How to Write an Awesome Video Script in 8 Steps

— November 9, 2016

A great brand video starts with a great video script. Voiceover, music, visuals—these devices enhance your story, but that story needs to be on paper first.


For that reason, there’s a great deal of responsibility at this stage of the video production process. The good news is that you can write an exceptional script easily, as long as you follow the right steps. Next time you need tackle a video script, here’s what to do to make sure it’s a success.


1) Outline Your Goals


An outline is a useful framework, but to build that, you need to know exactly what your goals are. Before you write, identify the elements that will influence your story. This exercise will help ensure that your narrative doesn’t stray too far from your goals.


Initial questions to answer:



  • Why do I want to tell this story?
  • What’s my angle?
  • Who is my audience?
  • Why will my audience care?
  • What value will this provide?
  • What should my audience take away from this?

From there, you can compile a bulleted list of what you plan to cover (aka the information you need to include in your video script). This is a bare-bones compilation of needs—not wants. Once you have these you can start to flesh out your narrative.


2) Craft a Narrative Arc


Lack of story is the number one problem we see with brand videos. Stating one point after another makes a great outline for your video script—not a great story. While your brand video is meant to help you achieve a goal, it can only do that if you are engaging your audience.


(Note: If you’re producing an explainer video or product spotlight, follow our guide for writing explainer video scripts, which takes a slightly different approach.)


Focus on building a narrative arc in your script that builds interest and satiates the human need to know what happens next.


Hook them from the start: Start off on the right foot with an emotional hook, which can be introduced through a powerful story, interesting anecdote, different perspective, surprising stat, etc. The important thing is to give your audience a reason to care right off the bat.


This isn’t just a smart storytelling device. It’s necessary to make the most impact in the shortest amount of time. A 2015 Facebook/Nielsen study found that even if a viewer watched only one second of a brand video, it still increased ad recall, brand awareness, and purchase consideration. Make that time count.


Focus on a single message: This is why your outline is so important to work with. Don’t confuse the reader by trying to put too much in. Choose a single story and use every aspect of the video visuals to reinforce it through imagery, animation, data, etc.


Provide context: This is especially important for complex ideas or data. Statistics alone won’t land with your audience. They’re utility, not entirety. Your viewers require context to understand how such observations or data points play out in the real world. Don’t assume that they’ll know why that matters. Connect the dots and provide insight where necessary.


Setup and payoff: This is the core of why stories are so satisfying. We want to know what happens and where the story goes next. There should be a strong takeaway so that your audience can feel invested.


The Under Armour I Will What I Want spot, featuring ballerina Misty Copeland, uses a fantastic narrative device to tell the story. The video script is a rejection letter, citing all the reasons the dancer is not suitable, paired with beautiful footage of Copeland, now in her prime. It both reveals everything she’s overcome and makes a powerful statement.



3) Nail Your Call to Action


It’s tough enough to write the perfect intro to your video script, but it hurts more if you can’t find the right outro. If you can’t “close” correctly, the force you’ve cultivated ultimately dissipates, along with the impact you’ve been working toward.


A good ending is really a good CTA. But that doesn’t mean you just flash your logo and URL. (In fact, sometimes that comes off far too salesy and interrupts the narrative build.) Your ending should be influenced by what you want your audience to do or walk away with.


Do you want them to…



  • Share the video?
  • Sign up for a demo?
  • Subscribe to your newsletter?
  • Download a report?

Your narrative should build toward this ending.


A note here: Not all stories have to end with a buttoned-up, full-circle resolution. You can also use suspense or intrigue to propel action.


This video by Make Love Not Scars is an excellent example of a surprise ending. It starts with an upbeat and novel makeup tutorial and ends with a powerful statement.



4) Cut, Cut, Cut


Once you have the first draft of your video script, grab your hatchet.


Using more words than necessary not only drags out the video’s length but inherently weakens your argument. Memorable lines are bold and profound, not a meandering explanation with fluff. You want to make each sentence count.


