The Content Development Process: Tips from a Screenwriting Pro on Defining Voice

The Content Development Process: Tips from a Screenwriting Pro on Defining Voice

Screen Writer's WorkspaceAs content writers who sell our services to businesses and agencies, we have to make sure that each piece we write speaks to its intended audience, while also satisfying the needs of the project owners. One of the most important parts of our job is finding the right “voice” for each project that we do. But what does “voice” really mean?

Voice is one of the key ingredients of any piece of writing, but it’s also surprisingly tough to define. Interestingly the simplest way to nail down what voice really means is by asking another question: “Who is saying what’s being written, and who are they saying it to?” Think about it—when you take the time to figure out who is speaking, and for what purpose, it’s far easier to deconstruct the tone and the purpose of just about any piece of writing.

Here at KCWMS, we do a lot of work on the front end of every project to ensure that we know what the client wants a particular piece to accomplish, and who its intended audience will be. In crafting the unique voice of a piece, we have to consider things like point of view, tone, vocabulary, language, personality, and style.

But defining the right voice for a project is something that every writer has to contend with—whether they’re writing website content, poetry, a screenplay, or a novel. So to get a feel for how other writers tackle the challenges that we face, we approached Vivian Lee, Staff Writer on the ABC Family TV series Stitchers, to talk about her work, her process, and how she goes about writing all the different characters and voices that make up a TV series.

KCWMS: To start, could you tell us a little bit about how the writing process works for you—from story concept in the writing room to the individual writing work and back again?

Vivian Lee: Each writers’ room is different. On the show I’m working on now—a show that is both serialized and procedural (case of the week)—individual writers bring ideas on types of cases into the room. If the showrunner clicks to the idea, the group brainstorms how that case might lay out in an episode and discusses potential thematic resonance the case could have for our main characters. The showrunner assigns episodes to writers. The writers come up with loglines and “story arenas” (broad synopses) of their episodes for studio’s and network’s approval. Once that story is approved, the writers break the story in the room with the group, then that writer of the episode goes off on their own to write the outline. The outline is sent to Studio/Network for notes. After their notes, the writer goes off to write a “writer’s draft.” Once that is done, the writer turns it into the Showrunner, who does his/her pass. That draft (Studio/Network Draft) is sent to Studio/Network for notes. The writer of the episode implements the notes and once the Showrunner has looked at the new revisions, the script is ready to become a Production Draft (which means it goes to everyone: cast, crew, Studio & Network.) Revisions will come up, due to a variety of stuff (limitation of the location, wardrobe changes, standard and practices “no-nos,” etc.). The episode gets a read-thru with the actors, writers, dept. heads, and Studio & Network so everyone can hear how the script sounds coming from the actors’ mouths. Adjustments are made after that, and then we shoot the episode!

KCWMS: As a screenwriter on a network television show, how do you identify your audience?

Vivian: Depending on what network airs the show, that’s how we identify our audience. For example, the show I’m writing on is an ABC Family show (soon to be called “Free Form”). ABC Family’s audiences tend to be Millennials or Generation Z females—so we try to craft storylines with them in mind: current pop trends, issues that young females face, dreams and aspirations they have. Our show features strong, science-minded, females who solve cases—so we write towards that—keeping in mind not to fall victim to stereotypes and less-than-admirable traits.

KCWMS: How much of yourself or your own voice finds its way into the characters and dialogue you write, if any?

Vivian: As television writers, our job is to deliver scripts that are in the Showrunner/Creator’s voice. To do that, we read/study the scripts the Showrunner wrote and watch/re-watch episodes of the show. In the room, we pay attention to how the Showrunner/Creator describes his characters. Individuals writers do slip in their own voice once in a while, but only if it fits with the tone of that scene/character.

KCWMS: If you get feedback from a producer, how do you handle those notes when you feel their requests are not in alignment with a character’s voice?

Vivian: Again, defer to the Showrunner/Creator, who is also the producer on the show. If he/she gives you notes, you take the note. Your job is to serve his/her vision. Now if there is something that you truly disagree with, you can discuss it with the Showrunner/Creator—but at the end of the day, it’s what they want.

KCWMS: Do you ever struggle with matching or managing audience expectations of certain characters or voices?

