1. On how to create incredibly weird, interesting, yet relatable characters:
Pendleton Ward (at the Adventure Time panel): Fan-fic your friends.
2. Sometimes it’s best to let the relationships and backstory grow organically.
PW: We’re playing D&D [Dungeons and Dragons] — we’re role-playing the characters as we’re writing them.
3. Use tears minimally, especially when writing children.
PW: When you’re an adult, you like to punish them [characters].
4. Because they’ll turn into huge sissies that nag all the time, like the worst Ninja Turtle.
PW: Leonardo sucks.
5. Write things that you would enjoy watching.
PW: We write to make ourselves laugh.
6. Actually listen to people who give you constructive criticism. This is why TV shows have more than one writer.
PW: I like dark places, but we had to pull it back.
7. The more you love the characters you’re writing, the better the show will be.
PW: I’m embarrassed at how much I relate to Lumpy Space Princess.
8. Draw from life, get into the cathartic experience.
Rebecca Sugar: Marceline’s song [“I’m Just Your Problem”] from “What Was Missing” was really hard for me to write. I was trying to base it off of some stuff that actually happened, like a falling out I actually had. So I dredged up a lot of really terrible feelings that got, like, a little unhealthy.
9. Build a world where you can tell limitless stories.
RS: You only have access to a small look at a larger world, and you can feel that there is this larger world. And the past is real, and it’s changed, and everything between that and the show happened. And you can feel that happened but you don’t see it, and I think that’s really important. It made it really interesting to work on, and I think it makes it interesting to participate in because you create a lot of it. Not that it doesn’t exist — it does exist, and that’s why it’s cool, the stuff that you don’t see is really there.
10. Play games.
Kent Osborne: We play these writer’s games where we all sit around the table and you have two minutes to draw a picture, and it’s just whatever you’re thinking — and then you pass it to the next person, and they get it and you have two minutes to write the first act. You’ll do it all day and you’ll get 40 drawings with stories and maybe you can use one of them. It’s hard with two minutes, everyone’s like, “They end up pooping!”
11. No, seriously. Get your friends together and play games.
KO: Sometimes we’ll put a lot of characters’ names in the middle, and you pull two characters out and you have two minutes to a write a story with those two characters. Exquisite corpse: Like, sometimes you’ll draw the head, the next person draws the torso, and then when it’s all drawn you’ll have to figure a story around the character.
12. Sometimes the best solution is the simplest one.
RS: The characters are really beautifully simple. If you add a bunch of extra stuff on them, it looks wrong. In the Ricardio episode [“Ricardio The Heart Guy”], Ice King had a hole in his chest and his body parts were everywhere, and I made it like a hole. But Pen [Ward] was like, “No, just make it heart, like heart-shaped.” That’s so much better! It reads, it’s cute, and it’s also really horrible.
13. Find the emotional reality of the situation, even if the world is fantastical.
KO: I feel like Lorraine kinda burned BMO. He’s looking out for her, but I don’t know if he’s ever gonna go back to that — you can’t go backwards. They’re just different worlds, Lorraine kinda used him. I hear that, I got a Lorraine. I actually wrote that line, “Same old Lorraine.”
14. Complex backstory can evolve from a simple idea.
KO: We usually start with a simple idea. The whole Simon and Marcy thing, there’s an episode where Ice King’s singing the “Fry Song,” and it occurred to us that we’ve never had Ice King and Marceline in an episode before — they’ve never interacted. And it came out of that: What’s a good reason why they haven’t interacted? Oh, maybe there’s something going on there.
15. And most importantly, write. A lot. Every day, even. Be prepared when the opportunity arises.
KO: Make stuff. Make a cartoon, make a comic, etc. Pen [Ward] goes to comic cons and meets people and buys their comics and likes them and then says, “Hey, would you wanna come freelance a board?” or something like that. You definitely need to have whatever it is to show, to say, “Here’s what I can do.” Make something of your own.