Although the greatest themes are universal, they are also local to specific age groups. Children, for example encounter different problems than do people approaching the end of their lives. As writers, we need to understand the underlying concerns of each age group if we are to make our stories relavent to specific categories of readers and audiences.
In her book, Advanced Screenwriting, Dr. Linda Seger breaks down age groups into the following categories: childhood, teen years, young adult, twenties to forties, fifties through eighties, old age, and end-of-life. Over the next few articles, I’d like to examine each category in turn.
Themes and Childhood
At the core of every story about children are issues of self esteem, trust, and a sense of belonging. Home Alone, War Games, E.T. are good examples of stories that deal with these themes.
A child embarks on a journey which gradually builds, with all its gains and reversals, the child’s self confidence, resulting in a better sense of belonging and self-esteem. This growth is typically achieved by overcoming obstacles strewn in the child’s path by teachers, parents, bullies.
The child can deal with these problems in two ways – she can blame herself, become introverted and lose confidence and self esteem, growing depressed, or she can project the problem onto others, becoming rebellious, delinquent, perhaps deciding to live outside the law. This can effect the child’s immediate family and friends, drawing them into the fray.
Typically, in an upbeat ending, the child gradually overcomes these obstacles by engaging in purposeful action driven by sustained effort, ingenuity, and courage. The catalyst is usually underpinned by some meaningful event from the back story which surfaces at the appropriate moment to help her change direction. The result is an increase in self esteem, trust in herself and in others, and a sense of belonging.
Specific themes cluster around specific age groups.