Vivian: Personally, I believe writers can’t give audiences what they want. Instead, I think it’s better to focus on giving the audience what they need. Audiences never want anything bad to happen to their favorite characters. They want them to fall in love, get their dream job, never face death, etc. But that doesn’t make good TV (and isn’t true to life). We have to tease the audience, put characters in situations to see how they survive (or not), force characters to make hard decisions, etc. That is how we build good stories. That’s how we create characters that our audience can identify with and/or aspire to become. Or not.


In talking with Vivian, we were surprised at how closely much of her process mirrors our own here at KCWMS. Our clients trust us to be able to identify the needs of their audience, and to write a piece that meets those needs, in a voice that speaks to their audience while still maintaining the purpose and identity of our client’s brand. So while there may be a lot of other differences between writing for television and the kind of content writing that we do, when it comes to the challenges of defining voice, we all strive to strike a balance between the needs of our audience and those of our clients, while ensuring that each piece has the right voice to serve both.

We’re very grateful to Vivian Lee for stopping by to answer our questions and share some insights into her process. If you’d like to keep up with Vivian’s work, you can follow her on Twitter @theviv86 and catch Stitchers Season 2 premiering in the spring 2016!

by Steve J. Scearce

Your SEO Strategy Should Take Into Account More Than Keywords Alone

Researching Keywords for SEOHere at KCWMS, we talk to a lot of business owners who are either in the first stages of their web development, or who are radically altering their content marketing strategies. For some of the people we talk to, keyword research is a new idea to them, but many others are already thinking about keyword research and other market research before they even get started on their web development or on re-branding their business.

Don’t get us wrong; keyword research is important. In fact, it might be one of the most important and high-return aspects of your entire SEO plan. But a good SEO strategy takes into account more than keywords alone, and doing keyword research without thinking about the big picture may do your business more harm than good.

Keywords are how your audience finds your website, and highlighting the right keywords can improve your search rankings, bringing tons of new eyes to your site. Here’s the thing, though—getting people to click through is only part of your job, and good keyword and market research is about making sure that you get the right people to click through.

What do we mean? Basically, you want people visiting your website who’re looking for what your business has to offer. If people click through and then don’t find what they’re looking for, they’re going to go away unsatisfied (at best). That might get you a lot of traffic… but it’s not going to get you very much business. So you want your keywords to bring in people who’re looking for your product or service, and once those keywords have brought them in, you want to make sure they can find what they’re looking for.

If you run a business cleaning furnaces, you don’t want most of the people who come to your website to be looking to buy a furnace. That won’t do you any good, and it will just frustrate them. Keyword research does more than just tell you what keywords are ranking in your market, they help you to learn more about what your customers want, and how you can help them to find it.

Putting too much focus on keyword research too early on is kind of putting your cart before your horse. It ends up with your web development and content plan serving the keywords, rather than your business. Keywords alone don’t have a lot of power, unless there’s something worthwhile waiting for people after they click through. Instead of focusing too much on keywords, first make it a point to know your business well, know what you offer and what you don’t. That will help you determine your focus, which can, in turn, drive your market research. Remember what they taught you in English class: First, know your audience. Once you know that, you can use keyword research to help figure out how best to reach them with your content.

Kevin Pike, President of Rank Fuse Interactive, put it this way: “Starting from a common sense approach with keyword research has always worked best. Ninety-nine percent of businesses already know who their customers are, what products and services they are selling, and what keywords they use to communicate with customers. For these companies, keyword research is making sure the website supports what we already know. For those brave entrepreneurs who are pioneering new ideas and industries, keyword research becomes much more important because competition may be pulling your audience in a different direction. When companies need to expand to cover a wider keyword footprint, keyword tools become much more important.”

One of the most vital things for any company to keep in mind when engaging in SEO planning is that keyword research—like most every aspect of your marketing strategy—is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. Let keywords help define your market and your strategy, but not your message. Keywords are a powerful tool, but like any other tool, it’s important to make sure they work in service of your goals, and don’t become goals themselves.

