to get noticed. It can be anything. It's YOUR BRAIN my friends, pull *something* out of it. Though preferably not through your nose, snot on scripts *really winds me up*.

4. The Know-All Child. Everyone knows when the Apocalypse comes it won't be us grown ups who solves the crisis, but some kid: s/he will also be a loner, s/he probably wears glasses (but is *really* gorgeous), s/he probably does martial arts and s/he'll have a ragtag band of misfit friends as back up. S/he may even be an alien, monster or angel of some kind (or be descended from one). Whatevs, man. What s/he SHOULDN'T be is a complete know-all. That's not a "strong character", that's just obnoxious. Also, if they know everything, what are they fighting against? In the family-orientated spec, there will may be an adult of similar nature - a kind of hyped-up Dr. Who who's forgotten to take his Ritalin and has no manners whatsoever. Very often it'll be a divorced male who wants to get his kid and/or family back from another dimension, interestingly.

3. The Dangling Draft. Whether it's a kids' or family TV spec or some other genre, your "story of the week" needs resolving. Very often, everything will be its serial element - and with nothing being resolved and EVERYTHING being up in the air, it's hard to know what's important and thus, what is actually going on.

2. Plot Overload. Sometimes this will go hand-in-hand with the Dangling Draft; other times it will resolve its "Story of the Week" - somehow - with about five different stories going on at once. The good news with drafts like these is having too much means all a writer has to do is decide which two stories they want - and jettison the rest... Using it another week! Result.

AND FINALLY:

1. The Child Who Sounds Like An Adult. No matter how clever or outspoken a kid is, s/he is still a kid and cannot grasp abstract concepts like an adult, yet children in the specs I see often can. Children saving the world on television could be construed as a way for children to cope with broken homes, bereavement, bullying (the destruction of THEIR universe, in effect), so I think it can be argued sci-fi and fantasy elements are extremely important to children's worldview. Certainly, all the children I know put enormous stock in the likes of My Parents Are Aliens, Dr.Who and Primeval (Robin Hood & Merlin to a lesser extent). However it is worth remembering there are rarely any children actually IN the likes of Dr. Who and Primeval; the characters are adults. If you don't know what children are like, you really need to either a) write series where there are none (it is allowed) or b) find out, since there are many, many, many specs around that have children in that sound like adults which instantly alienates the reader.

Recognise any of them in your own scripts? I'm guilty of 2) and 5) recurrently it seems in my first-first drafts, though a 4) snuck into one once, DAMN ITS EYES. Over to you...
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TWITTER STUFF: Whilst we're on the subject of Twitter, one of my fab followers Stuff Bristol came up with the wicked idea of writing a spec synopsis in 140 or less characters (a logline really, but we all need practice at those!!). If you want to give it a go, you don't have to follow me (though why wouldn't you?!), you can either just put @Bang2write in front of the tweet or we're using the hash tag #140synopsis. I'll see what we come up with and see if I can copy and paste synopses here. It'd be a great way to test out a new idea or see if you can compress your existing spec right down. If you do want to follow me, click here. See you there!

3 comments:

Lucy said...

Hah! Had one #140synopsis after all that - what happened to the peeps who wanted to do it? Eh? Eh?? But of course I haven't done it either, lol. Eeeurgh, Friday apathy. Think I'll have a takeaway for dinner. Who am I even talking to? Is anyone here? HELLO???

The Brothers McLeod said...

Great post

Tim Clague said...

Thanks for that Lucy. I'm doing a tween show right now - so this is really useful. Will try to avoid these from the off. But finding number 3 the hardest!

http://projectorfilms.blogspot.com/2009/05/my-series-bible.html