Thursday, September 29, 2016

Storyteller’s Rulebook: Talking To Kids As If They’re Adults Is Always Likable

There are very few character traits that are always likable, without feeling overdone or manipulative. Sure you can give your hero a three-legged dog, but that would be too blatantly pulling on our emotions. It’s even worse when you want to make your hero seem cool and relaxed. Should he high-five a lot and call everybody dude? Give everybody nicknames? Play jazz piano?

But I’ve found in my own writing that there’s one trick that always works: Have your hero amuse kids by talking to them as if they were adults. School of Rock got a whole movie out of this trick, but the “Master of None” pilot shows a charming smaller-scale version. Dev runs into an old friend, Amanda, and her two little kids, Grant and Lila.
  • Dev: Ah! Hey, Amanda. What's up?
  • Amanda: Hey, Dev. Hi.
  • Dev: Hey, what's up, guys? Lila, what's going on? How are you? I heard you got married recently. How come I didn't get invited to the wedding?
  • Lila: [not sure if he’s kidding] I didn't get married!
  • Dev: That's not what I heard. I heard you have a husband. It was a small ceremony, just family and friends. Fine, whatever. I get it.
  • Lila: [amused but exasperated] I'm not married!
  • Dev: Okay, well, I guess I'll just keep that blender for myself, then. Grant, what's up, man?
  • Grant: Farts!
  • Dev: [laughs, tries again] All right, well, that's cool. Um, you want to arm wrestle?
  • Grant: Sure.
  • Dev: All right. [arm wrestles, pretends to lose] Oh, God. Oh, my arm! Ooh!
  • Grant: [laughing] You're so weak!
  • Amanda: All right, you guys. Why don't you get some snacks?
Of course, a scene like this cuts two ways: It shows that Dev is mature enough to be relaxed around his friend’s kids, but it also speaks to his own childishness. The rest of the episode will force Dev to choose between his responsible and irresponsible instincts. This moment is not only strong characterization, it ensures that we will adore Dev, and that’s essential for any type of writer, but especially sitcom writers.


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