I wanted to write an animated children’s script for a while, so I brainstormed a concept for a new show. That progressed to a beat sheet for a pilot and eventually a first draft. It wasn’t seamless though. This was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever written.
For inspiration, I observed my four-year-old twin nephews whenever they watched their favorite programming: Dora the Explorer, Caillou, and Max and Ruby. They responded to color, voice, direct inclusion of the viewer, and sound more than anything else. The brighter the colors, the longer they paid attention. The greater the variety in pitch and voice, the more they turned their head to face the screen. They also widened their eyes whenever they heard sudden sounds. And, they really enjoyed it whenever the character (like Dora) directly addressed them. Example: Where do you think we should go next? The bridge, the apple tree, or the castle?
I knew I had to add certain elements to the script, but the writing was a different story. Every line I wrote made me panic. Is this too advanced for kids? Am I patronizing them? Is this entertaining enough? Will I sustain their interest? After I wrote the first draft, I decided it was not good enough for kids. I had to make it POP. After I sent my script to two readers and received helpful feedback, I realized three major things were missing that other children’s shows had.
Tons of Action
Writing for children requires a lot of action description. Every show my nephews watched and loved had tons of action. In my revisions, I included descriptions of action sequences, facial expressions, sight gags, etc.
In animated scripts, you have more freedom to describe dramatic visuals with sound effects like a phone literally ringing off a hook. You could even have the RINGING phone BONKING the person on the head to get their attention.
In live action writing, you typically don’t include camera angles. But in animated writing, showing camera direction means more interesting action to hold children’s attention. Using a SLOW ZOOM or a SMASH CUT in the telephone ringing sequence as the phone JOLTS the receiver off the hook breaks things up visually. Another element is capitalization. When I read animated scripts before my revision process, I noticed that the sound effects, music cues, and camera directions were capitalized to heighten excitement.
After I included these components in my second draft, I sent it to another writer who is naturally funny and a bit kooky (and I mean this in a good way). Her personality helped shape my script into something with just the right amount of silliness without being condescending. Writing an animated script for kids was a tough experience that I want to do again because as hard as it was, it helped me strengthen my visual storytelling skills.