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Animation Writing and Development: from Script Development to Pitch


Check out Jean Ann Wright's profile and you'll see the big reason why her book "Animation Writing and Development: from Script Development to Pitch" is worth reading. Wright just plain knows what she's talking about. Her insider status is highlighted throughout the book by the supporting materials she's able to muster: stills, bibles, storyboards and scripts from shows like Sony Pictures' Jackie Chan Adventures, Time Warner's Powerpuff Girls, and Paramount's The Wild Thornberrys,

In addition, Wright is a teacher; she knows how to communicate what she knows. In fact, much of the book reads like a very detailed outline for a course on animation writing. A lot of it consists of questions, checklists and exercises. You'll get as much out of these as you put into them. I found the questions, in particular, extremely useful in thinking through a completed -- but not perfected -- script. "What are your characters' goals in each scene? Which character is driving each scene? What are your characters' feelings in each scene?" There are literally hundreds of questions like these in the book to help you probe your work and yourself. You can become that friendly yet unforgiving critic that takes your script to that next level.

Wright reminds you of many of the basic types things you'd likely learn in any class on writing, like:

  • "The hero or heroine must be the most interesting character in the story. If he's not, then you might consider centering the story around the colorful character instead, making him the protagonist."

  • "... kids like characters they can identify with, characters that appear to be like them in one or more ways."

  • "... stories must have a beginning, middle and end."

So you can use the book to consider hundreds of ways to enhance your script or detect and correct basic weaknesses.

Wright offers tons of tips covering everything from giving your main a character a flaw to overcome (Shrek's misanthropy), knowing your audience ("Because male teens are the biggest buyers, many films center on the theme of childishness losing out to adulthood ...") to satisfying the network censors.

She also goes into the minutiae of what a treatment, project bible, storyboard or script should look like, how long it should be, what your goals should be as you're creating one.

She covers business aspects, too, like making sure you get a hired artist to sign a "Work for Hire" agreement before setting pen to paper, or the advisability of getting an entertainment lawyer to present your project, so that you don't have to sign a release which she likens to "signing away your firstborn." She talks about marketing, pitching, agents and finding work.

In fact, Wright doesn't miss much when it comes to advising the aspiring animation writer.

The book has a decent index, so you have a good chance of finding things when you need them. It also has a 13-page glossary, which can help you sound like you know what you're talking about. Come to think of it, you actually will know what you're talking about.

Some of the early chapters failed to enthuse me. The chapter on the history of animation, for instance, is basically a who's-who. It's good information, but it could have been consigned to an appendix. I felt the same way about the early chapter on human development, designed to help you target material to kids of certain age ranges. Still, it does emphasize the fact that if you're writing for kids, you're expected to know this stuff.

The supporting materials take up a lot of space. One Jackie Chan script with storyboards takes over 50 pages in a book that's less than 350 pages long. That being said, I found these some of the most interesting and useful parts of the book, perhaps because I learn better by example than by instruction. I mention this mainly to point out that the part of the book actually written by the author would be a fairly slim volume. Partly, this is a result of the author's concise, punchy writing style.

Overall, I found this book inspiring, useful and informative. I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in animation writing on a professional level.

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