It doesn’t really matter what kind of non-fiction script you are preparing. It can be an informative message or an ad, a feature documentary, or an eLearning course. For all of those or more, you will need a narration non-fiction script. After all, you need somebody to read the explanatory texts, instructions, and other messages.
You may decide to engage a professional or an agency for such a task. Still, you should at least know some of the basic elements of a narration non-fiction script. You should also have a general idea of how examples of such scripts sound when professional voice actors speak or narrate them. Here, we are going to offer you both.
The most frequent use of a non-fiction script is for documentary films, of any shape, size, length. According to L.A. Screenwriter, “we’re living in the golden age of documentaries.”They note that “many of the narrative skills for traditional screenwriting are also applicable when writing non-fiction.” Still, “there are some fundamental differences in approach.”
“The major difference between the two kinds of writing is that most documentary writing is performed after some or most of the film has been shot. So essentially, it’s the reverse of writing fiction for film and television. Instead, the documentary screenwriter considers a topic, evaluates the available media on that topic, and then conforms “reality” and “facts” into something contained, comprehensible, and satisfying – three things that facts and reality typically lack.”
Also, according to Lynda.com, one of the eLearning leaders, “content creators are producing more reality-based videos than ever before.” Producing any video without a solid script is a challenge. “By learning an effective script writing and script-to-screen process, producers can lower their overhead costs and improve storytelling impact and audience engagement.”
Writing a narration non-fiction script – basic guidelines
Based on the expert opinion (L.A. Screenwriter – above), you should have in mind the following elements when you write or ask for a non-fiction script:
- Know your scope – “what kind of project are you making? Is it a five-minute short, a two-hour film, a ten-hour series or something else?” If you already know how your finished project will be distributed, have in mind the timing requirements of the distributor.
- Know your format – most documentary scripts will use a two to four-column format with column headings along the lines of “clip/timecode,” “dialog/narration,” and “video/graphic.” The narrative is built by filling in the required information horizontally across each column then continuing down the page describing the next moment or scenes in the film. The writer identifies the source material, what the audience hears, and what they will see, respectively. (above).
- Know your arc – it’s rare that reality presents itself in an organized way, so it’s the job of the documentary writer to find it. Documentary writing is all about finding the “story” in the “reality.” In the early stages, the most you can hope for is a sense of the dramatic arc – beginning, middle, and end.
- Know your point of view – “The writer must convert people, facts, and actions into things like “characters,” “conflicts,” and “order.” Who or what will we be following in the story?”
- Know your style – “devices or artifice will be used in the telling of the story. It could be many things: animation, graphics, narration, structural tricks, section breaks, timeline shifts, split screen, slow motion, fast motion, dramatic reenactments, recurring visual motifs, and so on. Each of these stylistic choices might be delineated by the screenwriter in the script.”
Narration scripts for eLearning – fast-growing field
eLearning has possibly become one of the fastest-growing fields for writing narration scripts and engaging voice actors top prepare the adequate materials. According to the eLearning Industry, “one of the biggest obstacles for creating successful branching scenarios in eLearning is writing the narration script. You must ensure that characters are memorable and relatable and that online learners know how to use the information in real-world contexts.”
To achieve that, they advise you to use the following steps:
- map everything in advance – Your eLearning script for branching scenarios must have a narrative flow. It should also align with your eLearning objective and convey the right tone. All of this requires careful planning and forethought. In other words, you have to map out the framework of your eLearning narration script in advance;
- research your audience – the needs, preferences, and expectations of your online learners should dictate every aspect of your eLearning narration script. You must also learn as much as possible about their backgrounds, knowledge base, and experience levels;
- write from the character’s perspective – if you’re playing the role of a fictional character or even a historical figure, you’ll have to step inside their shoes. This allows you to see things from their perspective and adopt their verbal mannerisms;
- stay on topic – every eLearning narration script should focus on one topic, task, or concept. For example, a work-related task that employees must master, or a skill online learners need to achieve their goals;
- evoke emotion – branching scenarios in eLearning are supposed to mimic real-life situations and challenges. This also applies to the feelings that online learners might experience in the real world.
