By Shawn Forno
I’ve written every day for years.
But that doesn’t make it any easier to come up with new story ideas or blog post topics on a daily basis. Writing a video script is hard. Creativity is the enemy. You need to limit yourself with boundaries and rules.
That’s right – rules. Set limits. Fence in your imagination. Commit to a single format. It sounds counterintuitive, but your video script needs more structure than a word-count or run-time.
A writer’s mind is a hot ball of unfocused nonsense. Set rigid limits on your story at the outset to help you hack away the untamed bramble of too many options. Embracing limits removes obstacles. It sounds like something Yoda would say, but I call the technique, “The Restriction Method,” and awesome, it is.
If I ask you to draw an owl you’d probably suck at it. You’d give up after a few minutes, not even finishing. Or you might sketch a flamingo with big eyes. That’s ok. Not many people can draw an owl. Even “artists” might have a tough time without referencing a few books. Owls are super weird-looking…
But what if I told you to draw an owl using only circles and triangles? You’re not allowed to draw straight lines. Just circles and triangles. Even if you still feel overwhelmed, (some people hate drawing), the task is doable because you can at least picture the steps.
Yes, there’s still work involved – there are no shortcuts, only faster paths – but the challenge quickly becomes – not can you draw an owl, but what does your owl look like. Here’s mine:
Setting this simple design limitation prompts a fresh burst of confidence and creativity. I’ve never drawn an owl before, but I kind of like my circle triangle attempt. I made my first owl ever, simply because I defined my limits to the simplest possible shapes.
Once you remove confusing elements – shading, texture, owl anatomy, composition, framing, etc. – you can just draw the owl. You stop thinking of the problem – “I can’t draw” – and focus on the simple solution – I can draw circles and triangles. Next thing you know you’re done.
That’s video script writing.
I write scripts for a number of products from companies in every sector, and there is nothing sexy about IT department management systems. But my job as a script writer is to find a way to tell every client’s story in the most compelling way possible. So I start every project by asking three simple questions to limit the story:
1) How many characters?
The simplest narrative setup is always two characters. One character might seem like an easier script choice (one is less than two, am I right?), but expressing action, emotion, and development is difficult without a foil.
2) How many locations?
Keep the script to one location if possible. Simple interior shots limit the scope of the background animation, and keep the story focused on your characters, not the pretty landscape.
3) How long is it?
Most good explainer videos are 90 seconds or less. Short scripts force you to get to the point, and hook viewers without preamble. If you think you need more time, take stuff out. I promise you – shorter is better.
They’re not mind-blowing questions, but they get my creative process moving in the right direction – toward getting a video script started. Just get something down – you can always add more triangles and swoopy lines later, once you have a framework.
99 Problems, but a Script ain’t One
After you’ve established these parameters, all your script needs is a conflict. This is the final question for planning your video. I simply ask, “What’s wrong with my protagonist?”
Give your protagonist a flaw, like a shiny red nose. The conflict then becomes how to turn this flaw into a strength. Once you establish that detail – the red nose – the script practically writes itself, and Santa delivers all the toys to the kids, despite the worst storm the North Pole’s ever seen.
Script writer’s use this obvious trope time and time again, because it works.
A duck grows up hideous only to learn that he is a graceful swan.
Rapunzel’s long hair weighs her down, but is the means of her escape from the tower. In Tangled she even uses it as a weapon.
Every X-Men character ever.
Set the boundaries of your story early – “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” – then get into it. Set your limits, give your hero something to overcome, and you’re on your way.