“Fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of an animated explainer scriptwriter...”
So... that’s not how the story goes, but it does illustrate the point that writing explainer scripts often throws up all sorts of surprises. But let’s not get too wrapped up in fairy tales and blood-thirsty giants just yet. Because after all, it’s just a few words, right? Usually about 200 for a 90-second animated explainer. How hard can it be?
What could possibly go wrong?
If you want to write an explainer script that attracts people, fuels their interest and inspires them to keep watching, you could do a lot worse than start with our five golden rules. Then break them, bend them and ignore them. Because what are rules for if not for breaking? Like climbing the beanstalk; nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Golden Rule Number 1 - Use a structure
Freytag’s pyramid and the Hero’s Journey are awesome story structures, but if they don’t feel right for your video, try using this four-part structure instead?
- Problem (and pain with it)
- Promise - where you introduce a solution to the problem and pain
- Proof - where you reveal the most salient features and benefits of the solution
- Action - where you ask the audience to take the next step
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to spill all your beans in an explainer script either. If you tell us Jack sold the cow, sowed the beans, climbed the stalk, slew the giant and lived happily ever after in the first line, what else is there left for us to stay tuned for?
Golden Rule Number 2 - Write for the heart, then the mind
Your chances of engaging someone straight away with cold, hard facts are unlikely to succeed. Statistics are impersonal and abstract and that makes it harder for the audience to get their heart and mind around. For example:
Do we actually care that the Empire State Building is 381 meters tall?
Do we hell. What we care about is the view from the top! A magnificent view of Manhattan and Central Park. And, arguably, we might also care about what the fall would be like if we happened to leap over the safety barrier around the viewing platform.
When you show people the emotional and logical consequence of the height of the building, its height suddenly becomes interesting and important.
Golden Rule Number 3 - Say it, then stop
Make your video script long enough to get the point across as succinctly as possible with respect to its purpose, placement and audience. But! While being succinct is generally a good rule for explainer scripts, don’t sacrifice meaning for brevity. Your audience still has to “get it” for your explainer to work.
Golden Rule Number 4 - Say nothing
Silence can be used to great effect by acting as a punctuation point to draw attention to something in your video. Most of the explainer scripts we write are about 200 words long, which translates to about 90 seconds of animation, but no one is speaking the entire time.
And for crying out loud…
Leave out the buzzwords, the technobabble, the sales spiel and the fluffy marketing waffle… because it’s really boring.
If you struggle to do that, think of it like this:
In The Lord of the Rings, does Tolkien ever mention the technical specification of the ring of power? Nope. Not even once. No one wants to hear about that. They want to know where it is, what it can do, who it corrupts and what might happen next, and how all of that relates to them.
Golden Rule Number 5 - A script is more than words
Words conjure images, sounds, tastes, textures, thoughts and feelings. So it’s crucial to think about what your words will conjure up in the audience’s mind and how they can be brought to life in visuals, sound, and motion. What are your words referring to and what should be left unwritten or unsaid?
It’s the combination of words, sound, visuals and motion that gives animations their power.
You may have 90 seconds to play with, but that doesn’t mean you should fill it to the brim, spell things out literally or in exhaustive detail. It pays to leave some things to the imagination because that’s what fires up the imagination.
For example, if you’re writing a script for a corporate explainer video which contains the sentence, “We have offices all over the world”, you don’t need to name or show all the office locations. You can simply show a map of the world when the words “we have offices all over the world” are voiced. Boom. Job done. Move on.
If you’ve made it this far, you must be serious. Here’s a LUCKY BONUS RULE!
Golden Rule Number 6 - Tone of voice MATTERS, MASSIVELY
Choose a tone of voice that complements your brand and reflects what your audience find appealing. Mirroring their preferences will make your message sound more familiar to them - and what the mind finds familiar, it finds friendly (or at least not strange or threatening).
Selling cosmetic surgery is no joke.
So don’t write like it is or employ a comedian to do the voiceover. Then again, if Russian meerkats can be used to sell insurance, maybe Klingon-speaking kangaroos can be used to sell nips and tucks...
Game over: The giant is dead, long live the giant!
You’ve probably realized that there’s more to writing explainer scripts than these five rules - like how framing can influence the audience’s interest for instance - but these rules give you a good starting point from which to develop your own scripts and rules.
And if you’d like to see our golden rules in action, have a look at our other article about how to write explainer scripts that don’t bore people to death and then watch the animation. There’s no giant, but there is a werewolf.