Kids Like Pizza: Writing Realistic Children!

Let’s talk about the differences between writing children in screenplays and novels, versus writing adults!

This post is part of the Dialogue Doctor Series, where I talk about writing effective dialogue!

Blog Post Header; a young girl walking through the woods. Text reads 'Writing children effectively.'

I wish I could say writing child characters was the same as writing adults but I’d be wrong. Further still, I wish I could say that writing children was an easy task. That’s even more wrong. We’ve all seen movies with children in them, which means we’ve all seen movies where the child’s lines are either exceptionally on-point or awkward and stilted. 

(Note, this has nothing to do with the performance of child actors, but rather the lines they’re given within the script. Sure, sometimes children aren’t very good at acting, but that doesn’t mean they deserve bad dialogue.)

Oftentimes you can tell if someone has interacted with kids or not based on the dialogue they give their child characters. Frankly, being around children makes writing children’s dialogue easier, but sometimes we just can’t hang out with kids for no reason other than to hear them talk; that’d be weird.

Read on for a few key tips to focus on when it comes to writing children’s dialogue.

Gremlin’s Adventures in Influencing

I’ve been trying my hand at ‘influencer’-y things (ugh) and trying to get over my massive amounts of self-consciousness. It feels futile; I’m not influential. My 75 followers probably don’t want any influencing. It’s just kind of a silly experiment. Especially since I can’t go out and see things and take pictures in cool locations, considering the current plague going on.

But one of my favorite Instagram users mentioned that they were self-conscious sitting down. It’s a challenge to be sure. I must’ve taken like forty pictures and these were the only three I was happy with. But also I can see what I actually look like — overcoming the huge disconnect between my mind and body (the dysmorphia is real), as well as being a plus-size person in front of the camera. It’s interesting to challenge myself this way. I’m pretty good at writing, and I’ve always been good at moving my body (I’ve got a black belt in karate for Pete’s sake), but looking at myself and being in front of a camera is a completely different hurdle.

But I kind of like it.

I kind of feel good about this, flub and thunder thighs and all. I’m never going to be a size two. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t celebrate my body for all the gifts it’s given me. I’m cute. I’m pudgy. I sit down and look okay doing it!

The thing I’ve gleaned from this more than anything else is just keeping trying things that scare you. I was terrified of posting these pictures to my instagram, but it all worked out in the end.

Try something terrifying. Try something that makes you a little apprehensive. It’ll work out, I promise.

The 6 Worst Screenwriting Mistakes You Can Make

Are these common mistakes holding you back?

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I read and edit scripts professionally (as well as for my other writing friends, because that’s what friends do), and I’ve noticed some mistakes that happen over and over again, especially with new writers. These common mistakes cripple a story! Screenwriting and the film industry is a brutal business. Avoid these common mistakes to give your screenplay a leg up from the competition.

1. No conflict.

One of the main tenants of screenwriting —literally something drilled into every class meeting in my screenwriting program at UCLA — is, “add more conflict.

What does that mean though? The phrase ‘adding conflict’ is almost like a shibboleth within the film industry. Conflict does not mean the dictionary definition of conflict, it means challenge.

But it’s still true that the best way to make a screenplay better is to challenge your character’s goals and motives. All characters want and need to do* certain things throughout their story arcs, and making it harder for them to achieve those things makes your story better. This applies to both screenwriting and regular novel/short story writing.

To come about it another way, think of your favorite movie. Is there a scene where ‘nothing’ happens? I imagine there isn’t, (unless it’s a really artistic piece.) If there is one character in the scene, they’re trying to get something done (the ’trying’ is the challenge/conflict). If there are two characters, they are having a conversation or interaction with their unique wants and motives (their motives and interaction is the source of conflict).

Adding conflict is what makes a scene a scene. Again, it’s not adding fights and fisticuffs; if anything, it’s adding ‘story.’ The best stories happen in the conflict.

*The very first article I wrote on medium a few years ago was about ‘wants and needs’ and explaining what that actually means! Check it out!

If you’re going through hell, keep going…

It’s odd that just last week I was worried about submitting to screenplay competitions. That was the main thing and a real source of almost stress.

I say ‘almost,’ because my father had a health scare last Saturday; he went to the hospital. He’s fine now, but I thought I knew what stress really before it happened. I had some tough college years and experiences but it was nothing compared to this. It was surreal too in a post-Covid19 context; how do you experience a family member in the hospital when you can’t go in and see them in the hospital? Again, he’s fine now, and that’s also a source of stress because the doctors cannot tell us what happened. I know nothing about the world of medicine but how many possible causes are there for a person’s lungs and heart to fill with fluid?

I’ve been less than productive so far this week because of what happened. The face of a parent’s mortality can do that I guess. I’m taking it easy, hoping I can come up with my screenplay articles by the end of the week.