Go through your script multiple times, and keep whittling it down until every single word serves the story. Keep an eye out for:



  • Long words: Keep it short and sharp. You have limited time. If there’s a way to say it simply, reword it.
  • Extraneous information: Good video scripts pack a punch. Remove anything that doesn’t absolutely need to be there.

Good editing is not just about cutting word count; it’s about condensing to preserve what really matters.


This Apple video, used as the intro to the 2013 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference keynote address, is a piece of perfection that clocks in at only 90 words.



5) Rewrite For Your Audience


Once you have your core story, it’s time to flip the script (literally) and review it from your audience’s perspective. Even though the underlying goal of your video is to promote your brand—whether as a company or as a nonprofit—its success relies on whether or not your audience connects to it.


Take a pass and review your script through their lense.



  • Will they understand the concepts presented? Write to your audience’s level of knowledge. This may be more elementary or more sophisticated, but it’s important to make sure your script addresses them properly. You don’t want to insult their intelligence or alienate them.
  • Is this relevant to them? If your subject is already interesting to your audience, you have an advantage. If it’s not, it’s time to flex your storytelling skills and rely on that emotional hook to make them care.
  • Is the vocabulary appropriate? Often there are industry terms or phrases that you’re familiar with but your audience isn’t used to hearing. Look for any words that may need to be replaced.

Our Child of the ‘90s video for Microsoft/Internet Explorer was aimed at reconnecting with Millennials. As such, the script and visuals were tailored for that audience.



6) Choose the Right Tone


Tone is a huge part of your video script. It conveys the emotion behind the story and communicates who you are and how your audience should feel about what you’re talking about.


But your tone doesn’t necessarily have to be prescriptive. A serious subject doesn’t always have to be serious. It can be refreshing to take an opposite tonal approach to play with the audience expectations—if it’s appropriate for your brand.


Our video for Microsoft/Internet Explorer takes a dramatic approach to announcing the return of the video game Hover.



That said, because many viral videos are “funny” or “quirky,” we notice many brands trying to force humor and whimsy into every video. Like all things, just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Also, as humor is subjective, there are a lot of variables at play. You have to be 100% that the jokes are going to land.


Certainly, well-executed humor can prop up your brand message. Other times, however, it may work against the strength of your products or services or erode your credibility.


It’s a fine line, so tread carefully.


Hello Flo’s Postpartum: The Musical spot is an excellent example of using humor well—even with a sensitive subject (the serious post-partum issues mothers face).



7) Read it out loud


Some scripts have no spoken dialogue, relying on kinetic text only, such as the Apple motion graphic featured above. But if any of your words will be spoken, you need to read them aloud to see if they work. (Consider that there are a lot of good lines in novels that don’t necessarily work in films. The brain can breeze through sentences that the mouth cannot.)


You need to be aware of how the voiceover is going to sound. A few tips to test this:



  • Don’t just read through; record yourself speaking the dialogue and listen back.
  • Read your script aloud in one take. This helps you catch anything that causes even a momentary stumble. Until you can read smoothly in one take, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite.
  • Run your script through a program to check its voiceover read time. When you’re familiar with the content, you tend to speed up while reading. Professional voice over actors know how to maintain a steady rhythm.

The Experience the Power of a Bookbook™ spot from Ikea, a spoof of tech product announcements, nails the dialogue both in the delivery and in the language used.



8) Get Feedback


Whether you go through your script twice or a dozen times, it’s still only been you at the helm. That surely allows for mistakes. You need fresh eyes on your script, whether it’s to proof or punch up.


A good exercise here is to make the pitch to a colleague, friend, or member of your target audience who can provide valuable feedback.


Handing off your script to someone else will either reinforce your confidence or reinforce your narrative with outside perspective. It’s a win-win.


PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT


Ultimately, the best way to write a great video script is to write a lot of them. The stronger your scripts, the more creative your production team can get—and that’s what really elevates your end product.

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