Video Scriptwriting Explained – How to Write Scripts for Non-fiction Videos
Published on 1 March 2023
One of the most demanding skills in audiovisual content creation today is video script writing. It’s increasingly becoming evident at a time when millions of videos are added every day to the internet.
We’re not talking about the likes of Antonioni, Kurosawa, or Ray’s films here, where visual imageries and movement without dialogues, in sequence after sequence by itself, had an indelible mark that still continues to mesmerize people all over the world.
The point of interest, here, is the narratives that go along with the videos, mostly non-fiction, on the internet. And the genre has many varieties indeed. Documentaries, corporate promos, educational films, explainer videos, animations you name it. These are essentially informative videos and do necessitate talking the audience through the topic with the maximum possible information in the shortest possible time.
The first 2-3 seconds of a video act like the hooker, or else you have an increased bounce rate. The commentary is a must and so is the video scriptwriting.
Mastering the craft of writing commentary is no wizardry. All that requires is an understanding of the medium of audiovisual and some pattern hunting.
A commentary’s object is to support the audiovisual, and not to overwhelm it. And there comes a few subtle nuances and a need to strike out a balance, or rather find a break-even while writing the script for a video. I’ll also share my experience of making documentary filmmaking and explainer videos.
At the end of this article, we’ll likely have a clearer idea about the following things.
- How to define your AV content within the Non-fiction genre for video script writing?
- How to write persuasive content for informative videos?
- How to write a script for a Documentary?
- Video script writing for Corporate Promo – An instance
How to define your AV content within the Non-fiction genre for video script writing?
We used to refer to the dialogue of the film or telly shows, in the yesteryears, as the video script before the dawn of the internet era. But those days are gone and we’re living within the inter of things.
And the thing which is always up for consumption is audiovisual or video. Apart from the OTT dramas and other fictional stuff, all the videos doing the rounds on the internet is non-fiction. YouTube, the second biggest site traffic, has most of its content in non-fiction.
The sea of the internet is filled with informative videos, a subset of non-fiction. This is very different from the usual screenplay of the fictional production. There comes the need of evaluating the scope of work, in terms of aesthetics and utility as well.
If you’re handed over the task of any video script writing, the first thing you have to assess is what type of video it’s going to be. Whether it’s going to be an explainer video with information to educate the audience, a documentary, or a Corporate film, things come up with different shapes, sizes, and hues for different outputs.
While documentaries and corporate films do require some sort of expertise, and we’ll discuss those later in this article, the kind of non-fiction stuff that dominates the everyday internet is simply informative video. They are made and published on purpose.
Whether you’re uploading free content onto your YouTube channel or a small business renders something on its service or products, it’s important to figure out what you have at your disposal and what you want to produce. Let’s have a breakdown at this stage.
- You’re having to write for an upcoming local playschool for the kids. The tone has to be funny, and entertaining.
- This comes with a problem and its solution. Idea is to present the problem followed by the solution the video offers. A commentary to be in sync with the situation (problem) and the proposition (solution).
- Live-action footage with or without graphics
- Video clips without or without graphics to explain or narrate certain things. Here you would need to write the narrative following the edit or vice versa.
- Host (a person) on camera and voice over
- The host or anchor would talk about something for the audience. Your video script writing effort, here, must consider the target audience as the presenter. Voice-over gets along with no host on camera, seen in the case of Documentaries, Corporate films, and millions of explainer videos online.
While writing a script for a video, you must adopt a conversational tone. It brings your audience close to what you’re putting down in front of them. Defining a type of video also requires you to focus on the goal of the video, most more precisely the message it aims at spreading.
Understanding the goal of the video before writing a script for it
Every video has a purpose. And knowing what purpose it’s exactly going to serve, prior, helps you write better content for it.
Setting a goal for the video, and understanding its purpose makes you get much closer to your audience. Any informational video can be broadly categorized into three different sections.
- It may or may not have a commercial bent. The goal is to persuade the viewer and then turn him/ her into a prospect or returning subscriber. This extends to client acquisition, in case you’re writing for a commercial purpose.
- Training video
- A typical How-To video on virtually anything. Small business owners big corporate non-profits or even content creators like you and me are in the need of making how-tos, at one point or the other. The target is to provide as much information as possible about a product or service in the simplest possible language.
- Informational content
- This bracket has a more general-purpose video meant for educating the viewers on the topic context, and background from multiple perspectives. The sole purpose of the video is to educate the viewers. Once the viewers become satisfied with the content, which you might have written a script for, they turn into returning subscribers increasing the traffic for the site or viewership of the channel. You’re one step closer to client acquisition, congratulation!
So, now you know one thing is evident. Whether you’re writing the script for a commercial video or not, your informative audiovisual content must have the ingredients to convince and persuade people about your topical authority.
