A great brand video starts with a great video script, whether you’re making a commercial or explainer video. Voiceover, music, visuals—these devices enhance your story, but that story needs to be on paper first. Your creative team can only do so much to enhance your vision, so it’s important to give them a strong foundation.
For that reason, there’s a great deal of responsibility at this stage of the video production process. If you haven’t written a video script before (or aren’t very confident about the draft you have at hand), don’t despair. We’ve created plenty of videos, so we know what will make the process easier and save headaches down the road.
9 Steps to Write a Great Video Script
To save you stress, we’ve broken the video script process down into simple steps. Each builds on the next, so you set yourself up for success from the very beginning. We hope you find this guide helpful (and we’d love for you to share your final product with us, too!). Ready to dive in? Let’s go.
Step 1: Outline Your Goals
Don’t dive straight into writing (it’s a surefire way to end up in rewrite after rewrite), and don’t start with your outline either. Before you do either of those things, you need to know exactly what your goals are, as they will influence your story.
To start, answer these questions:
- Why do I want to tell this story?
- What’s my angle?
- Who will be watching this?
- What should they take away from this?
- Why will they care about this story?
- What value will this provide?
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 outline.
Step 2: Craft Your Story Outline
Lack of story is the number one problem we see with brand videos. It is smart to start with an outline, but sometimes writers basically translate that outline to script form, forgetting to turn it into a story. Remember that your brand video is meant to help you achieve a specific goal, but it can only do that if you are engaging the viewer. Story is the secret to getting and keeping their attention.
(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.)
At this stage, you want to focus on fleshing out an outline that features a narrative arc, one that builds interest and satiates the human need to know what happens next.
To help you distill your story, here’s a simple exercise: Write the core story using just five sentences. This forces you to create the “story” skeleton, which you can flesh out later.
Step 3: Build Out the Story
Now comes the fun part (depending on how masochistic you are). You need to flesh out the story, include necessary details, and create a cohesive piece. A few tips to do this:
- 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 viewer 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 viewer. 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.
- Set up 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 viewer can feel invested.
Note: If you’re feeling creatively stuck, you might want to try these 7 exercises for better copywriting. You can also check out our roundup of 101+ copywriting resources, which features tons of tools and tricks to help you break your writer’s block.
Example: 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.
Step 4: Cinch Your Closer
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 momentum 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 viewer 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.
Example: 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.
Step 5: Pretend You’re the Viewer
Once you have your core story, it’s time to flip the script (literally) and review it from your viewer’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 people connect to it.
Take a pass and review your video script through their lense.
Will they understand the concepts presented? Write to their knowledge level. 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, you have an advantage. If it’s not, you need 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 viewer isn’t used to hearing. Look for any words that may need to be replaced.
Step 6: Take a Pass for Tone
Tone is a huge part of your video script. It conveys the emotion behind the story and communicates who you are and how people 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 viewer’s expectations—if it’s appropriate for your brand.
Example: 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% sure 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.
Example: 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).
Step 7: 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: A good video script packs 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.
Example: 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.
Step 8: 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 in your head. Record yourself speaking the dialogue and listen back.
- Read your video 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.
Example: 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.
Step 9: 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 video script, whether it’s to proof or punch up.
A good exercise here is to make the pitch to a colleague, friend, or target viewer 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.
Remember: 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. At the same time, it’s important that your beautiful script is brought to life through a stellar creative execution.
To make sure the process goes smoothly from start to finish, educate yourself and your team about best practices. A few tips to get you started:
- Find out why you need a strong online video strategy to make sure your project is a success.
- Avoid these common video production mistakes (which we, unfortunately, learned the hard way).
- Get inspired by these examples of creative explainer videos.
- Learn how to create motion graphics in four steps.
- Find more tips on everything from scripting to how to act on set in our interactive e-book, The Content Marketer’s Guide to Brand Video.
If you need a little help creating your videos, make sure you have the right creative partner. Find out how to choose the right video agency, and read our 10 tips to get the best work from the one you choose. We’re always here to help you bring your vision to life, too.