Tips from a Writer: How to Write a Script for Your Explainer Video
The secret to writing a really good script for your next explainer video is that you don’t start by writing a script.
As the co-founder of small creative agency, I’m also the writer for most of our client’s scripts. I love writing 😍 But I’ve also had a long time to make mistakes and get better at it. So, I’m going to share some tips with you that I’ve learned along the way so you can write a better script for your next explainer video.
1) It all starts with research.
Every project we work on at CatCow starts with an extensive research phase. We get to know the company, its values, its customers, competition and more.
This discovery process always takes place in person/over the phone. But we also give the clients a chance to write it down and fill in any missing details by completing a creative brief.
Always create a brief. It’s a handy tool to come back to when you’re feeling stuck in the writing process.
2) Write this down on a sticky note: Problem, Solution, Benefits.
Note that I didn’t say "features." An explainer video is not a product demo video, so you shouldn’t be showing screenshots of how the product works or talking about this feature or that. We always start distilling the video down into the problem, how it's solved (by the product or service) and how this benefits the viewer's life.
Here’s a real example from a recent client pitch:
Problem: when we're hungry, we need to find the perfect restaurant, quickly
Solution: client app lets you filter through restaurants to find the best place near you
Benefits: we spend less time scouring various sites and getting hangry and more time enjoying food
Now keep that near your screen as you start the writing process.
3) Write a story.
I always start by writing a story. If you jump right into the dialogue, you’re going to miss out on creating that narrative that connects with the viewer.
My stories usually consist in describing the main actions of the video, sometimes I give cues for camera shots, just to help the reader visualize the scene transitions, but this isn't necessary, by any means.
Here’s a real example of a story I wrote for a client pitch:
“Camera opens on a pair of hands trying to light a match on a matchbox. We hear the sound of the match striking several times unsuccessfully against the box. *chk, chk, chk*
The shot zooms out and shows a campground scene with two children sitting around an unlit campfire expectantly holding hot dogs on a stick. The father is holding the unlit matches, still attempting to light them, while his wife watches on, impatiently tapping her foot. Then, we hear a thunder crack, the blue day turns grey and starts to downpour. Everyone looks miserable.
The scene transitions to a woman tourist walking down a busy city street. Neon signs rise up around her flashing “eat here”, “all-you-can-eat-buffet”, “lunch special”, the woman looks around, hopelessly lost in this urban jungle of restaurants.
The scene splits in two to show both scenes side-by-side. The man is now huddled under an umbrella with his family and whips out his cell phone, the woman pulls a tablet out of her backpack. As they scroll through their devices, their faces brighten and they are smiling. The camera turns and zooms in on their screens and we see what they are looking at: beautiful food photos, the ability to filter “kid-friendly”, “wine”, etc.
The camera zooms in on one of the dishes on the screen and zooms back out to show that same dish sitting on a restaurant table with the characters eating happily at the restaurant they’ve found.”
4 - Now write the narrator dialogue.
Now that you’ve got this mental picture in your head about the characters and their problems - it’s time to match it with a narrator dialogue (or not! Sometimes a narrator isn’t necessary but let’s just assume it is this time.)
What not to do: Do not, under any circumstances, start with “ <<person name>> has a problem” - don’t name your characters. The viewer needs to be able to see themselves as this character and place themselves in their shoes. Also, thousands of videos start in that same way. It’s over-used and not unique. And your product is unique, isn’t it?
How you should start: Writing comes from inspiration. And that can come out of nowhere. So, here's how I start to conjure up inspiration.
Imagine the first scene. Campground. Family. Hunger waves. And the second. Tourist. Unknown city. Feeling light-headed. What do they have in common? They’re hungry and they don’t know where to eat (our problem). They had one set of plans that didn’t work out and now they’re slightly desperate - aha! Let’s start with that:
Narrator: Life doesn’t always cooperate when you’re hungry. And finding a good restaurant can be like searching for the holy grail.
See? We’re avoiding being literal. Literal would be “The Jones family camping trip didn’t work out as planned!” - We can see that from the animation, we don’t need you to tell us again. Plus it’s super lame and cheesy. Don’t make your company look cheesy.
Now let's introduce the solution - but please try to avoid "introducing <brand name>" or "but not anymore, thanks to <brand name>".
Narrator: But don’t get hangry. Just get <<client app>>
Now they know the solution, we've got to show how it's beneficial for them, how it will change their lives.
Narrator: With <client app> you quickly find restaurants near you that have everything you want. Because a good meal is a good day.
5) Now go back and rewrite it.
What I wrote above is not the final version. From here, I'd revise it, add more, change parts around and most importantly - read it aloud. Read it to your cat, your mom. Show it to the client. And revise it a lot. Until it’s perfect.
Which it will be, because you've followed my tips!