Exciting news: Boxcar is producing a commercial! Our team is feeling very enthusiastic about this project and I was lucky enough to be included in the writing process. I’ve been learning a lot this past week and a half regarding writing in advertising and I came away with three key aspects to consider when writing a commercial: visuals, time, and story.
Unless you’ve been trained to write for video, accompanying visuals with the written word is difficult. In other forms of creative writing, the visual component is an imaginary one that exists in the mind of the reader and has the capacity to change. A good writer will include imagery that guides the reader in their own construction of a visual, but this imagery does not need to be highly specific. This is not the case when writing for video, where visuals are an integral piece of what you’re attempting to communicate. If the visual component of a video script is not clear and specific, the client will likely not understand your message and have different expectations about how their spot will look. This can cause problems during production and filming, so it’s important to have a static and specific visual that accompanies the written portion of the script.
Commercials have stringent timeframes. A 30-second spot absolutely must be 30 seconds – no more and not much less. For seasoned vets, like Mollie, Jim, and Brian, this is no problem. For beginners like me, figuring out exactly what will fit into a specific timeframe is challenging. Luckily, we had a ton of old scripts on hand that I could reference and learn from. I began to get a feel for how much would fit into 30 seconds by reading these old scripts and pulling inspiration from other team members.
Storytelling is vital to persuasion, so it needs to be the driving force in a commercial. The most recent video I wrote at Boxcar was an instructional one. Its purpose was to inform rather than sell, so it did not have a central storyline. Additionally, storytelling in advertising is different from storytelling in other forms of creative writing. Because of my lack of familiarity with video and advertising’s style of storytelling, my early drafts lacked direction. After writing a few of these drafts, Mollie gave me this great advice:
Imagine you’re telling a basic boy-meets-girl story with the focus on the girl. What can you tell me about her? What’s her occupation? Is she a penguin? If she’s a penguin, does she have a broken fin? Once you figure out who she is, what her motivations are, and why she matters, you can develop her character and tell her story.
I went back to my scripts and found the motives of the characters within them as well as the motives of the spot’s potential viewers. Doing this gave my drafts some purpose and direction and provided me with the necessary inspiration to brainstorm more ideas.
This was an incredibly collaborative writing project. The entire team would write a few scripts, regroup and share ideas, then go back to writing with the input and inspiration that we got from each other. There was such a free exchange of ideas, and I definitely learned a lot about video, writing, and storytelling in the process.