How to write persuasive content for informative videos?
Whether you’re trying to motivate, train or just educate the audience, you need to convince and then take them into confidence through video content. And there is a certain approach to winning over your audience through effective communication.
It’s a three-stage approach that you have to put down while writing the video script.
- Reasoning or Argument: usually, it comes first when you take a logical approach with facts and evidence to establish your points. In the case of informative videos on problem-solving, we often see the narrative starts with a difficult situation to address the audience, kind of putting into the viewers’ shoes. It creates a ‘one of us feel among the viewers. You may consider using ‘make sense’ or ‘let’s use our head analyzing…’. This connects even with the viewer who hasn’t undergone such a scenario.
- Case Studies & Testimonials: Whether you’re making a video for your client or just for your own sake, the initial part of the logical approach should follow the support of instances and other layers of information. A testimonial video, in the form of user engagement or an interview on camera, would be perfect to strengthen your point along with raw data. Rationale helps us shape our minds, but that’s not enough. Some instances and a few talking heads could render a humane touch to your cause that nothing else can. Your video script writing, at this stage, should get along nicely building confidence among the viewers and taking them to the final stage of getting on board.
- Emotional appeal or Call to Action: The Call to Action must not be seen as a Call to Action, for non-commercial or educational videos. Even for commercial videos, a subtle, nuanced style of call at the end is often seen these days. And that’s called Inbound Marketing. Here comes the utility of emotional high points, if crafted delicately. Put some lines that could tickle a viewer’s sensation over an imaginative dream-come-true moment or a visualization of ‘luxury and elegance’ or something that could boast his ego with a life statement. These are punchlines at the end. But you have to be very careful about your audience. One blatant paroxysm may disenchant one group while a somewhat nonchalant, veiled call could fail to invigorate viewers requiring a louder message.
Note that, you may find not all that is mentioned above is required for video script writing. A combination of the two often does the work. But segregating your work of script writing with the above-mentioned modes will definitely help you better prepare for writing the script. All you have to do is map your project, topic, or topic cluster into this framework, entirely or approximately.
An instance of a Corporate Explainer – Breaking down its video script
Have a look at this one-minute twenty-second animated explainer. Just follow the script of the commentary.
It has the beginning with an apparently troubled scenario for the transport and logistic business, up to 14-15 sec. It sets the background and prepares the audience with information on prevailing challenges before a section of the small and medium businesses.
Around 16-18 sec, the narrator brings the service of the company, a cloud-based app that can help operate the transport business much more easily, should the operators start using that app. Then the video elaborates on the different features of the app and the advantages of using it.
It takes the audience through the end with a simple catchline (much like a punch line), ‘Your Business in your Pocket’.
So, you get the point. A problem or a prevailing situation, followed by a solution or information on the value-added services or programs followed by a Call To Action, may or may not be emotional.
How to write a script for a Documentary?
Perhaps the most challenging and interesting acre of work for video script writing is Documentary. Possibly, the most creative and arduous of all in the genre of non-fiction, a Documentary calls for all the craftsmanship, skills, vigor, and perseverance to work in unison toward a successful production.
Every documentary has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Within these three divisions are a number of sequences. Roughly, every sequence has a lead-in from the previous one and a lead-out to an incoming or the next one. These sequences could be like anything. Following a character or building up a scenario or on a set of generic info regarding a context.
So you have to write the script accordingly. Here, is one thing I would like to mention and that is, I think, pivotal to creating a successful commentary for a documentary.
Write a script first and then shoot: Perhaps the most followed workflow for newbies or non-professional filmmakers. It’s a strict no for budding filmmakers or the aspirants who want to create films going out of the ambit of text. Since, we all study or go to school, much before taking up a camera, it’s imperative for us to get heavily loaded with the textual scenes set up in our minds than shaping up a narrative according to the visuals. But in filmmaking, visuals are primary and not the text.
If you write and then go to shoot, you’re essentially capturing visuals according to your text. That surely keeps a tab on your photography or videography skills. The best way is to create a structure and then shoot according to the structure. You never know what could come up while shooting non-fiction.
Shoot and then write a script during the post: This is the most widely acknowledged way of documentary filmmaking. And it calls for a separate approach to writing a script. Actually, using the term narrative or commentary is apt in place of a script while referring to a documentary.
After you have gone through the whole rush, on the edit table, you have a number of sequences scrambling, jostling to shape up in your mind. Once you start editing or get in touch with the editor, in case you’re not editing yourself, you have a fair idea about what is coming up or about to come up. Writing a script, or commentary at this stage would be appropriate as it could supplement the visuals.
