A couple of weeks ago saw me making comment on the virtues of young adult literature and today I was gifted to another treat in this genre. Has anyone seen Stranger Things?
It’s a great show on Netflix which deals with all manner of classic genre themes. Monsters, government conspiracies, science gone wrong all sit happily in the mix as the action takes place but for me, the greatest thing to come out of the show is the writing. The show is set in the 1980’s and shamelessly sets up camp in the same ‘feel’ as ET and Stand By Me. We’re dealing with action which is being seen mainly through the eyes of the young. And therein is the charm.
We’re looking at the world through the eyes of children as all kinds of action unfolds which would terrify any adult yet the kids just keep on going.
As an adult, we’re all programmed to behave in a certain way. We all know the moment when we watch a film or TV show when a character does something which we wouldn’t have. Anyone else shouted at the screen in disbelief as something daft happens? In this programme, I did find myself thinking ‘What?’ at a couple of character decisions but it was only when I really considered what had happened that I recognised that this time, the TV show was doing a better job of keeping up with the truth of what they were portraying.
As a child, I did some daft things. My wife would no doubt point out that I’ve done a few as an adult but that’s not the point. At the discovery of whatever stupid thing I’d done and the question of “Why did you do that?” all I had was a sullen silence that covered the fact that “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” was no doubt going to be worse than no response at all.
If you all think back and consider whatever activities fall into the above category which you may have thought were a good idea at the time, it will seem blatantly obvious now that it was a stupid idea but back then, our child mind couldn’t see any problems. Now there have been a great many studies which have shown that a child’s mind doesn’t have the same kind of reasoning ability as an adult but that’s down to the brain not being developed in the correct way. As we grow, our brain’s wiring grows and changes meaning the choices in certain situations are going to be vastly different.
So back to Stranger Things.
More than anything, even the suspense and special effects, the one major thing that this show just nailed was the youngsters. Their dialogue, relationships and decision making was bang on. At no point did I feel that these kids were trying to deliver adult written lines. They all delivered everything wonderfully well and should all be richly praised for their talents but the writers should also be given a slap on the back. Creating dialogue which sounds believable is not an easy task. When I write dialogue I have to work really hard to make sure I’m not just playing connect he dots for the story. Dialogue needs to be oddly shaped and maybe a little lumpy. If you try to make it too smooth, too clinical, it sounds wrong and this is what so often happens with the kids in shows and books because the adults writing them forget that they need to think like kids.
With all characterisation and dialogue, the purpose is always to drive the story along in some way. But that isn’t the only point. Driving the story yes but still in the way that characters should be driving, Stranger Things is a great example of it being done right.