Joe Aaron, co-creator of Doug (Nickelodeon 1991-1994, Disney/ABC 1996-2001) has a lot of hands on experience writing everything from children’s books to feature films, with a hit tv show thrown in. I had the opportunity to ask him about cinematic storytelling recently, and he had some pretty specific (and way cool) tips for how to write a script that moves.

doug-nickelodeon_movieguyhollywood-d3gwoctDon’t miss the podcast, from the Storytellers Summit, at this link especially if you want to hear more about how he got his start in show biz, and how he and co-creator Jim Jinkins sold in Doug. 

What I find most useful about this interview is the detail that Joe provides about how to write a screenplay – coming from his own methodology, as detailed in his book: Low Budget Screenplay.

Joe describes an emotional line and a maturity line. Any interesting protagonist must cross both, and grow. What are these imagined lines that make us engage with these characters?

  1. The emotional line.
    A character can start out in any emotional state – mad, sad, glad or afraid – but must cross the emotional line a few times during the episode or script and change their emotional status. No one wants to see a character who is always happy or always bleak.
  2. The maturity line.
    The protagonist must also grow, if not actually, then metaphorically. They start as a juvenile archetype of a boy or girl (again, actually or metaphorically.)
  • The boy is mean, selfish, cruel and doesn’t care who he hurts.
  • The girl is a damsel in distress, afraid to try anything.
  • The man is a hero, strong, courageous
  • The woman is kind, nurturing.

These archetypes are psychological descriptions, based on the most obvious of 1950’s gender roles. Don’t let that hang you up. Either male or female characters can start off as girls or boys and become men or women, in this terminology. What’s important is that the character cross the maturity line during the progress of the script.

Let Joe tell you more in his soft Arkansan accent in our interview.