And here's the most common Writing Tips topic:
One of the most common questions I ask is "how do I avoid writing a torture porn?" I'm going to assume that you're writing a comedy focused on a lot of slapstick because in the grand scheme of things it's easy to avoid writing a torture porn—don't have anyone get hurt outside of the main conflict, and resolve that conflict by the end. But no, you want to have something like the classic Looney Tunes and want the audience to end up laughing, rather than wondering what exactly went through your head in order to think that that was funny. Keep in mind that whether the audience finds slapstick funny or not largely depends on the animators. The best thing that the writer can do is prevent it from becoming unfunny. This plot type is about as old as animation so it's good to learn from your fore-bearers.
The most important aspect to this story is your foil. To put it bluntly: the foil is the character that we're gonna beat the shit out of. If you create a poor foil then chances are you've created a very terrible piece of animation. It's really that simple. This type of plot strongly relies on something called "schadenfreude" which pretty much means the joy you get from seeing someone else in pain. Yes, in reality it's sick and wrong, but it's the basis for much of our media and has been since the gladiators of Rome. For some reason or another it seems to be a natural human reaction, and our media like video games or television shows are probably the healthiest outlet for these kinds of feelings. To make this type of plot work, you've got to tap into this feeling and create a character that illicits that response rather than sympathy.
Let me make this absolutely clear: we're not making a villain here. This character we're creating is technically the protagonist. Yes, you can make the foil a villain or antagonist like Tom (from Tom and Jerry) or Elmer Fudd. We're keeping things simple here and the simplest thing to do is to have one character play off of the environment. When you have one character play off another, like Tom and Jerry it becomes harder and harder to keep this working. At some point the audience is going to want the antagonist to conquer the law of averages and win. Not to mention that the more delight the protagonist takes in harming another person, the harder it is to humanize them as over time it gets less and less warranted.
So, you've got one character for a one-shot cartoon who is going to be dragged through the wringer. Let's give him or her a trait that will make the audience want them to be hurt, and believe it or not, all you need is one. Honestly, you don't have to look further than the seven deadly sins. In the classic short One Froggy Evening, the foil's flaw is greed. The more he wants to make money off of this random singing frog that he's found, the deeper he gets into this hole. Red Hot Riding Hood's foil has the flaw of lust. He objectifies a woman and catches her affection only to find out that she's hideous and he gets sent through the wringer. A character that's extremely prideful or arrogant is just begging to be humiliated. You can even get away with something like sloth: the foil didn't do this one important activity and now that need to run themselves ragged trying to fix it before they get into trouble.
The seven deadly sins are good standbys since even non-religious people don't find those behaviors attractive. And if you want to make something timeless you've got to make sure that beliefs and behaviors aren't likely to change against your character's flaw. For example, an adult character being interested in a juvenile hobby may have one point made them an acceptable foil since they were doing something that most people perceived as ridiculous. No matter what you pick, you need to keep it simple and brief. You have very little time to establish this flaw. The best way to do this is to have the flaw cause the problem—a thief trying to steal a diamond is what takes him through the gauntlet (greed is by far, the easiest flaw to come up with scenarios for), our foil wanting to eat the good-natured prey.
The second most important aspect to this type of plot is the pacing. Establish your character as soon as possible and give them a karmic ending that punishes them for their showcased flaw. Everything else is about beating the shit out of this foil, and here's the important part—you can't let ANYTHING sink in. Jokes must be fast. The reason why many Spongebob episodes fail is because their pacing is so damn slow. After the initial impact of the slapstick (which is literally the only thing we should see) they spend far too much time on the agony. The trick of this episode is showing your foil getting hurt, not being hurt. This is why the plot is a staple of animation—you don't have to pull any cinematic tricks to stop your actors from breaking bones.
