Ask fifty different creatives about their process and you’ll likely receive fifty different answers. One might tell you he wakes at dawn and works until noon. Another might champion the idea of working late at night and yet another might tell you nine-to-five is perfect. And while each has their own opinion about the form of the process, one fact remains true, there’s always a process. The well-known science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler has this to say about writing,
“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”
We couldn’t agree more with Octavia and have developed a process for developing scripts that consistently produces great results. Our process is unique to how we collect and communicate information, but it’s a great place to start if you’re interested in writing.
Step 1: Discovery
In order to write about something effectively, you need to know that thing inside and out. If it’s a business, that information comes in the form of their values, goals, thoughts, needs, desires, tone, personality, aesthetics, and more.
This process normally begins with a meeting. One of our producers and a writer will meet with the client and talk for thirty minutes to an hour, focusing on subjects that aren’t apparent on their website. Who’s the target customer? What are future goals that we can help accomplish? Do you want something funny or serious? What’s the attitude of your ideal customer?
EXAMPLE: The answers to these questions can be seen clearly in the final product. In our recent explainer video for DataFi, their team wanted to reach CFOs of construction companies, bankers, and inspectors. All three target customers have serious jobs, and they wanted the video to play into that disposition—serious topic, straightforward script.
Next, the writers read every word of copy on our client’s websites and take copious notes on anything that might be relevant. Do they try to make jokes? Is their language lighthearted? Do they use any metaphors?
After collecting information from every source possible, we move into the brainstorming phase.
Step 2: Brainstorming
Taking all the information gathering in the discovery phase, the writer then starts building ideas in her head about how to communicate the story well. We like printing all of our notes and putting them on a table; there’s something stimulating about having all your information on paper right in front of your eyes.
We’ll begin to ask questions about what metaphors might illustrate this story best, how the information all connects, and the most important aspects.
EXAMPLE: When we produced Claris Networks HIPAA explainer video, we knew they wanted something playful and interesting and their target customer was the CTO of a large organization. Based on data, we knew the average CEO of a large company started their position at fifty years old. We could assume that CTOs would reach their position around the same age, so the introduction of HIPAA in 1996 would have happened during their career. From there, we asked ourselves “what else happened in 1996?” We had our hook—something to start the video that was interesting and reached out target demographic.
Brainstorming isn’t about building an idea from scratch, it’s about using the blocks of information you have gathered in the discovery phase to build a solid foundation for the rest of the film.
Step 3: Drafting
It’s time to put some words on paper. Drafting isn’t about creating a perfectly polished script or even complete thoughts. Drafting helps us create a collection of ideas that might exist in the final script. It’s important to write down everything that enters your mind, because deleting something is a lot easier than remembering it later.
As you may have noticed, scriptwriting requires the writer to ask a lot of questions. It turns out, the drafting stage really only has one important question,”what’s the problem (client) is trying to solve?” Every idea you put on paper should directly or indirectly we related to the answer to this question.
EXAMPLE: When writing the DataFi script, we identified the problem they were trying to solve as an outdated system for lending management. Based on this answer, every paragraph we wrote was designed to illustrate a new, more efficient way of managing lending.
When we’re drafting, it’s common to write ideas entirely out of order. Yes, there’s an outline we are trying to follow, but sometimes ideas don’t come in the order of the outline. We’ve, many times, found ourselves drafting the last two paragraphs of a script before anything else. Let the ideas flow in whatever order they come, the next stage is for getting all your ducks in a row.
Step 4: Compiling
This is where all your moments of scripting brilliance come together into something that tells your client’s story. Taking all your paragraphs from drafting, you put them together and then ruthlessly cut everything that’s unnecessary.
“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” – Dr. Seuss
We find it’s incredibly important to bring in a second pair of eyes for the compiling stage. The writer is attached to their writing and will have a hard time looking at it objectively. A second editor helps you decide what’s necessary and what’s just fluff.
It’s worth noting that it’s not uncommon for the part you most like about your script to be entirely unnecessary. Stephen King has some nice words relating to this,
“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
Editing is easily the most important step in writing of any kind and especially important in scriptwriting—you only have an allotted amount of time to communicate your ideas. Find an editing partner who can help you determine what’s helpful and what’s not.
Step 5: Revising
As with any client work, it’s nearly impossible to see things exactly as the client sees them, so there will likely be some revisions that need to be made to your script. It’s easy to view making these changes as hurtful to your original script, but it’s important that you banish those thoughts from your head. As a scriptwriter, your job is to communicate your client’s message, not polish your ego.
That being said, it is important to help your client understand the reasoning behind all of your ideas. When we first send a client a script, we attach a document explaining the reasoning behind every decision we made throughout the script. If the client still disagrees with our direction, then we were probably wrong.
We’ve written a lot of scripts to hone the process described above and believe that it works in every situation. However, the most important step in the process for any person looking to write scripts is one not listed—practice.
It doesn’t matter if you follow our process word for word, if you’re not practicing writing on a regular basis, you’ll likely find it hard to discover the right words.
If you have any more questions about our process, send us an email!