1. JillHaines

    JillHaines New Member

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    Character Age

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by JillHaines, Feb 25, 2017.

    Hey, guys...looking for help here...I am writing a screenplay and my main character is a 15 year old girl...The opening scene, I want the reader to believe she is on her way to her wedding...but of course the reader is going to know that a 15 year old is not on her way to be married...my character is introduced in the opening scene...my question is when i describe her for the first time, what do i say about her age? I dont wanna just refer to her as a teenager bc 13 to 19 is a big difference...i am going to state she is 15 after a certain event unfolds and after you realize she is not on her way to her wedding...do i just tell the reader in the opening that she is 15? Or do i take the reader on the same ride as the audience and not make her age known at the beginning? And if that is the case, what exactly should i say in reference to her age at the beginning scene? Thanks
     
  2. Builderbot2000

    Builderbot2000 New Member

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    Infer with her appearance.
     
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  3. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

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    This, this, a thousand times this.
     
  4. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The game sour like a pickle be.... Contributor

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    In a movie script the ages are really only listed as notes for the casting director, but they are almost always listed. And there really shouldn't be much in the way of setup/reveal. Or description save for a few key lines here or there. There are no secrets in a movie script. Often times you'll see a straight statement in the stage direction like: "She looks like she's on her way to her wedding." It's really bland, but that's scripting. You're not trying to hook a "reader." You're trying to get people with a shitload of money who make movies to want to invest in yours.
     
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  5. NoGoodNobu

    NoGoodNobu Contributor Contributor

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    Now I'm not particularly knowledgeable of screenplays, but wouldn't the "readers" be the director & people who would already know the main character is 15—for casting & whatnot

    With maybe the exception of Shakespeare (and Wilde), most people don't sit down and read scripts like they're novels.

    You're just giving action & screen directions and dialogue, correct? The directions then should be clear, even if how it is performed or ultimately seen in its final visual medium is misleading.

    I'm not sure why you would be concealing information from the "readers", unless I'm missing something (in which case I apologize)
     
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  6. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    It's not as easy as just 'infer by appearance'.

    Yes, to some degree you can, but it's legitimately difficult to give cues that won't be just as ambiguous. I have in my life taken the opportunity to sit in my car outside a girls school and just watch pupils walk out. It was my girlfriends school and I had other friends there too and, let me tell you, it's not easy to tell apart age groups just by looking. Sure, you can see the difference between the dinky 11 year old year 7 girls and the 17/18 year old sixth formers with no problems, but telling the difference between 14, 15 and 16 is a genuine problem (one that as someone who was a bad influence on some of those girls I had to be pretty fucking wary of). To-wit, my friend Charlotte who I used to take drinking after school when she was in year 10 was about five foot one, ninety pounds, size eight and practically no boobs, where as George who was a friend of my girlfriend who was also fifteen was about five foot six, size sixteen and a 38DD. George I could just about pick up if I put my knees into it but Charlotte I could literally pick up with one arm, which didn't stop her coming mosh pitting with me or later from joining the merchant navy (she was a whole lot of fun). Suffice to say though that describing them wouldn't help you all that much figuring out they were the same age.

    And, worst of all, there's women out there who are twenty who are still short, thin and flat. In fact, there's adult women who are thinner, shorter and flatter than Charlotte was in her teens. Sizes run down to double zero, remember, and the theoretical average women's height in the US is five foot three or four I think. Look at Ellen Page; she's actually older than me but she looks really dinky all the same. In 2005 when she filmed Hard Candy she was 18, old enough to get married or join the marines. There's just a certain kind of woman who will always be very petite. This kind of women are very over-represented in our media too, not necessarily flat chested but still really petite. If you write a character who seems to be getting married who looks like Charlotte or Ellen Page but don't say her age the audience will think that she's just a physically small adult character.

    Not to digress too far into my personal history but I want to tell you a cautionary tale about age and looks. When I was eighteen or so I went to an RPG club held in the backroom of a pub, where I was the youngest by a pretty wide measure, mostly people there were in their twenties but we all had dice and that's really what mattered. Josh who ran the club was doing a college course for something and there he became friends with a single mum in her thirties whos name I forget. He mentioned that he ran a games club at some point and eventually the woman's daughter came along; presumably because once her mum had figured out Josh with his dreadlocks and piercings was a decent enough guy she decided the rest of us couldn't be too terrible. And we made her welcome, got her into one of our Werewolf games and all was well. She was a bit shy and fairly dinky but otherwise she was happy enough to play along with us. Because we ran on a Monday night her mum tended to pick her up around nineish leaving us to play Magic and drink and so forth. And, as young men are wont to after a few beers, to talk about girls and perv over our new club member. She was a pretty little thing and as the only girl who regularly showed up naturally we joked on the subject. She was definitely a few years younger than me and rather more younger than the others. Some months later I brought Charlotte with me to the club, as I occasionally did. As it turns out she also went to Charlotte's school and they talked a bit during the night. At the end of the night we carried on as per usual, Charlotte pretty much just one of the lads. And she burst out laughing at us. Because she knew something we didn't. Our new member was in year eight and was twelve years old. And we were all very ashamed of ourselves.

    This is the kind of problem you'll run into just through description. Yes, you can probably sell people on the idea of an age range by looks you won't get a good reaction. An 'average' fifteen year old could easily be a petite adult. In fact, it's exactly this reason why, back before everywhere IDed everyone, I could take fifteen year old Charlotte out bar hopping with me and why I actually knew some of my girlfriend's friends a couple of years before I met here; because they went to the same clubs and bars when they were 14 that I did when I was 16. I had a beard, they could pass for 18, so we had run into each other. Especially set against the marriage paraphernalia the assumption won't be what you're looking for.

