How To: Scriptwriting
5 min read
Alfred Hitchcock once said, “To make a great film, you need three things – the script, the script and the script.” While you might not be looking to win an Oscar for the next marketing video or animation you commission, the importance of words on the page remains true.
Trying to start a campaign without a script is like attempting to reach a far-flung destination without a map. Likewise, a poor-quality script can quickly derail the creative process, introducing problems that are complex and costly to solve further down the line.
So, how do you ensure that your script will make the final product sing?
We’re glad you asked. This post is dedicated to the intricacies of the scriptwriting process, its purpose and the benefits to be had from getting it right the first time. Like our previous blog on the briefing process, these insider tips will enable you to get the best from your chosen creative partner, save time (and probably money, too!) and help you to hit the ground running ahead of your next creative campaign.
The script is the foundation
In addition to guiding the content of your video, the script plays a significant role in defining many other elements. It’ll help you decide on the right voice over artist to fit the language used, clarify the visual style and give cues to the animator or director as to the pacing of the overall piece. It also helps to clarify the purpose and direction of the video and identify potential problems at the earliest possible stage.
With so much riding on the quality of the script, some preparation is always helpful ahead of engaging with an agency. Before your initial briefing call, take a moment to jot down your goals for the video, as well as other key details to be included. However, if you want the biggest bang for your buck, you could have a go at writing the first draft yourself….
Why you should try writing your own script
You’re not a professional scriptwriter, and you’re likely looking to an agency to help you put the words on the page. That’s fine, of course, but there are some significant benefits to trying your hand at writing the script before you begin the project.
Even though you may not be a trained wordsmith, you know the subject of your video better than almost anyone. That puts you in a great position to start shaping the content. Not only that, but the simple act of putting fingers to keyboard (or pen to paper if you want to keep it old school) will begin sparking your imagination and bring the project to life in your mind. Furthermore, even the loosest script or selection of ideas can kick start the briefing process far faster than simply sharing company collateral like website content or PowerPoint decks. That material can help provide background, but your vision for the campaign and the way you approach it will help the agency better grasp what you’re looking for.
Ready to give it a go? Follow these steps as you settle down in front of that blank page and get your creative juices flowing:
1. Purpose and preparation
There’s nothing worse than staring into that sea of white with a little cursor blinking impatiently as you consider your first line (believe us, we’ve been there!). To help yourself get into the groove, start by defining the key concept of the video to get a clear picture of what it should do and who it’s for. Next, gather research and other materials that will help shape your message or trigger ideas for the script. With the purpose and audience nailed down, plus some background material to draw from, you’ll be able to focus your ideas far more clearly.
What do I want this video to do?
Who is this video targeting?
What will motivate this audience?
What do they care about?
How will the content of this video help them?
How would I talk to them if I met them face to face?
What do I want them to feel, think or do after watching the video?
2. Create a basic structure
The most tempting thing to do at this stage is simply start tapping away. But hold your horses for a moment. Although letting all your amazing ideas splurge onto the page in one go might be cathartic, you’ll likely end up with a disorganised jumble of messages that’ll be tough to unpick.
Instead, take a step back and create an outline. It doesn’t need to be full of detail, but it does need a start, a middle and an end. As a simple example, if your video is promoting a product, you could begin by framing the problem your audience faces, highlight how your product solves that problem, then tell them how they can get your product. It won’t always be that easy, but with these simple guidelines in place, you can keep your focus on what’s important and not get side-tracked by irrelevant information or off-topic action.
What are my marketing goals?
What is the story I’m trying to tell?
What are the key messages to cover?
What problem will this video solve for the audience?
What do I want the audience to remember?
3. Get writing (and enjoy it!)
You’ve done the legwork. Now it’s time to have some fun. Yes, seriously. The beauty of having done all that prep is that you’re now free to enjoy yourself without worrying you’re straying off track. This should be the most pleasurable part of the process where you’re at your most creative. Follow the structure you’ve created to build your story and explore different ways to tell it. You could introduce a character to play the role of your audience, explaining how your product helped them, or you could use a more abstract metaphor if it makes sense to do so. Whatever you do, just make sure it’s interesting and doesn’t confuse or alienate your audience. Ultimately, the goal is to keep the viewer interested and watching until the very end, so the more exciting, compelling or surprising you can make the script, the more it will capture their attention.
