Step 1: Write Down What The Couple Means To You
This guide to writing a wedding ceremony script begins with the general and works towards the specific. Similar techniques are used in music composition, drawing, and architeture.
What does this means in practice? Before you begin to write your ceremony script you are first going to do a simple exercise.
- Get a pen and sheet of paper (or finger to keyboard).
- Make a column for each partner.
- Write down thoughts, feelings, and memories that come to mind.
The point of this exercise is to tease out the feelings you have towards the couple. This will prove invaluable in setting the tone for the ceremony when you are ready to start writing.
Chances are you will not use most, if any, of what you write down for this exercise. That is not the point. The point is to develop a tone that resonates with the couple when you start writing. In other words, this will set you on a specific path so that you don't end up going through endless rewrites.
Good writing begins with inspiration. This technique helps you find your inspiration before you waste your valuable time.
Chances are good that you were personally chosen to officiate the wedding. This is a good indication that you share a strong bond with one or both of the people getting married. This bond is your most powerful tool in writing a meaningful wedding ceremony script.
Here is an example of what this exercise could look like:
- When we were kids he stood up to me when Chad tried to take my lunch money.
Strong sense of justice.
- There was this time we went camping and I got us lost. He ended up trudging through poison oak. He didn't hold it against me though. We drank a lot of whiskey that night.
Patience of a saint.
- We lost touch after we went to college but when we hung out 6 years later it was like no time had passed.
- When he met Beyoncé I could tell he really liked her right away. I thought he would, since I introduced them.
I got his number!
- I met Beyoncé in grad school. She took the time to read my dissertation even though she had her own to work on. It's cool that she did that.
- When Justin and Beyoncé first met I could see they had chemistry, even before they did. Afterwards they both casually asked me about the other. That was pretty funny. They both made me come up with an excuse to hang out again for a second time.
This is what romantic comedies are made of.
- Beyoncé has a dog called Shelley, which she named after Mary Shelley, that's pretty cool, but also her dog is so sweet. You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat their dog and how their dog behaves. Shelley is a sweet dog that actually comes when you call her!
Real nurturing instinct.
- Beyoncé made it a point to include me and my girlfriend in her adventures, like the time we stayed at a cabin in Montana. She did all the planning. It was great.
Thoughtful and goal oriented.
This list will prove to be an invaluable reference when you are inevitably stuck with writer’s block. When that happens, simply go back to this list for insight on how to proceed writing.
Step 2: Read Other Wedding Ceremony Scripts
Do you want to write a good wedding ceremony script? A great place to start is to read what others have written. Wedding ceremony scripts are generally not that long so this won't take much of your time. Take the time to read a few.
After reading a few wedding ceremony scripts you will have a better understanding of their conventions and the format. Writing a wedding ceremony script is not like writing a murder-mystery. Wedding ceremonies follow a straight-forward format. Once you have internalized the wedding ceremony format, the task ahead will seem much less daunting.
Bonus Exercise: Carve out the time to read some wedding ceremonies out loud. Find a private place to do this if you feel self-conscious. The purpose of this exercise is to get a feel of what a wedding ceremony script sounds like when read aloud.
Writing for speech is substantially different than writing for reading. Wedding ceremonies are a genre of speech writing. In doing this exercise you will gain a sense of how some things that read well don't sound so great when you say them out loud, and vice versa. You will be rehearsing your own ceremony script later on, so you may as well start practicing your speaking skills now.
The links below point to a wide variety of wedding ceremony scripts. We provide both religious and non-religious wedding ceremony scripts to account for everyone’s needs.
Step 3: Collaborate With The Couple
This wedding ceremony is about and for the couple. Even though you will be doing the lion's share of the writing, you should never loose sight of this fact.
Consulting with the couple early on is an essential part of the ceremony writing process. After talking to them you will have a better idea as to the tone, theme, length, and rituals involved in the wedding ceremony.
Set up a meeting with the couple, or start an email chain. Things to ask them include:
Are there any special rituals they want in the ceremony such as a sand ceremony or handfasting?
This will give you more defition in the type of weddind ceremony you will be writing.
