How to Write a Great Video Script in Four Easy Steps

A person holding a C clapper board behind a desert background.

What is a video script?

Remember when you were in first grade and you stood up in front of class for show and tell? Then you forgot what to say and you blushed and sat down?

Video is show and tell for adults. And a good video script is what turns you from the nervous kid who doesn’t know what to say into the class star with the amazing turtle. Video scripts exist to make you think up what needs to be said, and to make you throw out all the things that don’t need to be said.

Do I really need to write a video script?

Yes, absolutely.

Now then: Your video ad script does not have to be in the classic old Hollywood script format with the “Act one, scene one” in bold type, followed by “A herd of camels races across the desert” and then all the dialogue (“Here come the camels!”) carefully indented.

If you do want to write it that way, fine. But the format isn’t important. The real key when you write a YouTube script or video ad script is to record the two basics: What the viewers will see and what they’ll hear. As long as you’ve got those two things planned out, in a way that is easy to read, then your video script will be fine.

Do influencers write scripts for their YouTube videos?

You bet. Oh, they don’t sit down and write “Fade in on a suburban bedroom…” But they do make notes, on their phones or in their heads, and have a plan. In particular, they plan out: What’s going to happen? What will be shown and what won’t? How long will the video be? How will it end?

Some influencers “write” their video scripts on the fly, simply by redoing the video again and again, flubbing and changing until they get it right. Maybe you have all day and night to do that yourself. If so, great! If not ― if you’ll be doing your shoot at work or on a professional soundstage ― you’ll want your script to be in top shape before you hit ‘record.’

How to write a script for a video in four easy steps

The rules for writing a great video script will vary depending on the video. Maybe you’re writing a B2B script for content marketing, or maybe you’re writing the latest Hallmark Channel holiday romance. (Hope those two don’t look alike.)

But if you’re wondering how to write a script for video, these four basic rules will help you get started.

1) Picture first, then words. It’s VIDeo, not AUDio. It all starts with what people see. If you’ve got an amazing turtle, your viewers want to SEE the turtle.

So start your video script by thinking about what the camera will show. Will you show product screens? Will there be a host? Will we see the host on location (like outside your offices) or will we see them just standing or sitting at a desk?

Above all: how can you show what you need to say, rather than saying it? If it’s a video explainer script, can you stop talking and just show the steps? Can you spice things up with animations? Get your visuals in order and everything else will flow from that.

2) Use simple words. Look, it’s business, so you may end up with some awkward long words like optimization and quarterly reporting. But your narrator will find it much easier to bring friendliness and vibrancy if the words are short and punchy. The more you can keep your words short, the more viewers will lock in and pay attention.

3) It’s too long. Cut it down. Your script is too long. Every movie script, YouTube script, and video ad script is too long at first. That’s been true ever since Gone With the Wind and King Kong

Now it’s more true than ever. Two decades ago, the average viewer’s attention span for a given screen was 2½ minutes. Today it’s 47 seconds. Tik-Tok users even say that videos over 60 seconds long are “stressful.” You’ve got your work cut out for you.

So once you finish your first draft, go through and do two things: First, look for any sentence, or any entire section, that doesn’t absolutely have to be there. If you think, “Maybe this could be cut,” then DO cut it. Then go through again and look for every place where you can combine two sentences and two thoughts into one. (Then cut a little more.)

4) Circle back to the turtle. Video is a repetitive medium. Remember how much you liked Sesame Street and the Teletubbies? Those shows were built on repetition of images and ideas. That’s how kids remember, and it’s how adults remember, too. Don’t be afraid to repeat key points.

So if you started your video explainer script with a good hook ― say, about doing show and tell with a turtle in the first grade ― be sure you circle back to that same idea at the end, maybe with a reference to Sesame Street. Remind viewers that a good video script is just show and tell on a bigger scale. Circle back to the turtle and you’ll drive home your message and give the viewer a satisfying sense of completion. 

That’s it! That’s how to write a script for a video. Good luck!

ABOUT Fritz Holznagel

Fritz Holznagel is a veteran writer who likes to turn high-tech talk into clear, friendly words. He has written for Google, full-time and as a vendor, since 2004, as well as for clients like Ensono, Eventbrite, Kronos, GiveDirectly, and Intuit. Fritz’s special joy is rewriting to get rid of big words and jargon, and he leads corporate workshops on the topic. In a past life, Fritz won the 1995 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions, represented the USA in the 1996 Jeopardy! Olympic Tournament, and won an Emmy for scripting the CBS special A Claymation Easter Celebration.