Unlike most other forms of writing, scripts aren’t meant to be consumed. They are a middleman of sorts, meant to instruct the final medium, whether a web video, podcast, theatre, or a film. So writing a script for video requires a different way of thinking compared to how someone would tackle writing a blog post, for example.
While there are videos on every topic under the sun and each of them obviously requires a different approach, there are some commonalities. Scriptwriting does involve a certain structure and pattern that is universal to almost any video someone would want to create.
Here are 5 things writers should keep in mind when they’re drafting their next video script.
1. Always Include Important Cues and Instructions
A script shouldn’t just be one long chunk of dialogue – that leads to dull videos where people read off the words without emotion. Since scripts translate to a mostly visual medium (unless it’s for a podcast) those visual cues and behaviors should be included as well. This doesn’t necessarily mean what the speaker/actor will do but also any other visual elements that might appear on the screen.
Think each part through and make sure to follow a structured format that makes it easy to see which visual cues fit with which dialogue prompts. Any instructions for the speaker or actor should be included between dialogue at the exact moments when they’re supposed to happen. It can be behavioral instructions or may relate to how they should convey a piece of dialogue.
2. Don’t Write for Reading, Write for Speaking
This might be obvious to some, but writing for reading and writing for speaking are two entirely different things. When people read, they want well-structured sentences that follow precise grammatical rules and there’s rarely any slang. But no one really talks like that.
Don’t be afraid to add ellipses to show short pauses or to drag out words like “thaaaaat” for emphasis. One of the key components of a good script is that it makes it easier to deliver what the writer intended without overthinking about it.
3. Think of the Setting and Audience
There are some popular script-writing rules out there that mention things like “stick to short and simple words” and “use contractions”. Keeping things simple is usually a good idea and people normally use contractions naturally in their speech. So this isn’t bad advice. But it is situational.
A formal video in which someone is explaining complex ideas likely won’t try to simplify things or use contractions. It just doesn’t fit the narrative style. There are exceptions to that “rule” too, though. This is why the setting, creative direction, and audience should supersede rules about format, tone, and grammar.
4. Keep Time and Pace in Mind
On average, people speak around 130 words per minute. Some may speak faster, some slower of course, but it’s a good rule of thumb nonetheless. This is an important thing to keep in mind when writing a video script – especially when time is a factor.
If there’s a set amount of time allotted for the video, then it’s better to script every word. This would also require that the person who reads the script do so beforehand, so their pacing can be taken into account and adjustments can be made. In a more relaxed setting, extra time can be allotted should the speaker/actor want to add some improv of their own.
5. The Beginning is More Important Than the End
When writing a script, a lot of writers tend to focus on the flow and how to convey the main message in a sensible way throughout. That’s not bad, these things are important too. The start of a video is more important, however.
It’s a well-known fact by now that people have short attention spans. Everyone also knows that there’s a lot of content out there, ready to be consumed. If the start of the video doesn’t capture them then they’re simply going to move on, irrespective of how entertaining or informative the rest of the video will be. They don’t know that and they’re not going to stick around to find out. It’s not like a blog article where people can just quickly skim the rest to see if it gives them what they want.
At the end of all this, there’s no secret trick to writing well-positioned and entertaining scripts. The only way to get better is to keep writing. Remember that a good script won’t necessarily appear with the first draft; keep working that clump of ideas into a smoothly honed message.