Steven Universe and The Art of Crafting Eleven-Minute Cartoon Episodes

The writers of Steven Universe and Craig of the Creek reveal their techniques for writing short animated episodes.

Many of the most popular animated series today feature eleven-minute episodes. While these have always been around in cartoons it’s a little different when so many series today feature serialized storytelling. How do you cram so much plot into such a short runtime and still have it be satisfying?

It’s one thing when you’re just going for gags but another when you’re world building and creating fairly realistic characters. The more standard twenty-two minutes give you breathing room but with eleven you can’t mess around, you have to make every second count. 

We spoke with Ben Levin and Matt Burnett, former writers for Steven Universe and now series creators of Cartoon Network’s Craig of the Creek, about writing for this compressed format. The two have received rave reviews for their episodes of Steven Universe that included comedy, expansions to the mythos, and moments that punch your emotions in the gut.

Levin says the focus is, especially for animation, to make the characters feel real. “You try and pick one aspect of a character and really explore it. That’s how we tackle in-depth emotional episodes for characters.”

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Burnett adds that eleven-minute episodes don’t have the luxury of secondary plots that longer shows have. Every second needs to be devoted to one story or idea.

“Even when the episodes are more standalone like on Craig of the Creek, they’re all part of a character’s journey,” Burnett says. “As you show more and more of these characters in the episodes it carries more weight. You have such an attachment to them.”

While both admit writing in that short a time frame can be tough, Levin puts it best.

“It’s short but we get a lot done.”

Keep up with all our Steven Universe season 6 news and reviews here!

Shamus Kelley is a pop culture/television writer and official Power Rangers expert. Follow him on Twitter! Read more articles by him here!