Is there a more interesting or entertaining way to make each point?
Am I following the structure I’ve created?
Will my story work with a character, or would a simple narrative suffice?
Is there a theme appearing as I write? How would it work visually?
4. Start strong and keep it simple
Audiences have more videos vying for their attention than they do time, and they’ll usually decide whether to continue watching within the first 10 seconds. That’s why it’s important to hook them as quickly as possible, whether through a bold statement, statistic or asking a direct question to the audience. Having done your research (you did do that bit, right?), you should know what makes your audience tick. Think about topics and themes that will resonate with them and work them into your script.
Simplicity is the key to keeping viewers engaged. If you waffle on for too long or get too technical, people will quickly lose interest. Make sure each line moves the story forward, you cover your key messages and that every word in your script counts. That said, don’t be too tied down by the word count for now. It’s better to keep your flow going than worry about heavy editing at this stage.
Are the opening few seconds as engaging as they could be?
What introduction will have the most impact on my audience?
How does the introduction set up the rest of the video?
Am I getting too detailed or off-topic?
Am I focusing on what my audience needs?
5. Include a strong call to action
With the bulk of your script in place, you need to begin working toward its conclusion. By this point, if you’ve done your job well, your audience should be desperate to take action, and you need to tell them how they can. It could be as simple as asking them to contact you or visit your website but, if you can work your call to action into your theme, even better. Perhaps your main character solved their problem using your product or service, and your call to action invites them to do the same? “Get peace of mind like Bob. Call ABC Corp. for a free quote today.”
Alternatively, you could return to the opening of your script to round things off and reinforce the problem to be solved: “Don’t wait for the worst to happen before you take action. Get your free quote today”.
What is most likely to make the audience act?
Can I tie my call to action into the script’s story?
Is there a more engaging or hard-hitting way to deliver my call to action?
Can I link back to the introduction of my script for my call to action?
6. Don’t think you’re done just yet
You’ve written your first draft and clicked ‘Save’. But that’s not the end. In fact, it’s often the point where your script really starts taking shape. While you might think it’s perfect as it is, give yourself a break before returning to what you’ve just written. Now, read it aloud, time yourself reading it, then read it again. You’ll probably be surprised at how many things you’ll want to change. Some phrases might not feel right on the tongue, sentences might be too long, or words could even unexpectedly rhyme (although that’s not always a bad thing).
Start by making a note of how long it took you to read the script to give you a rough idea of the final length. If you’re well over your target time, now’s your opportunity to be ruthless. Make the edits you identified on the first read-through and time yourself again. Now keep reading and rereading your script with a focus on identifying any sections or lines that are too complex or not important enough to be included. Simplify them or delete them entirely. Be brutal. While cutting will be your friend here, you should also be focusing on how you’re telling your story. Look out for opportunities to add punchier words, more humour or interesting content like facts and stats.
Does this sound right when I read it out loud?
Are there sections that are confusing or hard to read?
Is my script too long or too short?
Are there areas I could strengthen or cut entirely?
Are there facts or stats I could add for greater impact?
7. Keep the visual elements in mind
As you write and read back through your script, visualise what might happen on screen at the same time. Make a note of some of these ideas throughout and mark up where they appear in your script. Your agency will be able to help you with this, but having a few thoughts of your own will be useful. Let’s say, for example, you’ve chosen to write a simple voiceover narrative. Think about how that could be shown on screen as the words are spoken. Would a few choice edits to your copy help to bring the video to life? Saying ‘the price of bread is increasing’ could lend itself to a visual showing a loaf swelling in an oven, for example. Elsewhere, using a more colourful word like ‘explosive’ to explain growth will often work better than ‘significant’ growth. The script can work just as hard for the visuals as the visuals can work for the script, so be mindful of how the two will ultimately work together as you edit.
What will my script look like on screen?
Are there specific words I can use to enhance the visuals?
How will figures or key statements be shown on screen?
Are there visual metaphors or themes to be leveraged?
Go on, admit it. You’ve always thought you could do better than some of those ads on TV. Even if you haven’t, why not try out these tips to create your next script yourself. Your agency will certainly appreciate the effort, and you’ll also be able to get your project up and running faster, which could end up saving you time and money. Surely that’s worth some quality time in front of the keyboard!