Script Writing: What You Need to Know to “Feel Good” about It

By Alvin Motilla

The idea of writing a script can also feel good, like being on a beach.


It has something to do with your “love-hate relationship” with script writing.

What do you mean?

Here’s what I mean…

Is it not true that you want to learn this kind of writing, because you believe it will help you…

  • Make better videos?
  • Show your audience more clearly what you want to say?

That is your “love” relationship with script writing. You’d love to learn it because of those reasons.



What about “hate”?


Good question! :-)

Is it not true also that… you have uneasy feeling toward the idea of writing a script? You know…

“Ughh, it’s so hard to do it!”


Right?

So, it’s not something you can easily enjoy, like relishing your favorite ice cream. ;-)

It’s an act that feels more like a burden. But you’re obliged to do it because certain video projects need it.

And even the simple thought of “writing”—you already have this impression…

“Ughh, it’s a headache!”

Same discomfort is associated with this kind of writing for video production.

And that is what you “hate” about it!



But it doesn’t mean you won’t ever…

  • feel comfortable about writing a script, and
  • appreciate it.

I read a quote somewhere that says…

The more you know about your subject, the more you become interested in it.”

Along those lines, my intent for writing this article is to give you pieces of info that would help…

  • relieve your negative feelings about pre-production script writing, and
  • make you “feel good” about it.

So that…

“The more you know about writing a script, the more you become interested in it.” :-)

Quick bird's eye view:




So to help you “let go” of that uneasy feeling, here’s my bits of…


Advice on script writing



  1. Understand where that discomfort is coming from.

  2. Don’t think of it as script writing.

  3. Understand the meaning of writing a script.

Now, let’s talk about them one by one…

1. Understand where that discomfort is coming from.

Let’s begin by considering first…

"Writing" in general

Why do we feel bad about it?

I think it has something to do with our school education. We learned too many rules of writing… as if the goal of writing is to “impress” highbrow professors and grammarians.

So, there’s too much formality and complexity in our writing. Readers find our words either hard to grasp, or awkward-sounding. And we don’t feel good about it.

Writing has become unnecessarily difficult. I’m not saying, though, that it’s very easy to do!



But if you think about it, whether you…

  • “talk”, or

  • “type”

… the very intent is the same—you’re saying something to someone, in a way that he, or she, will easily understand. In other words,…

You want to communicate CLEARLY to a fellow human being.

A quote about communicating clearly to a fellow human being. By videoauteur.com.


And that, my friend, we all have to remember.



Now what about…

"Script writing" in particular

Why do we feel like it’s a burden?

Here’s what I notice:

  • We hear others say, “It’s very complicated”. And we blindly accept it. And…

  • We tend to mix up different kinds of script writing. For example,… 

… You may have confused  “fiction” with “nonfiction”. To help you draw the line between the two…

Nonfiction script writing may include:

  • writing for events,

  • writing for music videos that feature “real” people, and

  • writing for serious documentaries.

On the other hand…

Fiction script writing intends to make videos like:

  • narrative short films,

  • teleplays—like TV series and episodes, and

  • feature films or movies.

If you notice, simply looking at these kinds of script writing already tells you that:

- there are differences among them, and that

- you shouldn’t mix them up, because each of them has a single purpose.

For example, if you’re writing a four-minute music video, you know you’re not scripting a two-hour movie. Right?

And that simple awareness keeps you from feeling unnecessarily overwhelmed…

… because you’re focusing on one kind of script writing only.

You’re not trying to do all kinds of it at a time!



My next piece of advice is…

2. Don’t think of it as “script writing”.

Really! No kidding…

… Because we’ve had negative impressions about it already. And to some, the very thought of “writing a script” is already paralyzing.

So why think of something that paralyzes you?



How do I look at “script writing” then?

Great question! :-)

Think of it like, “You’re going on a journey”

… Let’s say it’s your first time to go to a certain place, perhaps by driving a car, or riding a motorcycle--or even a bicycle! :-)…

A quote about scriptwriting as a creative journey. By videoauteur.com.

And let’s pretend for a moment that you’ll not use GPS.

Instead, you really want to open up your senses, and truly observe and feel your surroundings. :-)

… Since it’s your first time to get there, you’re looking for landmarks along the way--based on any research you made about those landmarks that lead to your destination. And, you may be asking a few persons who come across your way…

… In other words, you’re looking for some guide, so that you can arrive at your destination.



Well, script writing is just like that!

You’re also “in a journey”.

What journey?

Your journey of looking for some guide, for making your video presentation!

  • You’re looking for main points to explore and show in your video. And…

  • You’re adding details to the main points, like adding flesh to the bones. And…

  • You’re putting it all down on paper! 

You can say that you have “arrived at your destination”, when you have finished your script.

