Take a Glimpse at an Animation Writing Masterclass

Credit: Warner Bros.
Want to learn some tips and tricks for writing an animated project? 

Writing for animation is on the bucket list of many creatives. There are so many opportunities to feel like you can think outside the box and embrace all sorts of different visuals, characters, and worlds. So how can you learn about writing animation?

How about getting the inside scoop from some of the finest scribes in the industry and learning about all the hoops today’s screenwriters must leap through to complete a script for films, television, and games?  

This year, at San Diego's Comic-Con, I was able to sit in a panel called "An Animation Writing Masterclass," which featured Tim Sheridan (Batman: The Long Halloween, Masters of the Universe: Revelation), Mae Catt (Young JusticeTransformers: Cyberverse), Jeremy Adams (Mortal Kombat Legends franchise, Batman: Soul of the Dragon), and Jim Krieg (Justice League: The Flashpoint ParadoxBatman: Gotham by Gaslight). Together, they gave insights into honing your skills as a professional animation screenwriter. Moderator Gary Miereanu (GT Marmots/PR, Inc.) did an excellent job getting them to drop some nuggets of wisdom.

Here's what I learned...

Take a Glimpse at an Animation Writing Masterclass 

Let's start at the beginning. You have to love writing to be a writer. There is nothing different about the process and tasks of writing for animation.

While it's different in some elements and execution, it's not easier or harder. It's just bearing down and getting better at your craft. It doesn't matter where it starts, whether it's fan fiction daydreaming or just because you need to, the old maxim is true... if you can be happier doing anything else, do it.

Writing is hard. To do this job, you have to have a passion for creating, and you have to be brave enough to face the blinking cursor on the screen. 

There are a million books on how to write screenplays, but the people in this panel had their favorites. Robert McKee's Story was listed as just being okay. People enjoy it, but it's not the Bible. The best thing you can do is read screenplays and write scripts. You can practice trying prose as well, developing your voice. Everyone loved Stephen King's On Writing, which can help as well.

Of course, we at No Film School have our list of 20 screenwriting books we love as well. 

A classic piece of advice is to write every day, but the panel said it's bullshit. Take care of yourself, and never feel shame. Shame is what stops you from reaching your goals. Don't let the negative voice in your head take over. Be okay dreaming, honing your voice, and also finding your mentors

When it comes to process, do what works for you. Be fast. Be detailed and slow. Be a dialogue master. Just sit and find your way in and out of scenes. You can also outline, divide by acts, or just wait until your producer yells at you about the deadline and crank it out. Everyone figures out their own process, just make sure to keep the executives happy so you still have a job when you're finished. 

Speaking of deadlines, learn to embrace them. They're a part of the professional process and something you need to learn. Don't get so hooked on making things perfect either. Finish the story. As the saying goes, "Done is better than good." Most of the job is rewriting. Get it done and you can tweak it as you go. You can even tear it apart later and build it anew. 

If you're adapting work, know the roadmap, but be bold when it comes to making cuts so the story works best for a different medium. When it's original, know how to give the audience information, and don't be cheap. Write extra scenes and cut later. See how adding more can give you depth and understanding of the characters. No matter what you're writing, aim for including a lot of heart and having a clear goal of the theme you want to impart to the audience. What do you want them to know walking away from the piece? What part of yourself can you put onto the page? 

Your voice is the most valuable part of your writing portfolio. Your perspective is unique to you. It shows a lot of you on the screen and on the page. Mine your own experiences and life to help inspire your characters and their actions. There will be people out there with shared experiences yearning for a narrative that mirrors their own.

That's how you find your audience, fans, and the executives who will eventually hire you. 

On the reverse, when someone is explaining their point of view, listen and collaborate. You need a lot of people that bring a lot of perspectives, that way your show or movie finds an audience outside of yourself.

One thing that's come more often than not is the need for diverse voices in Hollywood animation, to add more perspective and depth to characters. This helps things not be stale, and it helps create a hunger for a consumer and fanbase that has never been serviced.

If you're a marginalized voice in a room, don't be afraid to speak out. And if you're one of the majority, make sure your voice is not squashing those around you. This only changes if everyone demands better, because the fans deserve better as well. If we support each other, we will ultimately have the best stories. And that's the goal. 

A finer question they talked about was, how much description is too much description for the animated page? All of them agree you want enough to get the point across, but you also want to give the audience an idea or a blueprint for what they want to do with the characters. It's a little direction that helps spark someone else's creativity.

It's also different from company to company. If you get hired or are submitting somewhere, ask to read some of the scripts they've done so you can emulate that fashion. 

No matter what scenes you're writing, action, dialogue, or anything else, each one needs to advance the story and character as much as it kicks ass. 

This was a brief glimpse into this SDCC masterclass. Hopefully, you find it as valuable as I did attending at Comic-Con this year. 

Let us know what you think in the comments.      

Check out more coverage from Comic-Con Special Edition, presented by Blackmagic.

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