I’ve been teaching scriptwriting to children this week and they’ve also taught me a lot even though they were eight years old. Even from a young age we know when a story sucks. If it’s boring. If it’s not finished. If we’ve forgotten characters. If we’ve skipped a big chunk of the action. Somewhere along the line as we get older, we can forget it’s as simple as that. One of the exercises I did with the children was to collectively create a story. And they knew their stuff. Each of them added another twist to this story and racked up the tension, they knew they had to keep people interested and excited or scared by the story. I was amazed at their dedication to a plot that was still unfurling as we talked about it. I was also pleasantly surprised by their maturity and knowledge of how a story works.
Your audience are more important than you realise. Obvious I know. They’re the ones sitting through your words and if they have to wade they’ll get bored. Again, obvious but something to keep focused on. They’re also more clever than you remember. Bingo! The one that still escapes some people’s grasp. Let me put this into context with the beauty of children – they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms when you’re not doing the story justice. A vocabulary that is blunt as it is bold. Their silence on the other hand shows their engagement with the story at hand.
It’s reminded me that writing is not so much formulaic, it’s something simple that we try our best to make hard because we’re scared of being formulaic. Sometimes knowing exactly what happens at the beginning, middle and end of your story is just as exciting as writing it. It’s the most rewarding jigsaw puzzle ever.
A mentor of mine used Where The Wild Things Are to explore a character’s wants and needs. The Gruffalo (of which I’ve also been doing a workshop on this week) is perfect for igniting the imagination with it’s adjectives and rhyme. I’m a sucker for children’s books regardless, but a narrative that is meant for a child to enjoy is also the best blueprint of the basics. Go back to your childhood favourites and see where you learned about story. They have a beginning, middle and end. Does yours?