In which the author rambles on about writing for an all-ages audience and says nothing particularly useful – Part 1

Lately, I’ve been thinking about Doctor Who. Which is funny, considering it’s on a hiatus here in the US and isn’t even on the telly (like that? I used ‘telly’. How ‘posh’.) I’m a fan of the show, both classic and modern versions. I wanted a Tom Baker scarf when I was in Junior High, and the episode “Blink” is one of the best hours of entertainment you can find. “Don’t blink. Blink and you’re dead. Don’t turn your back. Don’t look away. And don’t blink. Good Luck”. (Anyone who recognizes that line knows exactly what I’m talking about.)

But this isn’t meant to be a Doctor Who fan post, it’s meant to be a post on writing for all-ages. When I was at the Clarion Writers Workshop I remember one of my fellows, a Brit, told me how funny it was that Doctor Who was taken so seriously here in the States, because back in the UK everyone knew that it was a kids’ show, it was Britain’s highest rated bit of family programming.

For some reason, this floored me. Doctor Who was scary, I said. Yeah, she responded, and kids like to be scared. So do parents.
This was, I think, a tiny revelation for me. Kids like to be scared. So do parents. The entertainment value is the same for both.  The experience is the same for both.  I think this is the key, and, for me, what is missing from so many works of fiction intended for all-ages.

In broad strokes, I think that so much all-ages work falls into two traps (and my own work is not excepted from this) They are:

1) Writing down to “kid’s entertainments” and staying there. Overly simplistic plots, obvious jokes, flat characters etc. Sometimes (but not often) appeases the kids but the adults want to shoot themselves.
2) Trying to write on two levels at once so that the work is full of lots of number 1, but also enough inside jokes and subtext for the adults so that they don’t get bored. This can be fun, but eventually it becomes obvious that the kids and the adults are laughing at different times. They are, in effect, enjoying two different stories. They are not really sharing the experience (or at least not as much as they could be).

There’s a third option, and I think it’s the better choice. Fiction can entertain adults and kids at the same time. The jokes can be funny for everyone, the action exciting for everyone and the scares scary for everyone. It’s the way Doctor Who aspires to entertain. Mostly it succeeds, sometimes it fails but it always reaches for that admirable goal.

I’m going to turn it into a mantra – “WWDWD?” or “What Would Doctor Who Do?”

It’s what Pixar’s Wall-E does. It’s what DC Comics’ Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade does. It’s what Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book does.

But it’s not easy. Not by a very long shot.

End Part 1. Next time I’ll be even more long-winded about the nuts and bolts of what I perceive this process to be and my conclusions will be just as useless. Stay Tuned!

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2 Responses to “In which the author rambles on about writing for an all-ages audience and says nothing particularly useful – Part 1”

  1. I absolutely agree with you here. Firstly, “Blink” is one of the finest hours of TV, period, and secondly, this is exactly what good entertainment should do. I wish us Americans could follow the UK’s lead a bit more in this.

  2. January M. Says:

    I agree too, if somewhat belatedly. (Also, I didn’t realise what I said had surprise you that much.)

    Proper family/all-ages entertainment is a rare and wonderful thing and “WWDWD” is certainly a mantra to write by!

    So, where is Part II of Writing for All Ages?

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