The Story Bible – The World
We once developed a series of specials based on a well-know Welsh story called Sion Blewyn Coch. This was a charming tale about a family of foxes, and their attempts to outwit the local farmer. The original book was illustrated. In one illustration we see Sion standing in his jacket and trousers in front of a pot on the stove. He has a fox’s head, and a bushy tail but, apart from that, looks very human, staring into the flames with his hands behind his back. In another illustration we see him slinking on all fours into the chicken coop. This time he wears no clothes, and is very recognisable as a fox.
In a book, sometimes you can get away with this kind of inconsistency, but in an animated series you need to sustain a believable fantasy over a number of storylines. Your viewers have to buy into the world you are creating.
If you are writing for live action you do not have to worry about creating the world. It exists. You know more or less the parameters of what can happen and what cannot. The world has a set of rules. Objects fall down, not up. Living things age, wither and die. The sun rises in the morning, and sets at night. If you want to subvert these rules, you need to give a plausible reason why. Failing that, you need to keep the conditions of your exceptional reality consistent. We may not be given a plausible reason why Benjamin Button lives his life from back to front, but we can go along with the premise of the story because it is followed with a tragic consistency. The powers of Superheroes are always very clearly defined, and strictly limited by a set of rules. If kryptonite suddenly fails to make Superman powerless, then there has to be a very good reason why or we will feel cheated.
Animation is all about fantasy, and, unlike writers of live action shows, the creator of an animated series starts with a completely blank page. This can be dangerous. It is all very well having a world where anything can happen, but if that world has no internal logic, then it will seem incredible and even ridiculous.
If your world is going to be credible, it must contain some elements that your audience will understand and recognise. Your characters may take roles that are familiar, or be bound by relationships that are instantly recognisable. Our series, Hilltop Hospital, was set in a hospital where all the characters, doctors, nurses and patients, were animals. With two exceptions. The hospital porters were twin teddy bears. Nobody ever questioned this. Their role in the hospital, and in the series, was clear. They shared design elements, and a work schedule, with the other characters. In our recent series, Igam Ogam, the characters all belong to a prehistoric age. Nobody questions the fact that our toddler heroine mixes with an ape and a Tyrannosaurus Rex, or that her duvet is a sabre-tooth tiger. Whatever the species or age of the characters, the relationship between them is obvious to any toddler watching. The Tyrannosaurus is the parent, the ape is her playmate, the sabre tooth tiger is her comfort blanket. The volcanoes play tunes and spout paint because this world is like one big toddler’s playroom.
When writing the story bible, you need to be as clear as possible about what holds your world together, and very specific about what is possible, and what is not.
Next week: more about The World. Anthropomorphism, Cartoon vs Naturalism, The implications of the budget, and the medium.