Lastly, as online searches become more conversational with the rise of voice search through smartphones and other mobile devices, the way that search engines interact with keywords to return search results is also changing. The Google Hummingbird algorithm update of 2013 changed the way that Google’s search engines sought to understand the intent and meaning of web content. Today, search engines take into account much more than just keywords and short phrases; the entire context and overall focus of your website plays a significant part in returning search results that meet the needs of modern consumers. In this changing and dynamic online environment, keyword research is just one part of a complex SEO strategy that will help you to reach customers who are looking for your product or service.

by Steve J. Scearce

Blogging Isn’t Just About Blogging Anymore: 20 Things You Need to Know to Create Great Content

Blogging Isn't About Blogging Crafting original blog content that aligns with your business processes, speaks well of your products or services, resonates with your target audience, and sharpens your brand image is demanding work. A lot more goes into it than many people realize. Much like writing a short story or novel for publication, more time is spent preparing the storyline, polishing the characters, and determining the outcomes than is actually spent writing it all down. If there was ever a time when just disgorging a bunch of keywords, phrases, and clauses all over a page was sufficient for blogging success, that time is long past. These days, blogging isn’t just about blogging anymore. A lot more goes into blogging than just writing and posting, and the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making a blog post can be just as important as the words on the page, and can play an even bigger role in determining whether your content is successful or not.

When setting out to create great content that will draw in your readers, improve your brand, and help to sell your products or services, there are a lot of factors that come into play. To make things a little easier to understand, we’ve broken them into three equally important parts: Planning, Focus, and Implementation. While you can probably put a blog up and even keep it updated regularly without taking most of these things into consideration, if you want to produce great content that makes a difference for your business, then you must consider these three points.

Remember your analogies from SAT prep? Well, planning is to creating great content, as research is to telling a good story. It’s about more than just knowing the facts—it’s also about knowing how you’re going to use them. Creating great content means planning individual blog posts, but it also means planning across your entire blogging strategy, to make sure you’re getting the most out of each post, and that all your posts work together to create engagement and reinforce your brand identity.

  • Create Content Calendars: Don’t fail to plan. Biggest. Mistake. Ever. Content calendars can be as simple or as complex as you need, but taking just a little time at the start of each month (or quarter) to look over your content marketing strategy allows you to plan your content to take advantage of dates, events, product releases, sales efforts, promotions, and other marketing activities, giving each piece of content a lot more bang for your buck.
  • Perform Keyword Research: While some people put too much emphasis on hitting keywords over producing great content, the fact is you need to know which keywords and phrases are going to help you reach your target audience and draw them to your site via search engine results.
  • Evaluate Keywords: Another part of keyword strategy involves picking the right keywords, not just for your market, but for your audience. What you call something internally may not be what people are searching for when they look for your product or service. This is another place that keyword research and Google Trends research can come in handy.
  • Keep “Local” In Mind: Especially with the rise of mobile searches, consumers expect to discover local businesses through search engine results. Make it a point to use keywords and phrases that help with geolocation, and that local customers are likely to know and use.
  • Research the Market: Maybe you’re already keeping up on advances in products and services within your industry—but are you watching what your competitors and other successful businesses in your industry are doing as far as content and keywords? Keep up on what’s happening, so that you come across as knowledgeable and reliable within your market.
  • Consider Post Time: There’s plenty of research out there about the best time to post to blogs, social media, and more. Not just breaking down the best time to post to a particular social media platform, but the best times to talk about certain subjects. Is it better for you to post on Monday morning than Thursday afternoon? Do some research, and check your analytics, to find the answer.
  • Determine Frequency: Similarly, analytics can tell you whether you should be posting blogs weekly, monthly, or more frequently. Too many posts can drown your message in noise, not enough may mean that you get overlooked.

Focus is all about identifying your goals, identity, and company values, and making sure that your content reflects them in a way that puts your best foot forward, and speaks to your core demographic. In English Comp 101, we all learned to “identify the audience” before starting any piece of writing. It’s especially important to know your audience when you set out to create great content, as well as what kind of action you want your audience to take after reading.

