Thursday, 9 August 2012

Common Mistakes Made By Animation Writers - 4

I’ve already written at some length about keeping dialogue to a minimum and writing action as descriptively and comprehensibly as possible. These are the areas where most writers come unstuck.

Common Mistakes With Dialogue:

·      Don’t write long speeches.  Keep dialogue short.  You are working with drawings, models or synthetic images, not with actors.  However well the actor has voiced the part, you cannot rely on the performance of an actor to hold the interest of the viewer.  Images have no charisma.  You cannot look into the eyes of a drawing and see its soul.  Animation is a visual medium.  You should be telling the story with images, not with words.  I always tell my writers not to write more than three lines of dialogue without something visual happening.

·      Use the vernacular of your target audience.  If you’re writing for children, for example, you should not use words like vernacular. This doesn’t mean you should dumb down what you are writing.  It’s good to introduce children to new words and concepts, but you need to be clear and comprehensible.  If you’re going to use a word like galleon in a script for young children, for example, it will need to be used in conjunction with images of a large sailing ship. You also need to create characters that your audience can recognise and empathise with.  This means that they have to talk the same language.  If you do not belong in the same demographic as your target audience, you need to do some research.  I always recommend that writers travel on the bus, where they will find a vast range of accents, dialects and different uses of the vernacular.  You will eavesdrop on the lives of many very different characters.

·      Don’t write on the nose. If you are unfamiliar with this jargon, writing on the nose means writing what someone is feeling, or what can be seen in the picture.  For example, you should not have a character say I am sad because I cannot fly. You need to find a way of showing that the character is sad, and why.  Show the character flapping in frustration while his or her friends fly away.  Sad people do not go around saying I’m sad. They might hang their head or go and sob in a quiet corner.  You should avoid telling the audience what is happening.  Show, don’t tell.
I like using subtext whenever possible. This means writing dialogue that is the opposite of what the character is feeling.  Lines like No, I’m not hurt, or I don’t mind at all can work well in this way even in shows for comparatively young children. They need to be delivered appropriately by the voce actor, of course.   It is best to avoid subtext for very young children who are less sophisticated in their use of language, but this does not mean that you need to explain everything that is happening. 

·      Don’t use dialogue to advance the plot. We’ve all done this, of course, and if you’re writing an animated sitcom it’s probably unavoidable. All the same, you should try and avoid using dialogue to explain what is happening or to move the story forward.  You are not writing a play or a novel.  Animation, like movies, is a way of storytelling with images and we should be able to see what is happening without having it explained to us.  Use dialogue for character, and for humour.

·      Don’t write unnecessary or meaningless dialogue.  We’ve all seen shows where little children or creatures spend their time saying lines like Good morning, Mr Mole! Isn’t it a nice day? Etc.  Don’t be fooled into thinking this is charming.  It isn’t.  It is dull and unimaginative.  Some writers panic when faced with the prospect of a scene without any dialogue.  They shouldn’t.  Concentrate on telling the story in pictures.  If the director, or storyboard artist, thinks that dialogue is required to point up something, or to add naturalism to a scene, then they can ask you to add it.  In this case, though, try and come up with something that expresses character, and not corny platitudes.  You should only use a line like Good morning, Mr Mole! If the reply is something like Go away!

·      Don’t forget to write the grunts, etc.   If you were writing for live action television or features you would never suggest in your script how an actor should deliver a line or whether he should grunt, moan, etc.  If an actor is falling off a cliff he is likely to scream without any instruction from the writer.  If he’s been swinging through the jungle he is likely to be breathless without you telling him this is how he should deliver the line.   If you’re writing for animation you are writing for actors in a recording studio who are probably reading dialogue from a script that has minimal description of what is happening to their character.  Their voice recoding will be used by the animator to bring the character to life.  It is therefore important that the voice actor knows when to project a line, when it should be whispered, when to moan, laugh, etc.  If these things are missed at the recording stage, then the animation is likely to be less expressive.

Next Week:
Common mistakes writing action and description.

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