Are there any other people involved in the ceremony? Children? Family? Friends?
Often times the couple will want to include a flower girl in the ring exchange or have another friend do a poetry reading.
Have they chosen a wedding venue? Is there a personal significance to this space?
Maybe the couple has chosen the place they first met, or their favorite park. This is useful information to include in the ceremony to make it more resonant with the couple.
Is there anything else they would like to share regarding the ceremony?
Feel free to ask for anything that will help further define your writing assignment. Are they going to have a vows exchange? Is there a particular theme to the wedding? Do they want you to acknowledge their parents, and so on.
Having this dialog will also likely inspire new ideas that none of you would have thought of individually. Make sure to stay focused on what is relevant to the ceremony and take notes. Afterwards, confirm which ideas the couple wants to include in the actual ceremony. Plenty of ideas will have been tossed about and it will save you time if you know for sure which ones to develop and which ones to discard.
Step 4: Write The Foundation For Your Wedding Ceremony Script
We are FINALLY ready to start writing! Wooo!!!
The work you did in steps 1 - 3 operate under the mantra, "measure twice and cut once". With all of your prep work in hand you should have done all the necessary measuring to begin writing your wedding ceremony script.
Instead of writing the ceremony from start to finish, we are going to first block out each section of the ceremony. You can think of this as laying out the foundation of a house before putting up the walls. That way you will have no confusion about how many rooms the house will have, where they will be, you get the point.
In your word processor, block out a section for “Invocation“, “Declaration of Intent“, “Pronouncement“, and so on. If you are unfamiliar with these terms you can read our page The Parts of a Wedding Ceremony.
You now have the entire ceremony script framework laid out. From this point you can chip away at the entire ceremony by breaking it down into manageable blocks.
You may find yourself with writer's block when writing a particular section. If that happens, put that section aside and start working on a different part of the ceremony. By jumping around to different parts of the ceremony you can avoid writer's block and reinvigorate your inspiration by starting on something new.
Once you have something in each section you can then go back and focus on the places that give you trouble. This is where the exercise you did in step one will really come in handy. Draw from that list to help guide you through the difficult to write parts of the ceremony.
Step 5: Recite The Wedding Ceremony To Yourself
This will be your first round of editing.
As stated earlier, words feel different when recited as opposed to being read. There will likely be sentences in your ceremony that sound good on paper but feel awkward when spoken. This exercise is meant to identify and remedy those problem areas.
Find a quiet, private place and set some time aside to do nothing but read your ceremony out loud. Read through the ceremony a few times. Identify the pieces that feel awkward. Make the necessary changes and read the new version aloud. Do this as many times as it takes for you to feel good about how the words roll off your tongue.
Bonus Exercise: Find a trusted friend that is willing to listen to you recite the ceremony. Solicit their feedback on how the ceremony feels. They will be able to provide insights into parts that feel awkward, and they can give you pointers on your delivery.
We understand that this takes a lot of courage. It is crucial that you do this exercise with someone you trust enough to receive constructive criticism. If you find yourself taking things personally, take a step back and remind yourself why you are doing this. The ultimate goal is to craft the best ceremony possible.
Step 6: Take a Break
This is the rare case when doing nothing is doing something. Give yourself the gift of looking at what you have written with a fresh set of eyes.
This technique is sourced from Stephen King’s book “On Writing”. After writing his first manuscript, Mr. King would put it aside for several months before doing any significant edits.
Given the gift of time, Mr. King could look at his writing with more perspective and emotional detachment. This allowed him to see glaring omissions and mistakes that were not obvious when he was in the thick of writing. He could read his writing as if it were written by a different person. This made it easier to do significant edits and to completely remove sections that didn't work. Had he not given himself that space, he would have justified keeping his "bad" writing because of his ego.
You may not have weeks or months at your disposal. Whatever time you can set aside, whether it be a few days or weeks, will prove invaluable.
When you do come back to your ceremony you may see things you didn't notice before. Parts that you thought were clever may now seem inappropriate or jarring. You may even notice errors of omission, such as forgetting to include something important about the couple.
