How to Write a Script for a Complex Topic

Scriptwriting for Complex Topics

Topics that are highly complex, dry, or technical can bring a special challenge to writers. It can be difficult to write a video script that turns normally unengaging subject matter into a successful video. How can you rise above this challenge and write a comprehensible and memorable video?

Start with an Outline

Decide which points are truly crucial, and which order you’ll be presenting them in. Depending on where your video fits into its complex topic you’ll need to let some points wait for another discussion so that your video stays engaging and retainable.  You’ll write differently if this is the first time people have seen this topic, as opposed to the fourth time in a series of explanatory videos.

Once you’ve outlined the most important points, you’ve already cut out some of the complexity. That helps you focus your script on what matters.

Now, it’s time to address your big points. Just because you cut out a lot of complex ideas doesn’t mean the other ones will suddenly become simple. 

So, how do you make the complicated digestible?

Tell a Story

One technique can be to use some storytelling or expressive language to make it easier. Practice involving some metaphor to help explain your complex topic. Don’t commit to it too fully.

For example, “The human brain, like a computer, has a lot of processing power.” If your next sentence contains factual data to back that up, you’ve just given a useful frame of reference and then moved back into reality with evidence. Think of this as metaphor-lite, or one-off metaphor.

Too much metaphor can problematize a script. It can be hard to sustain for the entire runtime. And introducing any other metaphors can create clashes and distractions.

Watch Your Pacing

Don’t speed through the meat of your topic, and use transitional phrasing.  A good script will have an ebb and flow and provide your audience with a mental rest. Especially for a complex topic, your audience will need information presented at a reasonable pace. And they will need time to start the process of retention before launching into the next segment. Be conscious of these audience needs and write them into your script.

Entertain Your Audience

Another great way to simplify complex topics is by employing humor and emotion. For a lot of people, the number one issue with highly complex information isn’t so much the complexity itself. It’s the rote, memorization-driven process that comes with learning it. Address that issue by making the discussion funny, or otherwise emotionally compelling.

Often the best way to add humor is, again, to tell a story. Highly complex topics might not seem to be story-ready, but with a little creativity, they can be.  

Let’s explore a storytelling example.

If I’m explaining software, I could invent a character that needed to use it. Then I could teach the audience about the software through the story of her learning.  So, if I’m talking about an approval system, I can show Melinda being denied access to a feature. And then slow the narrative and insert a well-paced description of the system.  

For emotional impact, I might show her concerned before understanding the software. Then she can be filled with relief and happiness after she comprehends it. And if I can add an appropriate joke or two into the scene, I’ve got a great chance to secure audience engagement and increase their retention of the information.

Know Your Audience

Throughout the scriptwriting process, a valuable practice involves seeing your video from the audience’s perspective. This way, you can make sure the video will be relevant to them, not just your company’s needs. You can also make sure your language choices are logical. Will they make sense to your audience? Or are you using jargon and industry terms to explain jargon and industry terms?

Be Reflective

Ask yourself if you would you understand your topic, given only your script. This kind of thinking will show you more than just points you need to cover more thoroughly, or points you forgot to bring up. It’ll get you out of your own specialized knowledge and show you how successful you’ve been at turning complicated/dry/lengthy material into an engaging, informative script.

Be Creative

Creativity is the tool that will transform much of your complex topic into an engaging and retainable video, but remember that it is a means to an end.  As Kelly Shores writes, “The point isn’t creativity.  The point is to make viewers care—emotionally, aesthetically… whatever lane a company desires.” Incorporating emotion, humor, considering the audience’s perspective: these are all ways to ensure that your audience cares. A caring audience is an attentive, even on a complex topic.

Make Your Video Work for You

Sometimes, a topic will be so complex that you need additional (or different) tools to transmit your message to the audience. For moments like these, think outside of the language of your script and focus more broadly on video’s capabilities

Specifically, think about visuals and sound.  

More than anything, sound will relate to the voice in your video. Your narrator should have the right delivery and timbre for your topic—and I don’t mean dry for dry. For a complex topic, keep audience engagement as high as possible with an enthusiastic, energetic narrator. An upbeat, well-paced narrator will offset some of the material’s difficulty. And, when appropriate, judicious use of music or sound effects can similarly make your topic easier to engage with and retain.

Perhaps even more important than sound will be your visuals. Images in motion focus the eye, and surprising images generate lasting curiosity.  Visuals can also be another place to inject humor and personality. We know that audience retention is much higher when audio information is synchronized with visual information—65% after 72 hours, as opposed to 10% with audio alone and 35% with visual alone. So take time in choosing which imagery will support your narrator’s message. 

As long as they are not distracting from your message, visuals can be a saving grace for engagement with, and retention of, complicated topics.

Speak Directly to Your Audience

Finally, write so that you’re speaking directly to the audience and having a sort of one-sided conversation. This kind of easy tone will be somewhat unexpected for a complex topic, which people expect to be discussed mostly in technical and impersonal terms. Change that, and you create trust and engagement. Use language that acknowledges the complexity of the topic and communicate that your video is there to make learning easier. When the audience feels like you’re speaking to them directly, they feel authenticity and a greater willingness to take in your information.

Outline your script to help you find the most important points of your topic. 

Pay close attention to your language choices and the pacing of your information. 

Keep your audience in mind, not only to tailor your visual and audio choices to their interests but to help you see things the way they will. 

Use storytelling, emotion, and humor to engage audiences, and write conversationally.

With these techniques in mind, you should be able to write a compelling script on even the most complex of topics.

How do you modulate your writing to account for different topics? 

Are there other ways you approach complicated subject matter?

Do you think these tips are only suited for scriptwriting for complex topics, or can you imagine other subjects where they would work?