President’s Column: September 2015
The art of writing in 3 acts
Hello! Welcome to another fun and exciting episode of my column. I know you’ve been hanging on the edge of your seat all month waiting to see what I’ll write about this time. Well, it’s about just that… writing! We fancy ourselves as cartoonists, illustrators, animators, and fans of visual storytelling. But there is more to creating a great graphic novel or comic strip than just nice pictures. It’s got to be written well, too. In my quest to develop my own animated series and pitch my ideas to entertainment studios, I’ve been dabbling in the art of writing. At first I thought I’d just draw the pictures and partner with someone else to do the writing for me. Then I gave it a try. I was amazed how fun and rewarding the experience of writing can be! And my ideas were surprisingly good! (if I do say so myself).
All stories must have some kind of conflict. Otherwise what’s the point? Good storytelling comes from building up your audience with suspense and excitement and bringing them back down with a satisfying payoff. Sounds like a roller coaster ride, huh? Hence the commonly used metaphor likening a good story with an amusement park ride. To help me with my writing skills, I’m currently reading the book Creating Animated Cartoons With Character by Joe Murray, the Emmy Award-winning creator of Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo. In his book, Joe has a chapter about how to write a typical 11 minute episode of an animated TV show. He breaks it into 3 parts, or acts.
Here’s how the breakdown works:
- Act 1 – Introduce the main characters and set up the conflict. By setting up the conflict in the beginning you’re giving the audience a reason to stick around to see what happens next. Act 1 ends with the characters forming a plan to solve the problem.
- Act 2 – The plan is implemented. At first it works! But then something goes wrong. A solution is found, but it’s only temporary. Things begin to spiral out of control! Oh no, what will happen next? (cue the cheesy suspenseful music).
- Act 3 – The chaos escalates and threatens to cause major damage. A new plan is formulated and put into action. The tension mounts as the characters work to solve the problem using this new plan. Just before the worst thing possible happens – the plan works! The chaos finally stops and everyone celebrates the victory. The show ends with a final kicker that leaves everyone laughing. THE END.
So there you have it. A formula to write your little story. Just plug your concept and characters into this 3 act structure and you’re on your way to becoming a big time Emmy Award-winning creator just like Joe Murray. Good luck!