Introduction to Writing a TV Script
Writing a TV script is not like writing any other document. It is harder than you think. Unfortunately, many people get into this writing without understanding what they are in for. Even highly skilled journalists struggle with turning a written story into a script that should be hard. A TV script is meant for the ear, more than the eye. Although it is not for the larger audience but the anchor, you need to ensure the reader can see the pictures in words; and this is what makes it even more difficult.
For such a document, every word you choose has an immense significance on the audience. As we know, words have a great impact on people. They can change the perception and make people change their minds. A TV new piece aims to inform and convince; hence, there is a certain writing style that is only allowed for such a document.
Writing, in general, is a skill that not everyone has. Look at the most celebrated novelist of all types and see how they played with words. Sometimes finding the right words to describe something is never easy. The write must first capture the attention of the reader, something that is never easy even for experienced writers.
And it is even worse when it comes to script meant for TV. Note that, this is information that has to be received by the intended audience in real-time. Also, there is never enough time to write and edit your story to make it more appealing. If it were a novel, you could take it to the editor for several months until it is fully polished. But for the TV script case, you need to think first, choose your words to write because the initial writing may matter the most. And for this reason, it is vital to learn the basics.
Write with a listener in mind
Before you submit your work, ensure you read it aloud so that you can tell whether or not the audience will understand what you are talking about. In this situation, your audience only has one chance to understand the story, and you have to make it count. It is not like the newspaper where they can read over and over and again. Also, beware of your word choices, especially with synonyms. For example, a word like ‘cite’ may be confused with ‘site,’ therefore try as much as possible to avoid such. Note also, that short sentences are easier to digest than longer ones. If you have ever listened to broadcast, then you know the sentences must always sound lively and interested. Using a flat and monotone approach kills the fun.
Do not use passive voice
When writing for news, the subject, verb, and object need to be in the active voice. But when you use passive voice, they become mixed up. This can be a good lesson in an English class, and easy to understand, but when it comes to real writing for broadcast, it makes a huge difference. Active voice helps to separate verbs and subjects. For example, in the sentences, ‘The thief took the car,’ and ‘the car was taken by the thief.’ In a news story, the listener wants to know who did what first; it captures their attention to the end of the story. But in the second sentence, they have to wait until the end to know the subject. Hence, passive writing does not do any good to the audience.
The best way to sound fresh in a news story is by telling it in the present tense. This is because TV news is timely, different print news where you have the time to put facts together and relate to the story. But for news, 7:00 am news has to sound fresh and “of the moment.” The aim is to bring the viewer into the current story as it unfolds. Even though you may have encountered the story earlier in the day, it is prudent to try whenever possible to put it in the present tense. Consider, for instance, a conference you covered at say 1:00 pm before the nightly news. In such a scenario, it is tempting to write, “President Gilbert held a news conference earlier today.” It sounds more reasonable. However, you can make it present by shifting the focus of the sentence to the news subject. Hence, you can say, “President Gilbert says he will slash corruption by 50%. He said this in a news conference.” Whatever you write next, the sentence begins within the present tense and creates the hook.
Write for people
In a news broadcast story, understanding your audience is vital. In many cases, writers quickly get mired in what they are writing, forgetting who the story is for – the viewer. The trick here is to make the audience feel like the story is talking directly to them. When writing, pretend someone is sitting in front of you, and you want to address them directly. Therefore, change the story in terms of how it affects the viewer.
Use verbs largely
Verbs are the best friend of a news writer. They are part of the story that gives it life. For example, instead of writing, “the local is requesting data.” Change it to something like, “The locals want to know.” In this case, the information becomes more relevant. It is better to avoid certain words such as ‘is, are, was, and were.’ They make the story less interesting.
Sell your story
In most cities, there are more TV stations that there are print media. This means the competition in the TV industry is quite higher. For this reason, the news writer is the salesperson of the station. They sell the product as something better than the competition. Mostly, give stories that directly help the viewer. For instance, you should set the perception that all newscasts are the same. The leading segment should start with something aggressive and informative. “We have an NBC exclusive….” This means you have something that other stations don’t, hence setting yourself apart from the rest.
Author: James Hamilton