So, on a cold, wet, overcast west-coast afternoon, I'm watching Disney's 'Tangled' and thinking about comedic timing.
I love animation, even more than I love movies/tv with real people... the main reason is that I love to over-think and analyze and animation has something special that regular film does not. Every visual jerk, twitch, pause and hesitation is intentional. Every moment of movement has been planned out, not only of arm and legs, but the wideness of the eyes, to the length of time the lashes are closed during a single blink. And every one of these tiny, intentional movements has to look natural.
...and I haven't even touched on framing, use of colour, shape, size and when to pare or overemphasize ratio and movement... all tools and tricks an animator can play with to better tell their story.
Animation is truly an orgy for the over-thinker.
When I was a kid, 'The Little Mermaid' came out in theatres. I can clearly remember staring at the screen with intense concentration... while not following the plot at all. What I was watching was how different Arial looked in each scene, essentially, when she would go 'off model'. After that movie, my dream job was to be a cleanup-artist in animation... that's the person who goes over every single hand-drawn frame and makes sure each character stays on model.
Boring, eh? Well, there's a point to this, I swear.
As an actor, having good comedic timing is something you either have, or you don't have. An animator has the ability to tinker with a character's actions to the microsecond. This attention to detail is something that can be trained into you, but I do think it's a real skill. Whether you're born with it or learn it later, some people have an almost perfect instinct for timing.
The visual information of characters in regular film (or animated films) is a large part of how we know what they are all about. Their body language is important, their ticks and twitches, the turn of their heads, the lift of their jaws, all of this can fill out a character in a few seconds without an info dump about their history, preferences and unique characteristics.
So what about when you read about a character in a book? What about when you are writing a character, a character you can see so clearly in your mind that you could act out their scenes with every single one of their micro expressions and muscle contractions?
Description is a dirty word for many readers/writers. For the reader, seeing one of those dauntingly enormous paragraphs that takes up an entire page where you know, you just know, you're going to be wasting several minutes walking through a character's dreamscape when all you really want is for the character to wake up and get on with the story!
So where is the happy medium? To build a world, to build characters that live and breathe in that world, you can't have a white room with white cardboard characters... but then no one wants to do a Jane Eyre either and fill an entire chapter with the description of a swamp.
Comedic timing might be something one is born with, but it can also be learned. Playing the balancing act between giving too much and too little information about your characters... I think some writers are born with that skill, but there's no reason why it can't also be learned.
To learn timing in acting or in animation, you act (or draw) out a scene without using words.
So when you're writing a scene, how much information can you cram in without using *words* (as in dialogue or narrator/descriptive info-dumps)?
If you've got time, throw on 'Tangled' and watch Pascal the chameleon and Maximus the horse... they are both fully rounded characters who doesn't have a single line of dialogue. Can you do that?