Writing a script and editing, for a documentary, are best done if they are worked out together. They evolve and shape up together to take an embodiment. During this journey, which is challenging, and agonizing at times, editing and writing a commentary script kind of undergo a battle, adding and subtracting each other.
As an editor-turned-director, who writes for his own film, I must admit one thing at this point. This is usually possible in the case of small to medium-level production, where you take up the responsibility of editor as well as scriptwriter. For big-budget documentaries, editors don’t write the commentary. But the workflow more or less remains the same.
How to prepare?
Don’t get overwhelmed. It’s easy. As I said, there will always be a beginning, a middle, and an end. When you write a script for a documentary, irrespective of whether you are both the editor-writer or just the scriptwriter, you have to segregate each sequence into a chunk.
Start with any sequence that you find most easy to think about or talk about. Remember, filmmaking is a non-linear approach. So you can easily pick up sequence 2 or 4 before sequence 1 or 3. Once you get to the rhythm of any sequence, you would feel thoughts coming seamlessly, though with bumps.
For any sequence, focus on a single thread and then swell it with a layer of information. It’s particularly useful as a technique with a character in the center of a sequence. You introduce him/ her, over a visual of him/ her at work or engaged in something. Allow the talking head thereafter and then, if required, and then use transitional lines to move to the next sequence.
I can share an instance of a transitional line with you right now. Not sure which episode it was of the series ‘Plant Earth, where Sir Attenborough was narrating an animal species on a certain mountain or jungle. Suddenly he said (roughly, what I remember), ‘ But to see his cousin, we have to go to another part of the World’. And then follows another sequence with a different scene setting.
This line is a transitional line that prepares the audience for an incoming sequence, where there could change of topic or context.
Possibly, this was the first edit of mine independently, back in 2008. I didn’t write the script, but I can still remember it was written when the edit was over more than halfway or so. You can clearly see, there are two case studies and one visual montage in between as a filler. Even within an eight-minute film, there is a beginning, a middle, and an end.
There is a beginning establishing the backdrop of the story, followed by the storytelling. All through, the commentary goes in sync with the visuals, supplementing and strengthening the points. It was a short, produced on a community development program. This type of film is usually heavily narrated. I had to insert fillers in between for some relief.
To sum up…
- The Beginning-Middle-End structure usually encompasses problem, conflict, and resolution.
- Establishing a character within a sequence, anchoring him/ her as the pivot.
- Use of transitional lines to switch to another sequence from one.
Write for the beginning and end at the end of the scriptwriting, unless you are flashed with something amazing like poetry.
Video script writing for Corporate Promo – An instance
Let’s watch out for a corporate promo first and then dissect it.
It’s not the best of the corporate films I have seen, but it’s a typical one that we can talk about.
The video starts with a few VFXs without any voice-over. Then comes the narration, asking questions to the audience. This section pushes the audience to seek out a solution. Typical of a corporate brand, they are here to do business right!
Right from 20-sec, the narrator put the company in front, telling how its journey began. Since this point, he takes the audience to nearly the end explaining the ‘contributions’ it made.
There is no direct ‘Call To Action’ at the end but a catch line, sort of. And that’s reasonable. It’s a Corporate film, where the objective is to promote its brand, by showcasing its achievements.
Again, if we figure out the pattern, first you have to throw a few questions or put forward a scenario that demands a solution, some sort of answer. Then comes the solution or a set of solutions. So basically, the structure of your video script writing must fit into a framework of conflict and resolution or issues and resolution.
Like acquiring every skill, video script writing too requires practice and a cerebral effort. It’s more like figuring out a pattern for the production you’re working on and then writing the commentary for it.
Though every video is different, in terms of spreading a message or the purpose or the targeted goal, there are certain categories under this non-fiction genre. Getting into the rhythm of the kind of videos you’re working on is the first part of the script writing assignment. It helps you chalk out the trajectory of writing, and design the layout.
Once, you get to the structure of the assignment, you’re likely to have a pace. Let me again reiterate that filmmaking is a non-linear process. And the point is most filmmakers or scriptwriters instinctively try to think linearly at the beginning of their careers. I did it too. Because that’s very humane. When we write, we think before we write, and that thought process is linear. Since filmmaking is not linear and scriptwriting is a subset of filmmaking, you have to get accustomed to a non-linear way of scriptwriting.
Whether the video script writing work is for a documentary, a corporate promo, or an explainer video for online marketing or e-learning material, you must start with a single thread and then propagate various shoots following other structural threads.
Finally, a habit of reading would always sharpen your skill for staying ahead in the competition. Perhaps the least technical among all the skill sets required for video production, script writing only demands your penchant for writing.
Video script writing is a highly demanding skill and you could earn a decent amount of money if you could become an expert.
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