Dr. Toon gives a mortality check in DVD time. What should we choose to watch, or bet yet, buy?
Ive read a lot of screenwriting books and taken a class or two and have found that all of them have at least something of use to say. Now comes Animation Writing and Development by Jean Ann Wright, who has a background in writing and animating for Hanna-Barbera, writing for Filmation and DIC Ent. and developing a curriculum on animation for Women in Animation.
The 21-chapter book begins with a brief, but surprisingly thorough introduction and history of animation from a global perspective. For animation students, the history chapter alone is worth the price of the book. I mean the book gives info on animation from Iran and Israel. One thing the book sets up early is a realistic tone about how the animation industry really works in a globalized economy.
In Chapter 3 Finding Ideas, Wright gives a good look at where we get our ideas and why. She lays out some helpful suggestions on researching and brainstorming. What impressed me about the book right from the beginning is that Wright never presents one certain way as the right way of doing things, even when it comes to well established rules. In addition, the almost stream of consciousness tone to her writing is encouraging and inspiring even when it seems like information overload. But thats not a criticism very few screenwriting books have made me want to re-read them. This one did. It has so much good advice in it that the reader just cant absorb it all upon one reading.
Moving into Chapter 4 Human Development, we get the most unique and probably most valuable chapter in the entire book. Through research in child development, Wright chronicles the developmental changes that people go through from the time they are born into old age. It serves as a quick reference for any writer live-action or animation who is thinking about their intended audience as well as developing characters of a certain age.
Chapter 5 Developing Character gives a good focus on where any good script must come from the characters. Ive read a couple of screenwriting books that emphasize too much on plot construction. Wright gives tons of original and fun ways to think about your characters and make them as fleshed out as they can be. Like many of the ideas in previous chapters, the advice is universal, reaching beyond just animation.
Like Chapter 4, Chapter 6 Development and the Animation Bible is another invaluable reference tool. Wright presents what is expected and accepted from studios in a show bible. Another area that this book succeeds, where others have failed, is in its examples. Chapter 6 actual includes the bible for How to Care for Your Monster.
Chapter 7 Basic Animation Writing Structure is a pretty straightforward look at the Three Act structure that is a given in any screenwriting book. Chapters 8 and 9 move into the differences between writing a premise and outline. These chapters are another example of the books practical approach to the modern animation industry. The advice on the variations from studio to studio will be invaluable to the novice looking to break into animation writing or development. And, again the chapters have full examples of both a premise and an outline from Jackie Chan Adventures.
Chapter 10 Storyboard for Writers is really the only clunky part of the book. For purposes of flowing from one topic to the next its disruptive and overly long. However, the chapter still contains loads of details that a writer must keep in mind when writing for TV toons.
Chapters 11-13 delve into the specific details of writing scenes, comedy/gag and dialogue. Like everywhere else in this book, Wright provides a wealth of hints and advice that can really spark ideas in anyone with writers block. Chapter 14 The Script goes into the details of how animation scripts differ from live action, features from TV and any other combinations that come to mind. The chapter also has the entire script for the Jackie Chan Adventures episode that was laid out as a premise and outline earlier in the book. So many writing books leave out the fundamental formatting details that a newcomer wouldnt know what to do. And nothing drives home formatting details better than actually seeing a script. The next chapter deals with editing and rewriting and gives a great checklist of points to look out for.
Chapters 16 and 17 deal directly with the special issues of writing animated features and various other animation mediums like gaming. Chapter 18 Marketing provides great thoughts on keeping in mind how your idea will be sold and licensed, which is a crucial for any animation idea to be greenlit. Chapter 19 is a quick look at how to prepare for a pitch while Chapter 20 deals with agents, networking and finding work. The final chapter is a good wrap-up on what programmers and most importantly kids expect from animation.
To sum the book up its one the best writing books Ive ever read. It should be the go-to text for any animation program even outside of writing courses. Writers interested in moving into animation now have an industry based and realistic guidebook to work from. Moreover, writers working in any medium can glean more than one helpful hint from this tome. My advice to anyone thinking of taking a writing course is that you should think about buying this book instead.
Animation Writing and Development by Jean Ann Wright; Focal Press, an Imprint of Elsevier; Burlington, MA, 2005; ISBN: 0-240-80549-6, trade paperback, $27.95; 344 pages
Rick DeMott is the managing editor of Animation World Network. Previously, he worked in various production and management positions in the entertainment industry. He is a contributor to the humor, absurdist and surrealist short story website Unloosen.