Sunday, 29 June 2014


This year we launch a BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum focusing on Writing for Children with the support of the London Book Fair. As with all our calls writers submit a ten page extract but rather than focus on a medium this call can be an animation or live action, feature film, TV series or sit-com – anything as long as the focus is screen writing for children. Read the full press release here.  

Writing for Children is a particular skill in itself. The diversity alone is fascinating – what stimulates 2 year olds may not be the same for 5-6 year olds and then let's not forget the 7-12 year olds. BAFTA Children's Event Producer Lisa Prime told me Children’s TV tends to officially end at 12. Although feature film is slightly different and aimed at a family audience. BAFTA's rules for the Children’s Awards that includes 12A films. 

My childhood TV diet in Libya in the 1970s were the imaginative adventures of Sinbad and Alaaedin – both in Arabic and English. In the summer when the weather was good, we could pick up Tunisian TV stations – which I called ‘tuna TV’. They had a better selection of westerns, musicals and more cartoons than the Gadaffi-filled propaganda and televised executions that interrupted broadcasts. The dialogue was dubbed into Arabic but the songs were always in English. I particularly loved stories or shows that included following colourful characters and quests, which on reflection were to some degree always safe jeopardies. They opened up my world and kept the dark moments of that period of my life at bay, as well as my western understanding alive. As I grew, my choice of viewing was very similar to my reading choices. I liked characters in stories who broke rules, were naughty – unlike my school reading books with the utterly mundane goody-two-shoes characters of Peter and Jane. I revelled in stories about the Knights of the Round Table, Greek Myths and Irish Folk Tales. 

The first show to turn me into a telly addict was the Muppet Show - as a teenager I even watched Fraggle Rock, although I didn't necessarily broadcast that. When Duncan Kenworthy was a guest at a forum, he and I sang the theme tune together. I was so impressed he had produced Fraggle Rock that I almost forgot his other work - Four Weddings and A Funeral, Notting Hill & Love Actually. I can still recall the anticipation of waiting to watch each episode from week to week. My school friends and I would discuss the characters, star guests and the sketches in between. I was even given the Muppet Show cook book for Christmas. 

As an adult, I no longer can claim to be an authority on the subject of children's TV other than the occasional Muppet Movie. Elly Brewer and Ben Ward are - check out their credits on IMBD. 

Rocliffe Notes on Writing for Children’s Television by Elly Brewer & Ben Ward

Know your market. Watch the output of the age group you’re aiming at and do some research to make sure your idea hasn’t been done before. Or if it has, that you’ve put a really fresh spin on it. Develop great characters. However unusual your concept or location, it’s characters the audience will fall in love with and keep coming back for. Make sure your dialogue sounds natural. Do people really talk like that? Read it aloud to see how it sounds – and if it’s easy to say. Keep the pace up. Get in to scenes as late as possible, say what needs saying and get out again. Fast. Show don’t tell. Make sure there’s plenty of action. And you don’t always have to use dialogue – a look or gesture can convey a huge amount. Number scenes and pages (or it’s an editing nightmare). Double-check for typos and spelling mistakes. Let your script lie overnight, give it one final polish in the morning, then submit. ELLY BREWER

You must be original. There are a lot of people trying to do what you're doing and comparatively few opportunities... so make sure you stand out. If you're writing for an existing show, watch everything you can. Similarly, if you're writing for a specific network, watch as much of it as you can. It helps to have the same terms of reference as your audience. Exploit your setting and theme. If you're set on a farm, try writing down 50 things about farms before you start. If it's about siblings, write down 50 things about siblings. If that's what it's about or where it's set you may as well get the most out of it. Don't just 'write for kids', write for yourself. If you don't find it funny or moving, it's unlikely anyone else will. Be open to suggestions for changing your work. Some of them will be good. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. There are a million reasons why an idea or a script won't make it so having a few scripts on the go can make the disappointment easier to bear. BEN WARD


“I’m not writing to make anyone’s children feel safe.” J. K. Rowling

Keep Writing!