If there’s one thing you learn from writing animation, it’s to stick with what you can see and hear on the screen. In the buzz of writing a wacky animation sequence, it’s easy to get carried away with descriptions that are fun to read, but don’t actually tell anyone enough about what they’re going to see. Not that the flavour and pace of a scene can’t benefit from a few snappy similes or the occasional well-placed adverb, but in moderation.
In live action, description sometimes needs to leave a certain ambivalence for the actors and director to play with on set. In animation there is no room for that kind of ambivalence, but equally, it’s impossible express the kind of detail that is subsequently created in the storyboarding and animation phases.
So the trick is to find a balance between describing as much of the action as possible without going into superfluous detail and without the writing becoming boring and technical.
Here’s a brilliant little quote from the screenplay of Ratatouille, by Brad Bird. It’s from the scene on page 40 where Remy the rat accidentally discovers he can control Linguini’s movements by tugging his hair:
Remy is yanking tufts of Linguini’s hair like a kid with a new toy. Linguini jerks around like a helpless puppet.
In this one little paragraph there are two concrete actions, “yanking hair” and “jerking around” plus two accompanying similes: “like a kid with a new toy” and “like a helpless puppet.” This combination of specific description and general flavour expresses quite precisely what the beat will look like, without trying to depict every little movement.
Entertaining though it may be to read, superfluous flowery verbiage (= wordiness) in a screenplay risks diverting attention from the action to the author. Ideally your screenplay has to be fun to read and fun to watch, but given the choice, it’s more important to focus on the “fun to watch” aspect. Everyone else involved in the production needs to be able to understand as clearly as possible what’s going to be seen and heard.
Of course, if it’s fun to watch, it’s probably going to be fun to read too…