How do I write a script for a video?

Answer: By constantly honing your skills

Scriptwriting is a complex process, and you should be aware that it can take years to master the craft. Even writers with decades of experience still have those moments of doubt when they re-read the script over and over, making a tweak here, an adjustment there, never really satisfied with the final outcome.

Step 1:

Define the purpose of the project. Are you trying to sell a product or a person’s services? Are you trying to highlight someone’s expertise in an specific area? Are you trying to entertain the viewer? Are you trying to inform the viewer about an important issue such as a political candidate’s stand on an issue?

Step 2:

Decide what voice is going to be used in the video. We don’t mean the names of the people speaking in the video. “Voice” is the manner in which the narrative is delivered. Will it be an offscreen narrator, or will people (actors or real-life people like a company’s staff) be using a script? Will the tone be more formal, such as you might see in a commercial for a law firm’s services, or will it be conversational, such as two friends talking about a mutual problem?

If it’s the latter, be aware that developing a conversational writing style does not happen overnight. You have to have a good ear for how people speak, what cadence they have, and how they use certain phrases. When it comes to learning how to script conversational pieces, in order to be a good writer you have to be a good listener. Go out and talk to people. Watch a wide variety of media, from instructional videos to sitcoms to classic movies to documentaries. Get an idea of how people speak in these formats, which ones sound the most realistic for the situation and which ones sound fake or overly-scripted.

Step 3:

Pacing the script. Do you need to get to the point right away, as in a short-form project like expert tips or a TV ad, or do you have time to lay a little groundwork and build anticipation for crucial points, as in a well-written movie? Ironically long-form projects may be easier for some writers, because they naturally like to take some time to make you care about what you’re seeing. But if the video is only 30 seconds long, you’re not going to have time to lead your viewers into personal relationships with the people on screen. Instead, emphasize why the message of the video is relevant to the audience. Think about the Life Alert commercials. We aren’t dragged through the events of the day of the woman who falls. Instead, the commercial starts with her lying on the floor in a painfully awkward position, saying: “I’ve fallen! And I can’t get up!” In seven words, the problem addressed by the ad is patently clear: Elderly people living alone are especially vulnerable. The solution, the Life Alert service, is immediately introduced.

Step 4:

This brings us to a final point. While those seven words moaned by the injured woman may be parodied a lot, think about this: Who doesn’t know that phrase? It’s become a part of Americana, because for some reason it has resonated with audiences across the years. You don’t have to be Don Draper to understand the potential impact a short, memorable phrase can have on your audience. The reason slogans are still widely used is because they create an easily-remembered link to the message of the video, be it selling a product or pushing a political agenda. The shorter the video, the more important it is to make a fast, lasting impression on the viewer.

Our Advice to You

The best advice we can give is to have people read your script at various stages of development. Get their gut reactions. Ask them if they understand the intent and the message, preferably without giving them any clues ahead of time about those aspects. Treat them as if they are people viewing the finished video for the first time, with no idea what to expect. The people don’t have to be experts in any field, unless that’s the target audience of the video. In that case their input will be invaluable, especially for catching errors.

Be open to feedback, cultivate a thick skin and don’t take any critiques personally. Treat them as valuable learning experiences, and the critics as teachers who are helping you to hone your scriptwriting skills.