We’re starting with the most important part – drawing (Step 2) is time consuming, so the more we’re able to work with our script before we draw, the better! We’ll write the script in 3 steps:
- Start with a Theme
- Design our Characters
- Structure our Outline
Start with a Theme
Start by writing a one-sentence theme for this story. This sentence should sum up the spirit of the story, and should tie in closely with the brand of your company or organization. One sentence for Harry Potter might be “Courage comes from within.” For the IRS, it might be “We make it confusing so you’ll always live in fear.”
As you make more videos, they may all have different themes – that’s ok as long as they always tie to your over-arching brand message. For my 121giving video, the theme I chose is…
…because I wanted to talk about how charities can work with suppliers and the community to help those in need.
Ever notice how Harry Potter grew up in a family full of Muggles? Or how Luke Skywalker grew up on a planet full of farmers in the middle of nowhere? These were great protagonists in the story because the audience could learn the setting at the same time as the characters. In your story, focus on how your protagonist learns about your product through using it.
Explainer videos usually have characters. I find it helpful to name them when I’m designing the video – it helps me imagine they’re real and helps me feel for their struggles. The trick is to make your characters look the most like your customers that you can. When someone watches the video, you want them to really feel like they look and feel like your customer feels.
Get out a piece of paper and a pen, and answer these questions:
Remember that organizations don’t do things, people do. Rather than creating characters as organizations (coffee shop, cell phone company, school bus), think about the individuals that are a part of them (barista, phoneline repair woman, bus driver, etc…)
Our company, 121giving enables people in the community to help charities purchase products from partner suppliers at discount prices by donating money to campaigns, so I created three characters, one for each role: giver, supplier, and charity worker.
The “Three Act Structure” is the most common (and, in my humble opinion, best way) to structure a video. It looks like this…
To get started, draw a line and divide it into 4 segments (remember that Act II has two parts). We’ll make our explainer 2 minutes, so each part is about 30 seconds:
Start with the End and the Beginning
Good stories start with a problem and end with a solution. Before we get to far into the details, jot down where your characters are:
- At the beginning of the story
- What is the problem they’re facing?
- At the end of the story (the reason
- What is the new, awesome world that they’re living in?
Define the change by defining the “Midpoint”
The mid-point is the most important part in the movie: it is the moment that best articulates the change that makes the ending awesome. In movies, this is usually when the audience learns something new.
For instance, in Harry Potter in the Sorcerer’s Stone, the scene at the midpoint is where Hermine and the boys stumble upon the three-headed dog that guards the entrance to the secret room. Their knowledge of this is what enables them to save the day at the end of the movie.
Give the most thought to what your midpoint will be – this is the most important part of your whole video! If this video is for a product or service, it is probably when your character uses one of it’s core differentiators.
When I was sketching the 121giving video, I ended up deliberating between three different midpoints before choosing the one that I thought made the best story. I ended up focusing on how the community can amplify their giving by sharing campaigns.
(Just for fun, look up the midpoint of your favorite movie. Look up the total run time, then fast forward to the exact middle – so if your favorite movie is 88 minutes, fast forward to around 0:43:00 and watch for a couple of minutes – did the protagonist say a meaningful quote or take a big, decisive action?)
Once you have the beginning, end, and midpoint (or a couple different options for now, thats fine), it is time to talk about Act II.
In the movies, Act II almost always looks like this:
<(home, default state and problems)(hero goes to new place or learns new thing)(hero returns to the original state and uses new knowledge)>
<Show a few movie examples>
For us, Act II is about someone using your product. It’ll probably start with “…thats where (my product) comes in…,” and then a 1-2 sentence description of the product. By the end of Act II, the main character(s) is done using your project, and in Act III, we’re seeing the benefits of it.
Act III: New Life
In act III, we see where your users are in their lives now that they have your product. Remember that an explainer isn’t about your product or service itself – it is about the way it affects the lives of your personas. After showing the outcome of the product, close up by reminding your audience the name of your product and the tag line, and you’re set!
After I’ve outlined the 5 key parts of the timeline, beginning, Act II, Midpoint, Act III, and Ending, go in and write what happens in between each of these points, so you’ll have a total of 9. When you write midpoints, always be asking yourself, “what has to happen for my character to get from this point to that point?”
In a longer movies, you’d write more – but for a short explainer video, these 9 points are enough!
Take a look back at the notes from the three act structure and think about whether this is the story you want to tell. The midpoint is the real crux of the story, so it may be worth trying out different ideas on paper to see which you like best. In my original sketch for 121giving, I originally thought that raising the money was a great midpoint, but I later changes it because I wanted the story to be more about the power of communities coming together to accomplish a goal. By making the midpoint about sharing the campaign in the community and the beginning of the third act about achieving the funding goal, I believe it makes a stronger story.
<picture of the scribbled out midpoint>
Now that we’ve outlined the script, it is time to write it! Check out Page 2 for my notes on writing a good script.