3. Understand the meaning of writing a script.

I know… you’ll know better what it means to write a script, when you’re actually doing it. Just like what Morpheus told Neo in the movie The Matrix:

“There’s a difference between knowing the path... and walking the path”.

In the same way, there’s also a difference between getting ideas about script writing, and really trying to write one.

But I’d like to share with you, what this kind of writing has meant to me…

To me, script writing is...

  • giving my “take” on a video’s subject, and

  • putting down on paper contents that would picture… “how I see” that subject… to my viewer.

And I find this to be true, whether the subject is based on “reality”, or on “imagination”.

Now, those contents that I put down on paper, serve as my “written script”.

The meaning of “written script”?

It is a “guide” in making a video project.

And who is that for?

Well, your audience will benefit… eventually… from your script. As it helps in putting together, a meaningful video presentation for them.

However, the direct recipient of your script, are the people you’re working with, in making this video. You are communicating this “guide” to them. And they will be prompted by what you specified in your script.

Well, who your “recipient” is, depends on your situation.

For example:

1. If you’re working with a small video production group,…

… then the people who’ll read your script may include the director, the camera operator, the on-camera talents, and the video editor--just to name a few.

But…

2. If you’re making a short video on a shoestring budget, that you’re duty-bound to do almost all the production work,…

… then, the script is mainly for you!

You’re communicating to yourself, your “guide”, concerning the content and flow of your video. In this case, you’re simply making things clearer to you, so that you can also make your presentation clearer to your audience.

What then is…

The meaning of “script writer”?

A script writer is…

  • searching for meaning in different things,

  • thinking of ways to communicate it through video, and

  • deciding on the elements to include—and their arrangement—so that a useful “guide” in producing a video, comes to light.



Now, let’s move on to other info, which would help you feel “at home”, with the idea of writing a script… like this…


Basics in script writing



Let’s say you decided to try it. To practice how to do it. Maybe because you were inspired by the advice I gave you earlier? ;-)

What then are the major guidelines you need to know, before you start practicing writing a script?

To make this really simple and easy for you, I’ll just mention 3 script writing basics, for you to readily think about.

And you’ll notice that… they’re sooo basic. They feel like, they’re just under our noses. We just don’t see them right away…

1 . Your subject dictates the kind of script writing you’ll do.

For example…

If your topic is about:

  • a loved one, or someone you know, or

  • an important moment in your life, or

  • any happening in this world, that you find interesting, or important…

… then, most probably, you’ll be doing, script writing for documentary.

Why?

Because your topic came from “real world”—or “real life”—situations.



Now, if your subject is about:

  • an incident that never happened in “reality”, or

  • something that doesn’t exist in the “physical world”, or

  • someone that nobody else in this planet knows… except you…

… well, most likely, you’re on the track of doing, script writing for fiction.

Why?

Because your topic came from something “imagined”—or something you just made up.

But it doesn’t mean, that topic has no meaning. It has! The fact that it popped into your head, implies that, it has something to say. Maybe in a subtle way.

Also, fiction commonly appears as “narrative”—like short films or movies. We try to create them, mostly because, we want “to entertain” our viewers.

And so, we find ourselves trying to do, script writing for drama.

2 . You may combine elements from 2 distinct worlds, if you wish to.

What worlds?

“The world of reality”, and “the world of fiction”. :-)

How do you combine in your script, elements from those 2 worlds?

Great question! :-) But, hold it for a moment.

Here’s an example…

Let’s say you’ll be doing a documentary about a community of people living on a mountain. One thing that caught your attention, is their claim about a mystery on that mountain…

… They say that some of them, who are walking at late night, will sometimes see a lady. Dressed in pure white. With long loose hair. Standing on the upper part of the mountain...

… And while you’re walking alone, the lady looks at you. Turning her head, to face your direction as you walk. And then, suddenly…

… She disappears!…

… They say they don’t know her. That she doesn’t belong to their community…

… So you decide that your goal for making this video, is to investigate their claim…

… You are even brave enough, to walk at late night on that mountain. Just to see that lady! You even bring a video camera, and a portable light… to record any creepy encounter with her. But…

… No mysterious white lady in sight!

Now, back to your question earlier…

How do you combine in your script, elements from, “the real world”, and “the  fiction world”?

Using our example, you can show in your video…

- the vista of the mountain,

- a day in your life mingling with people, who live on that mountain, and

- your interview with persons in that community, who claim to have seen, “the white lady”.

These are elements from “reality” that you can write in your script.

Why?

Because there’s really a mountain. And community of people living there. And persons who claim to have experienced, something eerie in that place.



