Scriptwriting for Video
Writing for video can be tough. Even if you’re a writer, video scripts are very different from print materials. Learning how to write script for video requires a slightly different approach than writing for print or web.
A professional video production partner will be able to help you get your script where it needs to be, but a video partner doesn’t know your industry like you do.
You may need to provide a starting script for your production partner, especially if your content is very technical. So even if you’re getting professional scriptwriting help it’s a good idea to know a thing or two about how to write script for video.
Here are 10 tips to help you with script writing:
TIP #1: Get rid of the blank page
Often, the hardest part of writing a script is getting started. The blank page is intimidating. When there is so much content to cover – where do you start?
Good news – it doesn’t matter.
Just write anything. Project ideas, goals, a letter to your mom. The point is just to start writing and get rid of the blank page.
TIP #2: Start with an outline
You probably have a lot to say. You want to get everything onto the page so that you don’t forget it, and the best way to get your ideas on paper is start with an outline.
Organize Your Thoughts
- Write down a few broad categories of things you want to talk about. Try to keep it to 3 or 4 categories – this will help when it comes time to cut.
- Under each category, write a couple of related points. Make sure you understand why each topic is important and why each point fits into it’s category.
- Don’t worry about the order yet – just get everything written down.
- Use quick notes – it doesn’t matter if it makes sense to anyone else right now. The outline is for you and you can flesh it out later.
- Organize your categories. Once you’ve written everything you need your audience to know, start to order your categories.
Fill in the blanks
For each category or bullet point, ask yourself: “Does my audience know everything they need to know for this to make sense?”
They are not subject matter experts like you are so you may have to help them along or provide a little more context.
TIP #3: Add some detail
Once you’ve gotten your outline ordered, go through and turn each bullet point into a short phrase or sentence.
- Think of each bullet point by itself and just start layering in the detail. Don’t worry about how your sentences string together.
- Make sure to add a call to action at the end of your script.
When reading your outline out loud, time yourself with a stopwatch. Read it slowly – don’t rush to try to get the time down.
TIP #4: Read it out loud
Yep. The outline.
Even with the sentences it’s not going to flow yet, but read each bullet point out loud. This gives you a sense of how long your script is.
Time yourself with a stopwatch. Read it slowly – don’t rush to try to get the time down.
It’s important to read it out loud and not just mouth along. Reading something out loud always takes longer than reading silently or mouthing along. You might find some clunky sentences or awkward words that need to be changed out.
Length of the Video Script
Controlling the length of your script is both the most important, and the most difficult part of writing script for video. If you don’t know how long to make your video, err on the side of making it too short.
Depending on your writing style, your outline will probably be anywhere from 50% to 75% of the length of your finished script. That means that if you want your finished video to be 2 minutes, your outline should be somewhere between 60 and 90 seconds.
TIP #5: Trim your content
Once you’ve timed out your outline, you’ll probably realize that you have some serious cutting to do.
Cutting is hard, so here are some great places to start:
- Get rid of any repetition.
In a short form video you don’t have time to hit the same message more than once.
- Split your content.
If you’re way over on time, you might consider separating your content into another video, or even a series. Multiple short videos let the audience choose relevant content, and are more effective tools when it comes to audience retention.
- Could this message be communicated elsewhere?
Your video is a great marketing tool, but it’s not the only resource at your disposal. Think about what messages are absolutely essential to communicate RIGHT NOW and consider shifting everything else further down the sales pipeline.
- Think visually.
Could this message be conveyed through onscreen graphics or visual context clues?
- Trim the fat
Details are great, but there is a limit to how much nuance the audience can absorb in a short amount of time. Keeping your message high level invites the audience to dig deeper into your website or collateral materials, or even pick up the phone.
TIP #6: Leave Breathing Room
Its finally time to turn your outline into a script. If you’ve done a good job on your outline, this should flow pretty easily now.
A few things to keep in mind while you write:
- Write in short sentences.
The human brain can track a spoken idea for about 6-8 seconds. (Source)
If your sentence is taking longer than that, you might want to break it up into 2 smaller sentences.
- Keep it simple.
Cognitive studies have shown that long words are harder to remember than short words. (Baddeley, Thomson, & Buchanan, 1975)
That doesn’t mean everything needs to read like a children’s book, but it is something to keep in mind as you write. If your sentence is short, you can use more longer words. If your sentence runs longer, try to use shorter words.
TIP #7: Cut out the Adjectives
When you write for print, you can use complex clauses, qualifiers and descriptors to express complicated ideas.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t work in video. Viewers can’t reread a sentence, and most of the nuance is lost.
For example, look at this sentence:
Writing an effective, targeted video script for an online audience requires a combination of brevity and audience and marketplace awareness.
You see a lot of qualifier words – “effective” “targeted” “video.”
Your audience is likely to track the subject of the sentence, and maybe one of these words. The finer details will get lost in the greater message.
This sentence is tackling too many ideas – brevity, targeting, audience awareness, marketplace awareness. These ideas should be broken up into multiple sentences – possibly into multiple paragraphs.
As you read your script out loud, you want it to be no longer than 75% of the final video duration.
TIP #8: Read it out loud (again)
Once you’ve written your script, you need to read it out loud again.
Check the timing.
You want your finished video to have room to breathe. Otherwise, there is no resting time for the audience to reflect and internalize the messages…and no time for animations or visuals to do their share of the heavy lifting.
As you read your script out loud, you want it to be no longer than 75% of the final video duration. For a 2 minute video, your read should take no longer than 90 seconds. Again – Don’t cheat by reading the script quickly – that defeats the purpose.
Make it flow like a conversation.
This time, also listen to make sure it sounds like a conversation. Written English can sound overly formal and unnatural when spoken out loud.
Some words or phrases may also be difficult to say. If you keep stumbling over the same section of your script, that’s an indicator that you need to make some changes.
TIP #9: Know when enough is enough
It’s easy to spend hours agonizing over every word of your script. But remember, your audience isn’t going to go over your video with a fine tooth comb.
Don’t spend too much time fussing with changes that your audience won’t notice. At some point, you have to put down your pen and send the script off for production.
TIP #10: Consult an expert
If this all sounds like a lot of work, it is.
As long as the core message is there, your production partner should be able to help you turn your notes or outline into a polished script.
They will probably also take other aspects into consideration:
- Does the tone of the script match the tone of the visuals?
- How does the script affect pacing of the video?
- What kind of visuals will compliment or highlight the script’s message?
- What messaging points need additional visual context or motion graphics?
- Does the script create new production considerations (like the need for a teleprompter)?
- How does this script impact translation services?
These are all difficult, but important questions that need to be answered by a professional.
Years of writing experience and knowledge of how to script video will also help them massage any script. That will make it more comfortable for an actor or voice over artist to read, and sound more natural for an audience member.