How to Be a Cartoon Writer

By Audrey Farley ; Updated September 15, 2017
Many cartoon characters have become internationally known cultural icons.

Cartoon writers draft the plots and story lines that animations enact for television and film. Cartoon writing, like many careers in the arts and entertainment industry, is a highly competitive profession. Writers have to prove special creative skill and imagination to be hired by a studio. Successful writers tend to have a combination of natural talent and training and experience.

Jot ideas in a notebook for potential stories. Watch popular cartoons, both current and off-the air, for inspiration, but conceive an original idea that will distinguish your cartoon. Share ideas with close, trustworthy friends to get feedback.

Write a pilot script. Standard specs for a pilot script in the cartoon producing world are around twenty pages, double spaced. Scripts contain a central conflict or problem that a character must resolve; they have a beginning, middle and an end. Write a bible, which is a thirteen-episode outline of the cartoon series. Delay writing the full scripts for episodes 2 through 13, but write down basic plots to give producers a tentative trajectory of your project.

Develop character bios for the characters in your cartoon. Create characters that are “round,” rather than “flat.” Round characters are multi-dimensional and have complex personalities and features; they are more interesting than one-sided “flat” characters. Create characters that conflict with each other or cause interesting interaction.

Draw illustrations of characters or create a toy prototype, if desired. While not required, giving producers a visual aid of your cartoon concept may assist them to imagine the script and improve your chances of obtaining a contract.

Hire an agent or contact a cable network to pitch a cartoon series directly. Agents take a cut of your earnings, but they tend to have more influence and pull when it comes to working with networks and studio. If you are unfamiliar with the industry or are unable to get an interview on your own, hire an agent.

Pitch your idea. Present your pilot script, bible and illustrations or toy prototype to the network representatives at the meeting. Discuss more fully the ideas that you outlined in the bible. If you earn a contract, arrange the terms, such as the number of episodes for which you are contracted to write, the pay per episode, the kind of animation (illustration or computer-generated, for instance) and other details.

Discuss guidelines for content, such as themes or language allowed to appear in the script. Depending on the cable network and the rating, you may need to tone down content to make the cartoon more age appropriate.

Warning

Avoid publishing your ideas, in case another writer steals the idea before you get a chance to develop the cartoon.

About the Author

Audrey Farley began writing professionally in 2007. She has been featured in various issues of "The Mountain Echo" and "The Messenger." Farley has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Richmond and a Master of Arts in English literature from Virginia Commonwealth University. She teaches English composition at a community college.