‘Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl’ Star Issa Rae: Write What You Know

The creator of the popular Web series offers tips on how to create a show and cultivate an audience.

By Jorge Rivas Sep 16, 2011

Issa Rae, the genius behind the online Web series "The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl" is sharing her secrets on "how to write a wildly popular web series."

"The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl" is averaging about 200,000 viewers on YouTube but perhaps the most telling sign of the show’s fanbase is that fans contributed $56,259 in a recent Kickstarter campaign–almost double the initial campaign goal of $30,000. (If you’re not familiar with the show, Rae’s most recent episode is at the top of this page.)

While we’re seeing more diverse casts on T.V., the number of scripted, live-action shows on major network broadcast television with all-black (or predominantly of color) casts doesn’t exist. Which is shocking if you can consider many of classic sitcoms were almost all black: "The Jeffersons," "Sanford & Son," "Good Times," "The Cosby Show," "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," "Family Matters," "Martin," "Living Single" and the list goes on.

Fan favorite "Darius’ played by Tristen Winger.

Rae has been able to create something that’s rarely seen on TV these days: a sitcom series starring a black female with short black cropped hair as the lead and a cast that’s primarily made up of actors of color.

Part of her success is that viewers can relate to her characters. "Part of the allure of watching characters on-screen is to be able to put yourself in his or her shoes; or to be able to relate to what he or she is going through or what he or she is thinking," Rae wrote in recent blog, How to Write A Wildly Successful Web Series.

Rae has a list of five elements creators need for a successful series.  Below are two of her recommendations, but visit the blog Courage to Create for the full list.

Write What You Know

Yes, it’s a bit cliché, but you can’t go wrong by writing what you know. Even if you’re a horrible writer, your own knowledge and experience is unrivaled. Nobody knows what you know like you know what you know. The way you see things is pretty unique.

My first web series, Dorm Diaries, was a realistic mockumentary about what it was like to be Black at Stanford University. I’m Black and I went to Stanford. Boom. Easy. I took advantage of the fact that I was in school, had tons of material from my network of friends alone, and wrote archetypes based on what I observed and experienced on campus. Because I had been engulfed in that environment for several years, the ideas came naturally to me and made for some great/juicy storylines that several of my classmates could relate to, which brings me to my next point:

Recognize Social Media As Your Best Friend

While this isn’t necessarily a writing tip, it’s still extremely important to incorporate social media into your web series-from engaging your viewers through the comments section on YouTube, to publicizing your series on Twitter, to posting the series to your network of friends on Facebook-social media is the way for your hard work to be seen and publicly appreciated (or unabashedly criticized). Either way, the instant feedback from viewers is invaluable and may ultimately help to guide your writing of future episodes.

These are the five tips I’ve learned to abide by over the course of my experience with writing and producing web series. Again, I’m not saying that following these steps will ensure the success of your web series, but they will most certainly help!

Go read the whole thing over at Courage to Create’s blog.