    Even when you bring dress into it it's not going to work. Presumably she's wearing a wedding dress or a gown of some sort but even if she wasn't it wouldn't be clear cut enough to give a big punch reaction. Even put squarely into today's world, most kids dress to try and look older (and thus cooler) and to express whatever things they like and those things are not as age specific as we'd like to think. It's really easy to think that certain things just 'fit' with specific ages but it's not that simple. How old is a Justin Beiber fan? Younger teens, right? Except that's not actually how it works. The girls who were 11 or 12 in 2010 were his fans and a good number of them were until just a year or so ago, being 16 or so still wearing Belieber t-shirts. How old is a Beatles fan? Well, about my mum's age, right? Grew up in the 60s, so about sixty something now. But the Beatles are a cultural icon, like Michael Jackson and Metallica and David Bowie. Teenagers still buy their t-shirts and their very old albums now. So, is the kid in the Thriller t-shirt 12 and given it by his mum and MJ is the only music he knows? Or is he 18 and a devoted fan?

    This stuff is really hard to communicate just through description. I write teenagers almost to the exclusion of anything else and I wouldn't even try doing age just by description. Anything other than physical description to tell us how old she is. Absolutely anything. Her interests, her thoughts, how she acts; that will work. If, as she walks wherever she's walking she likens a person she passes to a teacher at school, or thinks about what she'll do when she grows up or blushes when boys look at her; this is stuff that makes her seem younger than she might appear. Not by describing her. By describing the things that actually cement her age. That's what bouncers do; they don't look at your boobs, they look at how you talk and act and the people you are with.

    And, frankly, after you've done all that, I would make sure no-one misses the boat on this and drop a more elegant version of "she looks too young to be getting married". The reveal is clearly something that we're supposed to invest in, right? And if you miss with it then you've got problems. So I would suggest using some narration too to hammer that point home and make clear that whatever the reader is thinking this is what you are trying to say. Yes, I agree that it would be nice to just have a reader who will pick up everything from subtle hints but there's so little to work with when it's a character just doing a thing apropos of nothing. You have the space to get in her reacting to the event and you should definitely do that, but don't risk that your big pay off just falls flat because the reader get caught up in the marriage aspect instead of the girl.

    Edit -

    You're writing a screenplay not a book but in fact this applies EVEN more. When you have real people to work with instead of description then unless she's visibly a child you'll have a really hard time getting the audience to buy in just on her looks. Make her react. That's how you show how old she it.
     
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  7. Builderbot2000

    Builderbot2000 New Member

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    First of all, that 1400 word essay you wrote on the topic can be summarized into one line that is "appearance doesn't represent age very well because of physical development differences".

    My interpretation of "appearance" also includes the props used (such as motifs typically related to a wedding) and costumes. Note that in many cultures a single item can have greatly varying connotations (ex. a beautiful ode to a young maiden turns out to be a epitaph on her gravestone) depending on the circumstance. By installing some subtle contrasts between the physical appearance and the clothes she wears, you can give a hint to the audience regarding her true age.

    Finally, identify the audience you are presenting this screenplay to(both the publisher audience and the consumer audience) and configure the subtlety of the hint according to their average intelligence. Not everyone works at Trope Co/Cinema Sins.
     
  8. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    Yes, indeed that was the tenor of my thrust there, but there's value in explaining why exactly. Writers tend to get ideas in there head and forget that the audience doesn't know what they know and a little perspective matters here, counter examples matter. Just saying "appearance doesn't represent age very well" is not a strong argument, especially to someone who thinks it probably does.

    I think that the props used are part of the problem here. Because, assuming this is a modern world, if she's wearing the dress she's old enough to get married. Wedding dresses are expensive, universally. There are some age signifying props out there, but it turns out that most of them are related to marriage, not to age itself. A hindu women will wear a bindi for the first time on her wedding day, after marriage and Orthodox Jewish woman will cover her hair. In most old cultures it was marriage (and hence child bearing) that meant girls had become women, remembering of course that marriage happened typically fairly young. If we're in a medievalish world then it won't look weird to the reader that a fifteen year old girl looks to be going to get married; that's just part of that worlds fabric. There are some other 'coming of age' things that do exist (bat mitzvah, confirmation etc) but again they mostly happen at eleven or twelve, not in the teens. It's only really our modern culture who counts teenagers as children instead of adults.

    I agree the audience matters the most here but in a slightly different way. The audience only has the information you give them to work with. If you want them to know things you have to show them what they mean. Apropos of nothing the audience sees a girl in a white dress with a veil as 'bride'. The semiotics of how she's dress overrides the rest. We err towards the dress and the veil over how old she looks because we know there's ambiguity in how old she looks. If she looks seven then maybe, but if she looks like maybe she could be old enough then sure, the audience will take that as reasonable. Someone dressed her up as a bride and with no other information the simplest answer is that this is because she is a bride.

    That's why the audience matters here and specifically why we need other clues than her to give us the right reading. We need her to react, show us how she talks, the way that she sees the world, the context that she puts on things. That can be spoken or not, but those reactions are what is needed. That's what sets up the dissonance and thus the reaction from the audience. We see a bride, then over the coarse of a minute or so on screen we see her act more like a kid and this isn't what it seems and we ask why. But it does need to be put out there, and it can't just be in set dressing. If the audience is smart enough to pick up that she's too young then they will probably know this world well enough to know that she's not actually a bride either.
     
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