Little Old Lady

I am at a teaching conference in New Orleans. So far, oddly, I have not heard from one person who’s had a great meal. How strange. I”m sure there is some sort of screenwriting lesson in that, but I doubt I’ll come up with one anytime soon.

Yesterday I was on a panel with an animation teacher. Very smart woman, with a lot to share. One fascinating thing she said was an exercise she did in her beginning animation class.

She asks the students to draw a picture (you can too, even if you can’t draw like her students!) of a little old lady. No one was allowed to look at the drawing their neighbor was doing. After everyone finished, she asked them to look up from their drawings.

She said, “Raise you hands if your little old lady has a bun.”

Three fourths of them raised their hands.

“Raise your hands if she has glasses.” “Raise your hands if her skirt goes to just below her knee.” “Raise your hands if she has a cane.”

And on and on. Every single cliche was there, over and over. If you are a beginning animator, I guess, all little old ladies are the same. THEN she asked each student to describe their grandmother. Not one grandmother wore her hair in a bun. None had canes. All were wildly different from the others. Once they started looking past their first hackneyed idea, they were able to come up with vivid, interesting character descriptions…

So, if you’ve got a little old lady in your screenplay, if she’s got a bun, make sure you change it…

Unless sometime later in the movie, she removes a secret transmitter from her bun, then it’s okay.

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1 Comment

Filed under character, Screenwriting

One response to “Little Old Lady

  1. What a great exercise and something very important to keep in mind. When I first read “little old lady” my mind went directly to the stereotype. And my grandmas were nothing like that. Even my great grandma looked like she stepped off of 5th Avenue. Odd how we go to the stereotypes when our own life experiences don’t even relate.

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