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06/23/2006: Scene and Not Heard
You know how sometimes kids are running around in a store or a restaurant or the DMV, squealing and touching people and everyone is smiling at them and thinking they're so cute, but there's one lady sitting alone who stares at them, blank and unsmiling, until she suddenly breaks out a frown that sends them hurtling back to their parents, silent and ashen with fear?
I am that lady.
Now the thing is, you know me. You know I'm a sweetheart, always with a song in my heart, a dance on my hips and candy in my purse. But I can only be pushed so far. And, truly, is there any sound as chilling as the laughter of children? (I'm sure *yours* are delightful, by the way. Totally the exception. I hear good things.) You might assume that I don't have a lot of opportunity to have conversations with little ones. And yet, I can tell when children's dialogue has been written thoughtlessly.
Writing for kids is really hard. Especially if you aren't around them a lot. And it's really tempting to write kids to sound like other television kids. This leads to (at least) two common choices:
The "and stuff" choice. This style of kids writing looks like this:
And, and, and then? And then? I saw the monster and I ranned and ranned and then there was a lady and I fell down and stuff.
This child is an idiot! This style is marked by run-on sentences, grammatical errors and little tags like "and stuff" or "or sumpthin'." You've got to be really careful with these things. Your readers are going to know that this character is a child. You don't have to hit them over the head with exaggerated child-speak.
The opposite choice is the "little adult" choice. This style looks like this (taken from an actual script for a show that will go unnamed):
(to the dog)
Well, Brandon, we gotta trust somebody sometime.
Most usually the "little adult" style is used as a comedy device, in which case it's not the writer mistakenly thinking that's how kids talk, but the writer looking to get character-based humor out of the idea that *this* child talks this way. This style is obviously hugely popular and has been used in lots of successful shows. I'm not slamming these writers. I'm simply encouraging you to be aware that by now this is not the... freshest choice.
By the way, if the child also extorts money out of an adult, it's extra funny.
Man, I am cranky today.
If your spec HAS TO have a child character in it, I'd advise you to keep the part small and simple, and try to aim down the middle, on the intelligence and self-awareness scale. Make him or her sound as much like a real child as you can, but keep in mind that the character description is going to do a lot of that work for you.
Lunch: dim sum