My first introduction to the power of video was a 10-minute production from Khan Academy, a nonprofit organization that delivers online learning tools. As a math nerd, I was mesmerized by Sal Khan slowly and meticulously explaining how to solve simultaneous equations.
That explainer video stayed with me. So years later, when the opportunity to write scripts for videos came up, I pounced.
Even if you love writing blog posts and whitepapers, too much of a good thing can sometimes devolve into a drag. The good news is that you, too, can learn how to write a script for video—and add a new kind of content writing to your mix-and-match freelance offerings.
Before you dip your toe in the water, here are a few things to keep in mind.
How to write a script for video
I once visited a website where a single video relayed every piece of information for the brand: About Us, Contact Us, and other info you’d expect to find on a landing page. I guess the producer had heard that video was a popular format and decided that one video would do. Needless to say, I was outta there in a hurry.
It’s important to know why you are creating the content in the first place.
There’s a reason why written content is popular—it’s easier to produce. When considering how to write a script for video, the first step is to understand why the brand is choosing the format. Is the content meant to be a direct sales pitch? An explainer that complements a blog post? Understanding the “why” will sharpen your focus—and your writing.
Speak to the audience in simple language
Tailoring the message to your target audience is especially important in video. The reason why Khan Academy videos are so wildly popular is that they’ve figured out their audience—beginner (and sometimes confused) students—and they tailor their content to match.
Another best practice is to abstain from utilizing manifold, convoluted catchphrases full of jargon. (See what we did there?) Your audience has the attention span of a gnat. Don’t lose it with overly flowery language. Be sure to use plenty of illustrative examples in your script.
Start with an outline
Video scripts have a few things in common with longform writing. For one, an outline can be hugely helpful.
No matter the length of the video, the first step is to figure out the broad story arc. Then, you’ll want to divide it into “must-cover” sections. Having an outline ahead of time will help you hit all the key points while keeping the overall cadence in mind.
Consider the length of the video
Another similarity to longform writing? When learning how to write script for video, remember that the word count matters. After all, you don’t want your video to sound like the rushed, out-of-breath disclaimers on a pharma commercial.
For a regular speech cadence, estimate about 150 words per minute of video.
From a freelancer’s perspective, one challenge when learning how to write a script for video is translating the length into an actual word count. For a regular speech cadence, estimate about 150 words per minute of video.
Give props to props
Videos don’t have to feature a lot of cuts or action shots—but there has to be some way to maintain visual interest. This is where props can come in handy. The Khan Academy math videos relentlessly focus on a blackboard—but the writing on that blackboard changes every time. This makes the video dynamic.
When writing for video, the visual element means you sometimes have to think like a director. You have to consider stage direction and think visually. What images will best represent the copy? Who is the main character going to be? How many scene breaks do you need? Your video script will likely include directions for how and when to incorporate these additional “stagehand” directions.
Get comfortable working with design teams
With traditional writing, you can usually count on a couple of back-and-forths with your editor, and that’s a wrap. Learning how to write a script for video can come with its own set of challenges. It may require a longer commitment than you originally expected with many tweaks along the way. You might be asked to work closely with designers, and it might take some time—weeks or even months—to align your joint vision.
Don’t fall for these video scriptwriting myths
Finally, there are a few common misconceptions when it comes to how to write a script for video. Here are three big ones to dispel:
1. Writing for video is easier
Writing for video can seem like a lighter lift than penning blog posts or feature stories. But that’s not always the case.
Video assignments remind me of the time when, many years ago, I worked full-time as a technical writer. One of the most challenging parts of my job was getting engineers to explain advanced concepts in plain language. “Pretend I’m a high schooler,” I’d say, “What should I know?” Most engineers fumbled. One scratched his head and sighed, “Good God, This is really difficult.”
Video scriptwriting can feel the same way. It’s sometimes challenging to be succinct and think of the content in a new way. But that’s half the fun!
2. You can repackage a blog post as a video—verbatim
As tempting as it might be to move old wine into new bottles, a blog post does not usually make good video content. Even if the audience is the same, the cadence and sentence structure for video are markedly different. So while blog post themes can serve as a broad template, avoid a direct cut and paste.
3. Rates are based on video lengths
Blog posts and whitepapers usually follow a predictable pricing format for freelancers. Videos are a different beast altogether. It’s a good idea to factor word count into the final price, but don’t stop there. Knowing that there will be multiple rounds of edits—and that you might be roped in for design and production—should factor into your final rate.
If you’re a bit worn out by the same old, same old, give video scriptwriting a whirl. You might just find a whole new way to exercise your brain. As a bonus, you might also land a new source of revenue.