  • Stay Focused on Business: Smart content teams connect blogs to business processes. Content can be aligned with activities such as promotions and product releases. After all, your ultimate goal is to get your product or service into the hands of the consumers, to ring the cash register. If you can do this by giving them something they’re looking for and telling a good story, then you’re already well on your way.
  • Find Your Voice: It’s important to find the right voice for each individual blog entry, but it’s even more important to create a consistent and reliable corporate voice for your entire content strategy. Who should write your blogs? You? Someone else in the organization? An outside professional writer or writing team?
  • Determine Length: Most blog articles start at around 450-500 words and go up from there, but the ultimate length you’ll want to hit will depend on your readers and the needs of your content strategy, as well as the channels where you intend your content to appear. A 500-word blog article may be an effective addition to your website, but LinkedIn recommends long-form posts of 1,500 words or more to attract the attention of business professionals and executives. There’s actually a demonstrated positive relationship between the length of an article and the number of shares it receives on LinkedIn, so once again, keep your audience and channels in mind when determining the length of a blog post.
  • Identify Top Subject Matter: Choose topics that speak to the needs of your brand and the interests of your target audience. This is another area where research into what’s happening in your market or industry can come in extremely handy.
  • Consider Shareability: Your content will get in front of a lot more eyes if your followers re-share it and spread it across the Internet. After all, it’s pretty much every content marketer’s dream to have something of theirs go viral. So consider who your followers are on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. See what they reach and share, and what matters most to them, and try to speak to that.

While the behind the scenes work of creating content is vital, you still have to actually produce the content before anyone will see it. Implementation is about actually getting the content where it needs to be, as well as making sure that you’re using the best channels and resources available to you. The previous stages have been about getting yourself into a position to create the best content you can; this stage is about actually making it happen.

  • Define Credibility Factors: What will make a reader take your content seriously? The most obvious factor in credibility is quality content, but good design and use of imagery are also important, so don’t skimp on them in the hopes that your prose will carry the day.
  • Test Titles: Titles are an important part of any piece of good content. When choosing a title, find out what resonates best with your own team. Shoot options around the room and see how people react. Also take into account what titles might resonate most with your target audience, or what kinds of titles have worked well in the past. Ask yourself: Is the title actionable? Interesting? Keyword-conscious? And don’t forget, titles that incorporate numbers get more shares than titles that don’t.
  • Select an Appropriate Image: Blogs with images receive 94% more clicks than those without, not to mention more links, so selecting the right image is a vital part of making sure that your content gets seen. Do some research to find out what kinds of images resonate with your core audience, and always make sure that the image you’re using is royalty-free and/or that you’ve got the rights to use it how you’re using it.
  • Know Your Allies: Think about who outside your organization might help promote the articles after they post, and don’t be afraid to reach out to them in order to help get the word out there.
  • Determine Format: Don’t limit yourself to just posting to your regular blog. Consider using your content in different and innovative ways. Maybe your content can be more than just a blog post. Consider turning it into an infographic, or incorporating it into a series of social media messages over the course of the month.
  • Write: Sooner or later, it all comes down to actually putting the words on the page. When you’re finally ready to actually write your post, stay focused and stick to the plan. It’s all too easy to rush the job once you’re actually doing the writing, and turn out something that’s not in alignment with your preparations. Don’t spend all that time researching and planning just to rush the job when it comes to execution.
  • Revise and Edit: There’s an old saying that movies are made in the editing room, well the same is true for good writing. Nothing ever comes out perfect on the first try, so revising and editing your content before you post it is essential. It’s also good to get it in front of at least one more pair of eyes before it goes live; they may catch something you missed. You can even post your content in a draft form (not actually published or “web-facing”)—complete with formatting and any image(s) you’ve selected—and let other members of the team get a good look at the whole package before it goes live.
  • Evaluate: Even after you’ve posted your content, you’re still not done. Use analytics and social media stats to show you what worked and what didn’t, and incorporate that information into your content plan going forward. Pay attention to your successes and your failures, and use all that knowledge to change your content approach as necessary. Remember: You’re a publisher now! If you see something that readers really loved, something that has a shelf-life long after you posted it, then that’s an opportunity to revisit the topic and develop or expand upon it. Think of it in terms of sequels to popular movies or books. Imagine if Marvel had stopped after the first Iron Man movie, or if J.K. Rowling had written only one Harry Potter novel. Talk about a missed opportunity!

Looking all this over, it can seem pretty daunting, and it’s easy to feel like you’ll be spending all your time creating content when you’re already swamped with sales, marketing, and management activities. Fortunately, with some planning, content creation becomes a more approachable task, and it can be made easier by splitting some of these jobs up to different members of your team, and then have everybody bring what they’ve discovered back to a content creation planning session once or twice a month. Like with anything, the more commitment you bring to the front-end of your content creation strategy, the more seamless it will all become over time. Alternately, there are full-service content creation teams that can do all the heavy lifting for you, helping you to find the answers to important content questions, and creating scintillating content that builds your brand, engages your target audience, and reflects your goals and values.

by Steve J. Scearce