How to Write an Anime Script (2022 Q4 update)

I have been working on creating my own animated cartoon using 3D computer animation. This is a personal hobby project, so I have been taking short cuts like no voice actors. I have the first few episodes completed, which means it’s a good time to sit back and review before I launch back into the scripts for future episodes.

So here is a quick review of a few blogs on “how to write an anime script”, with the goal to identify things I would change in my own process I have been following.

How to write an anime script (Wikihow)

Let’s start with Wikihow on how to write an anime script.

  1. Write down character profiles. (Makes sense.)
  2. Make a story plot line with start, conflict, climax, resolution, and end. Use it for the whole series or one episode. Introduce lots of characters at the start. Introduce enemy/challenge at conflict point. Have the big fight, solve the problem, go back to normal. List characters in each scene and 5 to 10 lines about what happens in each part of the scene. (Also known as Freytag’s pyramid amongst other names.)
  3. Write the script. What characters say, what they do. (Yes, that is what a script normally contains…)
  4. When writing, don’t forget about the characters or the plot. (Well, err, sure…)
  5. Have fun! (Okay…)
  6. Edit! Find problems and fix them. (Well, that was unexpected…)
  7. Read through it! Add emotional details, vocal actions (e.g. sigh). (So the previous edit step did not involve reading?)
  8. Your script is done! Get some others to read it. (So don’t use their feedback to improve your script?)

Have you got the impression I was not that impressed by this article? Nothing was really wrong, but apart from the second point it was all pretty shallow. Lesson: not all advice out there is going to help you create a great script!

Constructing your Manga plot (from Manga Studio for Dummies)

This article I found more interesting. It describes the stages for manga, which similar to but not identical to Freytag’s pyramid.

  1. Ki — Introduction of an idea. Set up the context and scene. Establishing shot. Introduce the main characters.
  2. Sho — Developing the idea. Build up the suspense. The tempo should increase. The reader should care about your characters – build up that relationship!
  3. Ten — The dramatic, unexpected turn of events. Throw the reader off guard with something unexpected.
  4. Ketsu — Conclusion. Resolve the current sequence. Possibly end opening the next can of worms (a cliffhanger).

It is a short article, similar to the western world start/conflict/climax/resolution/end structure, but it adds a twist as an important ingredient plus the importance of a cliffhanger to get the reader to come back for more.

There was one old anime series where the twist struck me in particular (I cannot remember the title unfortunately). It started out a pair of girls working together in a galactic police force, for the protection of the galaxy, defeating the bad guys one by one, each episode a new challenge as they worked their way through a known list of bad guys. Just as I was getting into the rhythm of each episode, the twist came. They were being fooled and were working for the bad guys! All of their victories were actually losses! This twist has been used in many series, but the author successfully caught me completely off guard in this series. The series tone changed from “a cute pair of characters beating up bad guys” into a story of government corruption and intrigue.

It also reminded me of another writing strategy where you have a recurring theme that can be used to measure progress through episodes. In this case, they were knocking off the bad guys one by one. The series could have ended up working its way up to the final boss and I would have still enjoyed the series. The twist partly caught me because I thought I understood what was going to happen, with these mileposts measuring out progress to the final goal.

How to make a good anime plot

A short blog post by Tiffany Ross, but recently I was reminded of the adage to show not say. Don’t say “I am angry with you!” It’s too obvious and there is no room for imagination of the reader, no chance to for “aha, I know why!” Instead, imagine what the characters would do if they were angry. “Go do your homework! NOW!”

The blog included “Write your plot using only action… The actions of your characters will inspire the words they choose to use.” As a new scriptwriter, I think I fall into this trap. I write the script as dialogue to get the ideas across, then flesh it out with actions to get the pacing right. I am wondering if for myself it might be better to outline the plot and write the actions first. Then work out dialog that supports the actions (not the plot). Let people deduce the plot, not be told it directly. After all, a mime can tell a story without any script at all!

As I create very short episodes, another thing I am planning to improve upon is mapping out the emotional curve of the episode. It should not chop and change too fast. The audience probably won’t keep up. It also makes background music harder as rapid changes can end up with music inconsistent with the desired emotion. So I am moving towards mapping out the mood music much earlier in the script writing process as well.

Anime production – detailed guide to how anime is made and the talent behind it!

An old blog, so possibly not up with the latest adoption of technology, but it goes through the traditional stages of creating anime from pre-production (planning, series storyline, character design), production (script writing from episode synopsis, visual planning), storyboard (first images, cut numbers, actor movements, camera movements, dialogue, shot lengths), layouts, animation, key animation, animation director, in-between animation, compositing/filming, …

All very interesting, but why do I mention it here? Sure, you start with a written script and outline, but you quickly move into storyboarding, layouts, animation, and compositing of shots. These are all visual! Again, character actions and movements again stand out to me, possibly because I am not doing a great job here as I think about dialogue describing the plot, instead of dialogue supporting the actions describing the plot.

Your ultimate guide to anime editing credits: Part IV

This blog, much like the previous blog, it mentions scriptwriting and storyboarding again (job descriptions in the end credits of an anime episode), and the job of a director keeping visual consistency throughout.

How does this apply to me?

So how does this apply to myself?

  • My series outline approach I am still happy with.
  • My scriptwriting needs to improve – I am going to try and write the script (or perhaps “screenplay” is better) to have more focus on telling the story through actions, with dialogue to support the actions.
  • For storyboarding I mock up a rough draft of an episode using software, rather than drawing out a storyboard. (I can’t draw well!) I think this is still okay, but do it with more focus on the visual storytelling. If there was no dialogue, could someone understand the story being told?
  • I am going to get the background music in earlier, to make sure there is more consistency of mood for longer stretches. Avoid too rapid chopping and changing of mood.


(For other posts on scriptwriting advice, check out my scriptwriting summary page)

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