How to Be a Cartoon Writer

Cartoon writers bring to life the pictures in their heads.

Cartoon writers bring to life the pictures in their heads.

Writing for cartoons is more than creating the dialogue that characters speak. You have to first bring to life in your head the entire story, from scene and setting to characterization and conversation. Then you have to translate your mental pictures into words in such a way that an animator can readily add images to your words. Breaking in may take time but can happen with the right script, the right animation partner and the right production company.

Education

While earning a college degree in English, communication or journalism may give you time to polish your prose, the only real qualification that matters is how good your script is and if someone's interested in making it. Pinaki Ghosh, a screenplay writer, also touts an interest in -- and history of reading -- comic books: “Writers who have vast knowledge of comic books and graphic novels will be better animation screenwriters than the ones who have never really loved reading comic books and graphic novels.”

Animation Screenwriting 101

To write a successful and salable script, the writing-services website Screenplay Writers recommends minimizing dialogue, writing vivid action scenes, keeping your story moving toward its end and avoiding scenes that have more than two or three people in them. You should also learn standard scriptwriting formatting and the programs most often used, such as Final Draft. Finally, if they're available, read the screenplays of cartoons you like and think worked well. Screenplays for successful films often appear in print and are available to buy.

Write Strong Scripts

Joe Barbera, of Hanna Barbera fame, notes that he learned during his career that clever dialogue and well-written scripts are key for engaging an audience in a cartoon. “Whether full-length animated feature, prime-time animated sitcom or Saturday morning cartoon, it all begins with the script,” he writes in the forward to “How To Write For Animation,” the how-to guide by “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” writer Jeffrey Scott. “[A producer] has to have someone who understands story structure, character development and dialogue. In other words, he has to have a cartoon writer.”

Experience Necessary

In a 2010 blog post, members of the Animation Guild offered advice for cartoon writers interested in working for Disney. Novices need not apply, according to the post, as major studies, including Pixar and Sony Pictures Animation, seldom -- if ever -- give a newbie a break. Make a name for yourself in smaller features, and sometimes the door opens just enough for you to get your shot, says the guild. Before that happens, it recommends cartoon writers write, finish and sell screenplays and make a name for themselves.

 

About the Author

William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.

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