Meanwhile…

Neither you, nor the people there, have any recorded video--or even photo--of that creepy lady…

… But you want to “picture” her to your viewers. So you decide to…

- include a re-enactment of someone walking at night, seeing that lady, who suddenly disappears,

- have a few non-professionals, who will act out that creepy encounter,

- stage the scene,
 
- guide your actors, and
 
- shoot the re-enactment by yourself.

These are elements of ‘fiction” that you can include in your script.

Why?

Because there's a scene in your proposed video, that you need to construct and dramatize. Your viewers, then, can better visualize the claim of those people on the mountain.

In this example, you’re on the track of doing, script writing for documentary-drama.



Here’s the third major guideline, or basic in writing a script…

3 . You’re more likely to be doing script writing for documentary.

Why?

Because it is easier to write about a subject from “real life”, than to invent an entirely new “fiction world” from scratch, and write something about it.

And this is truer for someone who wants to practice writing a script. :-)

Now, there are those who think of script writing as, inventing a totally “out-of-this-world” story. Not necessarily.

If you want to feel you could readily, and more practically write a script,…

Just look around.

An observant and curious child.


There are plenty of stories in the “real world”. You just have to notice them…

  • the people that you know, and don’t know,

  • happenings that matter to you--or at least, interest you, and

  • even yourself, your own experiences! (Well, in this case, you need a mirror to begin noticing yourself. ;-) )

You can write something about these things. And make video presentations about them.



So, do you really have to invent everything from scratch?

No?

You’re right!

Except, of course, if you aim to do fiction script writing, right from the start. ;-)

Do you feel now that, little by little, you’re getting comfortable with the idea of writing a script?

I mean, do you feel that, the more you know about script writing, the more you become interested in it? And the more you appreciate it?

I hope so! :-)

Now, let’s make it a little more “comfy”, by knowing these…


Tips about script writing


 

5 essential tips about writing a script.


1. Script writing doesn’t happen… until you know your topic and your audience.

No brainer, right?

But do you know that, in practice, it’s easy for a writer to obsess with the script’s topic? To the point of overlooking the video’s audience?

Same thing could happen to you. And it’s amazing to see yourself…

  • immersed—almost drowned—in your subject, but

  • clueless about your human viewers.

What’s the danger in that situation?

Well, you may able to author a script. With good story. Good info.

But targeted to the wrong people!



Now, you may say…

“Okay, I want many people to see the final video. In fact, anybody!”

The thing is… You really have to choose a specific group, as your audience: Are they kids? Teens? Seniors? (Just to name a few.)

Because…

It is so hard to be “all things to all people”, or to please everyone.

Now, if you know someone who succeeds in being, “all things to all people”… Please, let me know. ;-)

So remember: Be aware of…

  • your subject, and

  • your target viewers

… before you write your masterpiece. :-)

2 . Script writing is a creative process, which involves your heart and your head.

I’d like to share with you a radical view…

… One reason why, as a human, you have heart and head, is that—you need them. Both.

Yes, even for scriptwriting!

To disregard one—because you feel like using only the other—is to sabotage yourself and your work. You’re practically crippling your creative process.

Because…

  • If you use your head only: Your would-be script runs the risk of becoming too cerebral. Dry. Even boring.

On the other hand…

  • If you operate from the heart exclusively: Your future piece would turn out to be too emotional. Cheesy. Even insincere.

And you don’t want to write those kinds of scripts, do you?

So that’s why, you need to engage your heart, and your head, when you’re writing a script.

What do you gain from doing this?

Well, you’ll feel that you’re able to walk nicely, on “the path of creativity”…

… And you arrive at a point where, you’re able to give your script, “just the right blend” of intellect and emotion. Like having, “just the right mix” of coffee and sugar in your cup.

By the way, I prefer to use natural sugar--like muscovado and honey. Not refined white sugar and artificial sweeteners. :-)

What is the effect of this, “right blend of intellect and emotion”, on your viewers?

Your output video will “make sense”, and “feel just right” to them.

3. Your script for documentary is never finished in pre-production.

Or, let me put it this way…

Our common understanding is, “You need to have a complete script, before you start shooting,” right?

But…

If you’ll treat a “real life” subject in video, the script that you’ll have written about it, will not feel really “finished” in pre-production.

Why?

Because there are elements in real life that you can still add… later… to your script. Things that you may not have seen at the outset, but later, you realize their connection to your video presentation.

In other words…

You can move on to shooting videos, even if your docu script is not that full-blown. :-)



For instance, let’s say you’re doing an investigative documentary. If you’re doing well, you’ll discover more about that real life topic you’re dealing with… and shooting videos for. And you can’t help but add more, to what you originally included in your script.

So, your script changes. Your “guide” to completing your real life video develops.

And it’s natural because… “real life” isn’t like an Egyptian mummy, that cannot move anymore. (Well, except those that we see in movies. ;-) )

Real life moves… and flows…

Whether we like it, or not.

