Craft your scripts as you would sharpen a blade.

Writing tip #8

Junior copywriters generally get hired for showing a little splash of talent. And then they get thrown into the ocean and expected to swim with sharks from day one.

There’s some method to finding out who can Mick-Fanning-a-Great-White-in-the-scone and who simply becomes chum in the water, but due to the ever dwindling resources and budgets available in agencies, there’s less and less ‘showing the ropes’.

One of the things no one really shows you how to do is write a script. It sounds crazy, but it’s often something you have to figure out on your own to a degree. So, here’s a few tips to help you start.

(Also, don’t be afraid to ask. Ask to see some previous scripts for reference, and then you’ll at least get a ‘template’ to work from.)

First things first - Use formatting to separate your action from your dialogue. Maybe the action is italicised. Or the dialogue is bold. Different people do different things, but don’t just write your entire scripts as a slab of unformatted text because it’s a fucking nightmare to read.

The simplest thing to do is to write your action or visual descriptors like this. In plain text.

Gary: And then your dialogue like this. Bolded. So it stands out.

Michelle: See how easy it is to read now?

Gary: What.. the.. who are you?

Michelle: I’m Michelle. He just wrote me into the scene.

Gary and Michelle stand in a long, awkward silence. Gary nervously shuffles his feet. Michelle’s eyes dart from side to side.

Gary: You need to get out of my house.

Then when it comes to describing your scenes, be as economical as possible. Keep your descriptions short, sharp, and punchy. One thing a lot of writers tend to do is say ‘we see’, ‘we see’, ‘we see’, over and over again. Or ‘we cut to’, ‘we cut to’, ‘we cut to’. You can do this, but it’s not really necessary. I would suggest opening with a ‘we see’, or ‘we open’, and then just say what you want the viewer to see.

We open on a rural farm. The morning sun peeks over the hills. Strands of wheat blow gently in the breeze. An older couple, maybe in their 60s, are sitting out on the deck. They smile eat each other. He sips his morning coffee, she follows.

Now this is potentially overwritten, but I just wanted to show how much of a picture you can paint without saying ‘we see’ or ‘cut to’ or using film jargon. I’m just saying what I want people to imagine. Usually, you’ll have storyboards or scamps to go with your words, but I always try to write my scripts so they don’t need them. The human imagination is powerful enough.

If your idea is dialogue-driven, then you need to whittle things down even further. I’m talking ‘Yugoslavian-apartment-building’ brutalism. But within your economical approach, spark interest where possible so the audience leans in and listens to the following dialogue.

We’re in a psychologist’s office. A psychologist stares intently, one eyebrow curiously raised. Opposite her, an eager young couple. In their lap, a raccoon.

I don’t know about you, but I really want to know what happens next.

You could even go as far as just saying.

We’re in a psychologist’s office.

And then jump straight into dialogue.

We’re in a psychologist’s office.

Psychologist: So, tell me about… was it Gerald?

Young Woman: Yes, Gerald.

Opposite the psychologist, sits a young couple. In the woman’s lap is a large raccoon.

As you can see, there’s many ways to play with how you want to build the scene and draw in the viewer. But I would keep focusing on being quick. How fast can you draw someone in to your scenario? This is not only good script writing, it’s how advertising works. We have mere seconds to get people’s attention.

The other thing writers can overlook is sound. If something audio-related is key to the scene, you can sometimes include this in your visual descriptor like so.

We’re in a psychologist’s office. A psychologist stares intently, one eyebrow curiously raised. We hear a strange hissing sound. Opposite her, an eager young couple. In their lap, a raccoon.

If we’re just talking general soundscapes and atmosphere, then I would add a line under the visual descriptor like this. SFX is shorthand for ‘sound effects’.

SFX: Birds chirping. Gentle murmuring of a crowd. The hissing of a raccoon. Or whatever other scene setting ambiance you desire.

This is a very short introduction to script writing, I could go on forever but don’t want to make these posts too long, so hopefully it’s somewhat helpful for someone.

The general rule is that your scripts should be easy to read and captivating to listen to. Try to cut them down to fit on one page. If you’re writing a very visual script, then you’ll likely go over, but outside that - edit, edit, edit. Write the script in a way that hooks people in and demands their attention. Avoid the wee see’s and we cut to’s, unless they are required, minimise film jargon unless it genuinely helps, instead just say what you want people to imagine. Always read everything out loud as you’re writing, and cut out the words and lines that aren’t selling your idea. And format them in a way that is easy for ANYONE to follow - most importantly, your clients.

Keep practicing, keep writing, and don’t be afraid to ask your senior writers and CD’s for help and feedback.


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