But isn't it really difficult to come up with joke after joke so quickly? Did you expect this to be easy? It can be hard or it can be easy. It really depends on the setup and scenario you picked. Some scenarios will force you to be more creative—if you've chosen a desert you're going to have to go beyond cacti at some point—but it's not that hard. While your foil and pacing will determine how well this works, your jokes will determine your staying power. And I stress this again, this is a lot on the animators. However, you've got to give them the scenarios to work with. Be thankful that you live in modern society.
I'm not kidding: machines can be your best friend for slapstick gags. The man chasing that stolen jewel can end up going through a car wash... without a car. Or he can end up boxed on a conveyor belt. People don't exactly have grand pianos that they lift into the air anymore, but they hang these extraordinarily heavy television sets precariously on walls. Speaking of which it's always funny to hit a guy who thinks his job was "good enough" with proof that "no, no it wasn't." Keep in mind that there's more than just physical pain too. You probably don't have time to set up the foil's social or romantic life, but it's generally easy to embarrass the foil.
The tightrope you have to walk: never let the audience sympathize with your foil while keeping in mind that having the main character shit upon usually elicits sympathy. It sounds difficult, but honestly it's not. Your worst enemy here is cockiness—thinking that you've established a character's role as a foil in previous episodes so you don't need to do it here. One of the easiest ways to make this work is to have the foil constantly dig his own hole. Taking the example from One Froggy Evening again—all the main character needs to do is stop telling people about this frog and all of his problems will be solved. Keep in mind that if you are doing that, you need to keep escalating the consequences or else you will annoy the audience.
It's also generally not a good idea to abandon in-universe logic. Your set-up needs to remain your set-up and you can't change the rules in the middle of the game. You can't have a cosmic space demon tear through the fabric of reality to beat up your main foil if there's no precedent for it. Take the episode Professor Squidward from Spongebob. It does everything else here right, but it abandons in-universe logic. In that episode Squidward impersonates someone else for his own selfish reasons to teach at a very prestigious college. He's run through the ringer by Spongebob and Patrick who are attending this very prestigious college, despite being complete and utter morons.
I suppose that brings us to Squidward. Why does the universe seem to hate him in the later seasons? It wasn't exactly a random choice. It's not like the writers spun a wheel that landed on Squidward and decided that he'd be their punching bag for all eternity. No, he was a foil in the earlier seasons and he was GOOD at it. Squidward all too often displayed arrogance, or pride. He thought that he was better than he actually was. Take Squilliam's Return—Squidward flat out lied to keep himself looking good and that made it okay from an audience perspective for everything to go wrong. Compare that to Cephalopod Lodge where the plot was triggered because Squidward was merely happy because he got to a club that he never thrust in anyone's face. In Club Spongebob, all Squidward had to do was go along with the magic conch shell, but his pride and fear of looking ridiculous stopped him. In Boating Buddies he got no such luxury. A very handy tool here is always allowing the foil a "way out"--one that requires more humility than the foil is willing to muster.
I suppose I should touch on Patrick too because I realize that I've forgotten this essential piece of advice: the foil must be able to feel pain. Do you know why there are no Patrick torture porns? He's too stupid to feel that he's in pain. Remember, these episodes are about getting the foil hurt. If they can't get hurt at all... well then there's no comedy whatsoever. If the plot changes from getting hurt to being hurt then you no longer have comedy, you have tragedy. And when you treat tragedy as comedy you tend to piss people off.
I do realize that the term "torture porn" is kind of a misnomer. Things that are actually classified as "torture porn" like the Saw movies, if they're to work well, also need to have a good foil believe it or not. They also play off of schadenfreude and as such they need to hit the right triggers. If Jigsaw didn't capture immoral people to punish them then those movies may not have been very successful. I don't really have time to write a dissertation why different people like this kind of schadenfreude over another, it's probably just a personal taste thing. All I can say is have fun beating the shit out of your well chosen foil.
Speaking of which Meg Griffin is a terrible fucking foil. Being miserable or "ugly" is not grounds for being a good foil. It's what's on the inside that counts.