More on eLearning narratives
- Include clear instructions – certain online learners may be new to the world of branching scenarios. These individuals need clear instructions on how to progress through the decision paths and achieve the desired outcome. Give them a brief intro at the beginning and then offer support online resources during the eLearning activity;
- emphasize real-world repercussions – one of the primary benefits of branching scenarios is that they tie into real-world situations. They give online learners the ability to see how their actions, behaviors, and choices lead to certain consequences. That includes both negative and positive outcomes;
- use case studies and real-world examples for inspiration – there are a variety of case studies, articles, and real-world examples. You can use these as a springboard for your branching scenario. Just make sure that you cite your online resources and verify the facts;
- do a test run – written and spoken form are two entirely different things. A piece of dialogue may look great on the page. However, it sounds robotic or out of place when you say it out loud. Which is why you should always do a test run, preferably in front of an audience.
Narration non-fiction scripts – examples
Even if your narration script is brief, it is not a simple process to get it to sound right. Even professional voice actors need solid practice to get even the shortest sentences sound exactly as they should. Most of them use sample scripts.
Here, we present you with three examples of narration non-fiction scripts and their reading overview for 60, 30, and 15 seconds.
Example 1 – documentary film
The script for Lauri Ulster’s documentary “Sgt. Pepper’ 50th Anniversary: The Making of a Rock Classic” presents an excellent example for sampling a narration non-fiction script for such a project:
- 60-second sample: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band spun the music industry on its heels. When the album came out, the public devoured it, the critics raved, and other musicians stopped in their tracks, recognizing that the game had changed forever.
When you break it down into its individual songs, there is the usual mix of masterpieces, gems, and lesser songs—within the context of still being the Beatles, which means even the lesser songs impress—but there’s something that happened when the Beatles, the time period, the studio, and the people who worked on the album came together. Much like the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team, and the Lennon-McCartney-Harrison-Starr combination, there was alchemy at play, and the result woke up the music industry to the fact that new creative frontiers were possible, and could still be commercial as hell. (140 words)
- 30 – second sample: By the mid-sixties, The Beatles—who’d initially been turned down by every record label in town—ruled over Abbey Road Studios. They couldn’t control things like the drab décor or the painfully rough toilet paper—okay, they did eventually get that changed, after much protest—but they could put the studio and its staff on hold, and wander in and out as they pleased. (65 words)
- 15-second sample They filled the studio up with other musicians, friends, and artists. When George Martin brought in half an orchestra for “A Day in the Life,” the Beatles asked for them to come in “evening dress.” (35 words).
Example 2 – Audiobook
Gabriel García Márquez – 100 Years of Solitude (English version)
- 60-second sample – Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them, it was necessary to point. Every year during the month of March a family of ragged gypsies would set up their tents near the village, and with a great uproar of pipes and kettledrums, they would display new inventions. (118 words)
- 30-second sample – But José Arcadio Buendía at that time did not believe in the honesty of gypsies, so he traded his mule and a pair of goats for the two magnetized ingots. Úrsula Iguarán, his wife, who relied on those animals to increase their poor domestic holdings, was unable to dissuade him. (50 words)
- 15-second sample – ‘Things have a life of their own,’ the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent. ‘It’s simply a matter of waking up their souls. (23 words)
Example 3 – Podcast
Missing Higgs (Source: Edge Studio)
- 60-second sample: A major breakthrough in particle physics came in the 1970s when physicists realized that there are very close ties between two of the four fundamental forces – namely, the weak force and the electromagnetic force. The two forces can be described within the same theory, which forms the basis of the Standard Model. This ‘unification’ implies that electricity, magnetism, light, and some types of radioactivity are all manifestations of a single underlying force called, unsurprisingly, the “electroweak” force. But in order for this unification to work mathematically, it requires that the force‐carrying particles have no mass. We know from experiments that this is not true, so physicists Peter Higgs, Robert Brout, and François Englert came up with a solution to solve this conundrum. (123 words)
- 30-second sample: They suggested that all particles had no mass just after the Big Bang. As the Universe cooled and the temperature fell below a critical value, an invisible force field called the ‘Higgs field’ was formed together with the associated ‘Higgs boson’. The field prevails throughout the cosmos: any particles that interact with it are given a mass via the Higgs boson. (61 words)
- 15-second sample: The idea provided a satisfactory solution and fitted well with established theories and phenomena. The problem is that no one has ever observed the Higgs boson in an experiment to confirm the theory. (33 words)