Life is weird and comes at you from unexpected places.

At least my dogs are cute. What a boon a ding-dong poodle is.

Do you still believe these outrageous film industry myths?

There are plenty of myths and misconceptions about the world of screenwriting and film, just like any industry. The pervasive untruths that people believe about filmmaking are pretty wild, and before I got enmeshed in this world I believed plenty of them myself. (Heck, part of me still wants to believe that I can make bank with screenwriting. Ce n’est pas vrai. C’est la vie).

Here are some of the most common and most untrue myths about screenwriting and the film industry that I have come across.

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Myth: It’s lucrative.

piggy bank

Fact: This is one of those myths that makes me laugh. For the most part, you cannot make a living on screenwriting alone. At least until you’re fairly well established, and even that can be a bit of a tossup. The majority of screenwriting gigs for movies are commission based; you don’t know where the next job is coming from once you’ve finished the one you’re working on. Sometimes big payouts for a script get publicized. Various entertainment and industry publications will tell you about the latest acquisition by big-name directors and up-and-coming writers, utmost scripts rarely get bought. Those that do rarely make the kind of seven-figure payout you think of when you think of Hollywood.

I don’t write screenplays for the money; it’d be nice to make some but I’m not kidding myself. I write because I love it. (And because I want to eventually have someone buy my script and Chris Evans star in it, and then meet me and fall in love with me. Obviously. This is a sound plan.)

(If you’re a poor writer like me, here are some of my favorite financial resources for making and managing money!)

Competition conniption.

I’m trying to decide if I want to tweak and submit one of my pilots to competitions again. There’s a few that are due on the 31st, and the pilot did okay last year (AFF Second Rounder good! Yippie!), so it’s not a completely impossible option. Hell, it might be a good shot even. I’m almost optimistic. Almost

I just don’t want to get my hopes up. That messed me up last year. Even when I got the email saying I was a second-rounder, I felt bad about it. Good, but not good enough. I’m older and wiser this year, but I know if I submit to anything there will still be that small flicker in me that says “This is it! This is your chance.” When it isn’t “it,” it ain’t great.

This industry can be a real kick in the pants sometimes. Just a real wallop of angst.

And I feel kind of duplicitous because I tell my clients and anyone reading this blog that a good screenplay can go a long way. But I’ve had a few good screenplays under my belt, (like actually good, I’m not just being arrogant), but they haven’t made it very far.

I’ll figure this all out, but I also don’t want to be dishonest about how draining this career choice can be. Everyone’s writing screenplays, which means competition is fierce. And I’m probably the least competitive person on the planet. If nothing else, getting into screenwriting has been an exercise in not just rolling over onto my back and letting the world mow over me.

I’ll do it. The submission fee isn’t that pricey, and every little bit of exposure matters in this industry.

Wish me luck, and tough skin.

The Best Financial Resources for Poor Writers!

Financial resources for writers heading

God’s honest truth? Writing is hard work. Harder still is writing to make money. Establishing yourself in your niche is no cakewalk. Promoting yourself, especially as an introvert, is nightmarish. Having every family member ask, “Remind me why you decided not to go to law school again?” is a root canal with no novocaine. I’m struggling with all these things. Some days feel like just putting one foot in front of the other. Something more lucrative would mean I wouldn’t have to write a whole article about the financial resources I use!

If you’re like me, however, writing is it. It’s what I do and I truly love it.

But loving it doesn’t necessarily make it any more lucrative. Here are a few solutions and financial resources I’ve come across that help me manage and make money, both as a writer and as a plain old Jane. Plus a few additional self-care resources at the end that might make you days a little easier.

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Financial Resources for Poor Writers!

Upwork

Upwork Logo. Financial resources #1

A real boon for the freelancer. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. I’ve had some great experiences with this site. I don’t use it often (though I’m looking into doing it more in these pandemic times). Chances are you have a sellable skill that will translate into something someone on Upwork is looking for. Can you speak two languages? Boom, translator! Do you know how to do some basic coding? Boom, coder! Can you write blog posts on a variety of subjects? Boom, freelance blogger!

Sometimes a few bucks can go a long way and Upwork is a great way to earn a few bucks for sure. Some people even do it as a full-time job and make full-time money. As far as financial resources go, this is a great place to start! Be smart about it and you’ll have some supplemental income in no time.

Digit (referral link)

Digit Logo. Financial Resources #2

Well gosh, now what are you going to do with all that money you made on Upwork? As a multi-dollar-aire you have to put it somewhere, right?

This little app really saves the bacon. You connect your bank account info and they put aside a few cents to a few dollars each day depending on your preferences. (Or not, it’s up to you. For example, I manually save to Digit once a month when I have a bit of extra cash. I’m currently foregoing the auto-save because I’m dead broke!) After a time, those little bits of change add up and before you know it, you’ve got a tiny bit of savings for a rainy day. Digit also offers services like overdraft protection and savings bonuses! It’s delightful! Plus, once a week they send me a cute little text showing me how my financials are doing which helps make sure there’s nothing squirrelly going on.

