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So basically I’ve come up with a story that I believe could be an interesting animated series, but I’m not in the stages where I’m ready to try and pitch it or anything. How should I approach writing out the entirety of the story if I feel it should be a show but I’m not necessarily ready to create a pitch bible? I'm more in the stages of developing the world and characters and storylines. Do you think I should approach it as if I’m writing each episode or maybe a comic book, novel, script etc.?

  • I would recommend looking at Greg Weisman's Q&A at Station 8 (s8.org). Wiesman has been working in the cartoon industry for over 30 years and has been on several well praised series including Gummie Bears, Gargoyles, Spectacular Spiderman, and Young Justice. S8 is his personal website where he answers field questions both about the series and the various processes of making cartoons from pitch to behind the scenes to where current series are in the production process. – hszmv Apr 30 at 20:57
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Write the first episode as a pilot – the first episode can stand as a 1-off that represents the tone of the show. Your priority is to finish this episode and get it produced.

The pilot is not an origins story, or a slow build up where we meet these characters and learn about their backstories. The pilot needs to be almost in medias res, with your character(s) hinting at their entire arc during an encapsulated crisis. Borrowing terms from a novel or typical screenplay, this episode is your character's call to action in the larger context of the series. But here it also needs to function as a stand-alone story with a satisfying conclusion. We see these characters shine and show who they will become by the end of the series.

Connect the first 4 to 6 episodes with the first major character arcs (as opposed to the big plot). These will be your test series – should you be so lucky to get the project greenlit. There are no rules for the length of an animated series. TV "seasons" use to be ~24 episodes, but distribution is meaningless with streaming and pay-per-view.

Include a variety of "plots", A and B, within these first episodes. Avoid the "big conspiracy" plot arc, and instead focus on settling these characters into their new roles, making mistakes, showing all the flaws you didn't have time for in the pilot.

By the end of this test season, you have established a formula for however long you want to continue. Ideas after this are really just ideas. Your attention needs to be on the pilot and then the test series. In the real world, the show's producers will be finding elements that work and things they want changed. No screenplay has ever been produced as originally written.

  • And the “story before the story” should be learned along the way as part of the test series or is that something one should focus on after establishing character arcs. For example The Last Airbender had an opening monologue that kind of explained the reason the world is the way it is, but if I wanted to forgo the monologue; that set up should be explored before piece by piece during the test series or after a hypothetical green light? – DK36 Apr 30 at 22:39
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    Yes, in my opinion, don't put the "big canon" story in these first episodes. If you know it, sprinkle it in as worldbuilding, but avoid the big exposition dumps that would "lock you in". Instead focus on getting to know the characters and the show formula. Some epic TV series (Babylon5, ST:DS-9) didn't start their big arcs until the 2nd or 3rd season. They spent a long time exploring and establishing the character dynamics – that's what gives the show longevity: great characters (but they are pretty shallow at first, ha!) – wetcircuit Apr 30 at 22:54

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