This is a technique that applies to all writing, not just writing wedding ceremony scripts. Give yourself some distance from your work. When you are in the middle of writing you are incapable of being your own unbiased editor. It's easy to become attached to a phrase or paragraph that doesn't work, because it was your creation, and you don't want to kill your baby. There is nothing wrong with being passionate about your work. But passion does not always generate good product.
This idea has been attributed to many writers over many generations. To reference Stephen King again, he phrased it this way “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.""
Step 7: Make The Ceremony Whole
Once you have given yourself some time to let your text "rest," it's time to get back to the grind.
In this step we will look at the ceremony as one continuous piece of writing. Make a copy of your ceremony and remove any section titles it has, such as "Invocation", "Declaration of Intent", etc. This copy of the ceremony should be a series of paragraphs with no obvious delineation between the sections.
The purpose here is to get a sense for how the ceremony feels as a whole. In the previous steps we tackled the ceremony as discrete pieces. Now we want to make sure that each piece transitions smoothly into the next.
Take this copy of the ceremony and read it to yourself. If something stands out, make a correction. Next, read the ceremony aloud. Again, make any necessary corrections. Repeat this process until you are satisfied that the ceremony feels like a singular body and not a bunch of paragraphs stitched together.
When you do this exercise you may notice that certain transitions, such as going from the Invocation to the Declaration of Intent may feel jarring. This would have been more difficult to notice when the ceremony was broken up into discrete sections.
Ultimately, a wedding ceremony script is one work composed of discrete parts. In step 4 we recommended writing the ceremony in sections to make the writing process more manageable. With those pieces written, you can now stitch them seamlessly together.
Step 8: Recite the Ceremony to a Friend
You should feel pretty good about what you have so far. You earned it, you have put in a lot of work.
Here's where the rubber meets the road. Find a trusted friend or two and recite the ceremony to them. Their feedback whether positive, negative, or both is crucial in perfecting the ceremony.
It may be hard to hear criticism after you have put in so much hard work. That is why you should ask someone whose insight you trust and respect. Their goal is to help you make the ceremony the best that it can be. You don't have to take their advice but it doesn't hurt to hear what they think.
Remember, this ceremony is not about you. It is about the couple. Keep your ego in check and think about them. You are doing this to write the best ceremony that you can for the couple.
Optional Exercise: You may also want to show the ceremony to the couple. Chances are already keeping in regular touch with them. If not, it is good to show them what you have so that they can give their seal of approval. There is the small chance that you went off the reservation with your writing, but if you following step 3, that should not be an issue.
The reason why we make this step optional is for two reasons. (1) You should already be working with the couple on the ceremony script. (2) Sometimes one of the partners requests to include a surprise in the ceremony and it is necessary to be somewhat secretive about the specifics of the ceremony. You will know what is appropriate in your specific situation.
Step 9: Make a Wedding Ceremony Script with Detailed Stage Directions
This entire page has been focused on the writing aspect of the wedding ceremony script. It is important not to lose sight that the wedding ceremony is a performance. Specifically, it is a highly choreographed performance with many moving pieces.
This technique is borrowed from Hollywood screenwriters. Oftentimes there are different versions of the same script that are intended for the director, actors, cinematographers, etc. Each version of the script includes information crucial to its audience. The actor script may remove everything but the dialog, the cinematographer script may have detailed notes on the framing, etc.
For your purposes, make a copy of the wedding ceremony script. In this copy add detailed actions and stage directions in a font that really sticks out. Later when you have the words memorized, you can refer to this script for the actions you need to do that go along with those words.
For instance, during the Rings Exchange, you might write "Gesture to the Ring Bearer. Take the ring. Hand the ring to the Groom. Turn to the Bride". You cannot be too detailed in this task.
You may also want to consult with the couple regarding the ceremony performance logistics. The more clarification you have regarding the moving pieces of the ceremony, the better you will be prepared. When it comes time for dress rehearsal, the couple will be impressed!
This article focuses on how to write a wedding ceremony script. For more information on how to practice for a wedding ceremony, check out our book Asked To Officiate.