Back in the day – 1st Century B.C. in Greece – philosophers started using some basic questions to formulate more challenging rhetorical questions. The questions pretty much boiled down to: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. And, by the early 20th century, these questions were being taught in journalism schools as a fundamental interrogatory practice for students, and employed by the news publications who hired them. Let’s examine them a bit closer.

Who, What, When, Where, Why and How?

When a reporter writes a lead – that’s the first line in a story – they’re attempting to answer these six questions (or at least the first four) to both inform the reader and keep them interested enough to want to read the rest of the story. So, let’s try one…

Stanley, a six year-old orange tabby cat, was treed this morning while wandering in the front yard of a medium-sized, golden-colored dog named Palmer, in the idyllic suburb of _________ .

A little wooden, but at least it answers the first four questions. The “Why” and “How” can be described as a further illustration of the story a bit later on. By the way, it’s not essential to follow this formula in a verbatim order. In other words, you might start with the “What,” then the “Who” and maybe the “Why’ll” be next and you might save the “Where” for later in the article. Pick up any newspaper or it’s electronic equivalent and see if you can spot these questions in the article, paying particular attention to the first sentence, the lead.

Maybe you’ve even heard the expression “don’t bury the lead.” It means: don’t start the story with unimportant detail; put the critical stuff at the top and save the details for the body of the story.

So what does this have to do with script writing?

Using this kind of approach is a good way to approach the development of a business video script.

The first place to start ought to be based on a strategy, so you might begin by asking “Who” questions, like…

  • Who’s your audience?
  • Who’s paying for this?
  • Who’s going to be featured in this video?

And then go right down the line…

  • What’s the topic of the piece?
  • What’s its purpose?
  • When does it take place – day, night, the present, the past, the future?
  • Where does it take place? Locations? Venue? Locale?
  • Where will it be shown? Distribution plan?
  • Why should this be created?
  • How should it look?
  • How long should it be?
  • How can it be produced within its defined budget?

You get the idea.

Once some of the fundamental choices have been made about the strategy of the video you intend to produce, these questions can be used throughout the writing process.

  • What’s the style of the narration?
  • What’s the kind of voice needed for the narration?
  • What does the music sound like?
  • What does the animation (if it’s called for) look like?
  • Where will the shooting be done? Location or sound stage?

The point of all this is to find an easy-to-remember/use method to be able to quickly capture the important aspects of the development of a script to get it written quickly and accurately.

Your method doesn’t have to be the five Ws and one H, but if you don’t have a regular practice, try this one out – you might really like it!

-Michael Cowan