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The Youth Movement

Linda Mathious answers a member’s question about writing in a different genre.

Photo by J.W. Hendricks

Let’s say you’re a writer who cut your teeth on crime procedurals, but lately you’ve grown weary of poring over murders and autopsies. You want to write something lighter for another audience, like young adult, but you’ve been buried in coroner’s reports for so long you don’t know where to start. TV writer Linda Mathious (Gabby Duran & the Unsittables, Outmatched) has some recommendations about crossing over to a new genre.

Question: “What are your recommendations to someone who wants to write for young adult audiences but works in another genre?”

Linda Mathious: The old adage “Write what you know” is an adage for a reason—it works. But it also kind of applies to things you want to write that you don’t know—that is to say, you can learn them.

When I started writing for TV I immersed myself in TV—I watched everything I could. I found my favorite shows and I studied them. I would outline the scenes of each show to get a sense of act breaks, dialogue, “buttons,” and how the beginning, middle, and end of a scene helps build to the beginning, middle, and end of an episode.

So, if your desire is to write YA, then dig in and start studying. Watch any and all YA material you can. Read any and all YA you can. Once you get a feel for the genre, then close your eyes and start to remember the things that happened in your young adult life that stick out, changed you, changed the way you see the world, caused you trauma and pain, or joy and happiness—probably all of the above.

Then take what you learned from studying the YA format, tone, voice, genre, etc., apply it to the thing or things that made an impact on your young life (or anyone else’s—remember we are writers so everything we see, feel, and hear is up for grabs), combine it all and see what comes out. Start outlining, think of a random scene and write it down on a Post-it, listen to music that triggers those YA emotions, anything to get the juices flowing. Then show up every day at your legal pad or computer and put in the time. Something will come; it usually does.

Send us your questions about the craft, job hunting, your career, or Guild service (under 100 words, please) with the subject “Mentor,” and we’ll send them to an established screen or TV writer to answer. Questions might be edited for space or clarity and will be published anonymously. WGAW mentors provide informal career advice and are not expected to read scripts, give notes, hear pitches, or help find representation or work.

(This article originally appeared in the March 12, 2021 issue of the WGAW Connect newsletter)

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