Whether we plan within it, or not.

The implication is… if we want our scripts to express insights, that we only get after pre-production, then, we have to…

  • adapt within reality, and

  • open up to, what “the hands of life” would want to write, and add to our scripts—even if we’re already shooting, or editing.

It only makes our documentaries more substantial for our viewers.

Pure fiction script writing is different.

You make up your own fantasy world. You clearly define its boundaries. And within those boundaries, you pour out your story elements over which you have more control.

Your aim is to have a “complete” screenplay, or teleplay—before casting, location scouting, production designing, and filming take place.

Because big money is at stake. Actors and actresses aren’t available, on every occasion. And production crew needs to be coordinated.

So, if you’re writing fiction, you need to come up with a “finished” script that will…

  • guide the latter stages of film, or video production, and

  • decrease the risk of wasted resources, time, and manpower.

4 . Do not obsess with script writing formulas.

Those are templates that some writers use for making their scripts…

  • Each topic they think of, they cast into one of those “molds”.

  • And their “would-be” story elements already have fixed order in those templates.

It’s okay to know those formulas in the beginning. They show you… how others write their scripts.

If you’ve heard about the “three-act structure”, it’s an example of a script writing formula. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry. Knowing its details isn’t a priority now. :-)

It’s enough to know, though, that the three-act structure is a strict pattern for writing fiction.

However…

- Even templates apart from the “three-act”, and

- Even formats for writing documentaries,

if writers consistently use them on every material that they have, those patterns also become formulas.

And yes, you can use them on your own material. Especially at first, when you want to prove to yourself that you can also make a script.

But, as a friendly advice… Please… Do NOT get obsessed with script writing formulas, by always relying on them.

Why?

Because time will come, you’ll find out that formulas WON’T always fit your insights. Many of your insights will cry to have their own

  • flow, and
  • arrangement

… of story elements. Different from what writing formulas dictate.

And to realize this, will depend on how committed you are…

  • to your unique way of seeing your material, and
  • to your inner voice, who has something to say on your subject.



Think about it…

Will you force someone to wear clothes that don’t suit her/him?

Clothing should fit a person’s body-build, right?

Well, the same is true for developing and organizing your story. The content decides its container.

Otherwise…

Your final draft will tend to have FORCED and PREDICTABLE story elements.

Yes, it’s way easier to just use “the box”—or formulas.

But a writer who wants to be true to her/his perceptions and feelings will…

  1. Respect her/his inner voice,

  2. Listen carefully to its message, and

  3. Let it speak to her/him about the unique flow, and direction of the story.

Because a writer, like that, really hungers for clarity. Clarity for her/him is fulfillment. And s/he knows… it would be hard to experience it, if s/he bothers herself/himself with “fixed” ways of structuring a script.

5 . Script writing is still part of a bigger process.

Don’t worry. It’s only a simple reminder. And I don’t have so much to say about it.

Except this… ;-)

Sometimes, we—human beings—become engrossed in what we’re doing. It’s like going deeper, when swimming in the ocean. The activity absorbs us.

Writing a script can absorb you, too. And when you’re immersed, it may feel like you’re writing a script, “Just to enjoy it.” And when you’re done, “That’s it!”

However…

It’s more beneficial if, once in a while, we look at the “context” of what we’re doing.

What I mean is… It helps even more, if we remember that…

  • Script writing is still part of, video production’s preparation stage, and that...

  • The script is going to be used at production… and post-production stages.

Now, in what way does, looking at this context, help us?

It helps us in making our scripts, more useful, to other production people. Because we’re also considering, the latter stages of video making process.



And if we get stuck when writing, sometimes we just need to step back… and, again… look at the “big picture”—or context—of what we’re doing.

Then, somehow, we know our next step…

Somehow, we’re able to move forward again…


Remember…


Script writing is NOT a race.

It is a journey—a creative one.

Yes, it is a delicate process…

… But one BIG reason why it feels unnecessarily complicated is that… [SIGH]… we tend to rushhhhhh it! We tend to go beyond, what our minds can manage with clarity.

In fact, the faster you try to write a script, the more confused you get. And the worse you feel about script writing.



How “fast”—or “slow”—you’re able to do a script, is NOT a gauge of being a “good”—or a “bad”—writer.

Why?

Because some stories will need longer time to, research and write, than others. So it also depends on, the nature of your material.

And we also know that, there are factors in life beyond our control. But we have to allow them… gracefully… if we are to carry on with peace of mind.



What really matters is…

  • how well you’ve been true to yourself,

  • how well you’ve given yourself to this process, and

  • what ends up… on your final draft. :-)


  1. Video Production
  2. Pre-production
  3. Script writing