Lessons from The Last Airbender

I don't know about you, but I am very excited for the movie The Last Airbender. It's based on the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. When James Cameron's Avatar was coming out this is the movie I thought it was going to be - enter the blue people and I realized it was not the same story at all. LOL

On to the lesson I've learned from this animated series. If you haven't seen the show, the Avatar is a person that possesses the abilities of all four nations - air, water, earth, and fire. Other characters may have the ability to manipulate a single element, but not all four. What is interesting about this show is you have a young boy (they show him as being a preteen) who is the next Avatar and has to work to control all four elements before any other Avatar was required to because of a war. A child being thrust into a massive quest isn't new, but what Avatar: TLA does so well is they don't forget that Aang (the Avatar) is still a child and his traveling companions are teenagers, Katara and Sukka. Aang is constantly getting into trouble of his own making whether he's goofing off or has made a bad decision. This makes him much more believable. Katara and Sukka are thrust into the roles of adults due to the war and protecting Aang, and they also make mistakes based on their inexperience in life.

This is a good lesson for anyone who wishes to create characters who are teenagers or children that will be tasked with "great" things in your story. Don't forget that they are teenagers or children. They are going to make mistakes based on immaturity and inexperience. They are going to want to have fun. They are going to be self-centered at times.

This doesn't mean that your characters don't exhibit traits of greatness whether it is in supernatural powers, intelligence, and leadership, but remember that they aren't miniature adults. Part of their journey should be them growing into their abilities and "growing up."

Avatar: The Last Airbender never forgets that it's stars are children of various ages. Through each episode we watch them grow and mature, and stumble and take a step back in their maturity, and then grow some more from their mistakes. I'm curious to see how the live action film will show this arc or will they skip it altogether (having three seasons to grow your characters vs. 2 hours will prove challenging to the film makers).


  1. I like your essay. Easy to follow and to the point. Yes, kids aren't little adults...the thinkers of child development has investigated the differences at various ages. Writers who don't understand what is appropriate for a certain age will make an unbelievable character. Jan

  2. Very true. Just found out the new movie is actually gonna be a trilogy. They'll be tackling each season in a different movie. I'm relieved as I think one of the best things in this series is the character arcs.


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