Women killing the film industry game!

As much as I hate to admit it, the film industry is predominantly male. It’s 2020 and while things are better than the 1980’s, there’s still a long way to go. Women make up 51% of the population, but only comprise 12% of the directors of the top-grossing films of 2019. Also women are only 20% of the writers and 19% of executive producers.

That sucks. That’s just bad math. Especially considering that women are making some really great films, and have been since films began. Hell, when I first started writing and submitting screenplays for competitions I considered doing it under a male/gender neutral pseudonym. Because that’s the world I am living and working in right now.  

  • (But also, what if women were making really mediocre films? Men get away with that all the time, but don’t end up representing their entire gender when something flops. ‘The Room’ is a cult classic and it sucks. When was the last time you saw a ‘so bad it was good’ film directed or written by a woman? Something to think about.)

Here’s a few women on my radar that I think are really killing the film industry game. They’re making phenomenal pieces and working hard to amplify voices of minorities and other women.

Lulu Wang, Director, Writer, Producer

Lulu Wang, Vanity Fair

‘The Farewell’ was a phenomenal film directed by Lulu Wang and premiering at Sundance. Wang is fairly new on the scene. (Or rather, was working hard and then made something brilliant that put her in the spotlight). Her film killed it at Sundance and with good reason; it’s personal and raw and funny and heartfelt. It’s a beautiful story about the juxtaposition between Eastern and Western cultures and a look into the lengths families go to to keep each other happy. I truly cannot wait to see what Wang comes up with next.

Overused film tropes that will get your screenplay trashed!

Header image depicting Cher and Dionne from Clueless. An example of the Black Best Friend tropes. Text reads; "are you guilty of these overused film tropes?"

There are some things in storytelling that we repeat, rehash, and make anew. That’s part of the human condition; we love telling stories and boy howdy, do we love hearing, reading, and seeing them on the screens. Chalk it up to the hero’s journey, but humans are just super into that rising-action/climax/conclusion cycle. And within that cycle we come up with literary tropes as well; the wise old mentor, the sidekick, the monster. These have been around since humans first sat around a fire together telling stories.

As storytelling evolved, so to have these tropes. In fact, with regards to film and TV, there’s a whole website dedicated to cataloging them. Sure we have wise old mentors, but we also have The Hacker, who can smash a keyboard and get into any computer system. We have The Jock and The Cheerleader and myriad other roles we slot our characters into. There are themes that get repeated, lines of dialogue that pop up again and again — i.e. techno-jargon followed by a, “Speak English!” — and even plot holes that writers fall into again and again.

Writing and storytelling are hard; it’s easy to walk on the well-trod path that others have set before. In fact, in many ways it’s a good thing; the hero’s journey speaks to us on a nearly primal level. Humans like it, and your story probably already follows obliquely; let it. Have fun with it.

But there are some tropes, particularly in film and screenwriting, that we do not need anymore.

The following list is a collection of some of my least favorite writing tropes. They’re just malarkey. Frankly, they are dated and offensive. You can do better.

Gremlin’s Five Year Plan

I was recently inspired by The Huntswoman (amazing blog! can’t recommend enough!) who posted on their instagram story about how to really dig deep and come up with a five year plan. There’s nitty-gritty detail work and going through everything step by step to try and reasonably come up with a plan to get from where you are now to where you want to be in five years.

I know where I want to be in five years. The dream is to write for a Pixar project.

That’s a big ask. I’d probably be happy with a real writing job, but Brianne (the Huntswoman) said to imagine your ideal life.

So far here is what I’ve come up with;

  • I live on my own, either in New York (a pipe dream) or LA (a more reasonable place for my general career choice). A two bedroom apartment with exposed brick and interesting built ins.
  • I have a dog. Probably a poodle or poodle-mix because I’ve grown up with them and they’re so fluffy and sweet.
  • I’ve sold screenplays, I have an agent who gets me, I’m working in the industry and am making a name for myself enough so that Pixar might notice.
  • I may be blogging professionally; at least making some supplemental income from blogging and selling an eBook or something.
  • I’m in a relationship that is fulfilling. This is not as important to me, but it’d be nice. Frankly I’m more invested in having my own dog and place first.
  • My family is taken care of; my brothers are able to support themselves, my parents are retired/semi-retired and living comfortably. I don’t know what steps I have to take personally for this to happen, but is the ideal.
  • Maybe I’m a little thinner, but mostly I’m wearing better clothes.

How I get there is the hard work; I’m slowly chipping away at planning and implementing. It’s hard to break down five years into month by month steps. But for the first time in a while, I’m feeling hopeful.

Wish me luck!