A welder cannot build a bridge without his torch. A rockstar can’t have a solo without his guitar. A screenwriter cannot write a script without screenwriting software.
Today we’ll look at five of the best screenwriting software programs out there in the market in 2023, and the best part, all of these choices are FREE.
Maybe you’re a first-time writer looking to try and bring the film you see in your head onto the page, or maybe you’re a seasoned writing veteran looking for new software to try out. Well, let’s look at some of your best choices.
Arc Studio Pro
The cloud-based software allows you to access and write your screenplay from the downloadable software (Mac and PC), in your browser, or from the iOS app on your iPhone or iPad. And it has automatic cloud storage with the ability to save to Google Drive or your hard drive and access your screenplay from practically any device with an internet connection.
Cost: Free, with an option to upgrade to the $99/year Pro version. You can download the software here
Celtx is screenwriting/pre-production software designed to create and organize media projects in various formats: film screenplays, television screenplays, stage plays, games, podcasts, and documentaries.
It is one of the most well-known screenwriting software in the film industry.
With many collaborative features built into its code, it’s perfect if you want to collaborate on a script in real-time.
Some features require you to pay a monthly fee to use, but if you’re just looking for software that’ll allow you to simply write and have things in the proper industry standards when it comes to formatting, you can’t do wrong with Celtx.
Celtx is also available on all devices, making writing at home or on the go possible.
WriterDuet is screenwriting software for writing and editing screenplays and other forms of mass media.
Initially released in 2013, this software has been getting more recognition as time has passed and is a favorite among up-and-coming filmmakers.
Firebase powers the software. This allows users to write together in real-time from multiple devices.
WriterDuet is an online-based program, but recently the software has been given some off-line features that are free to use.
While it’s not false advertising to say that WriterDuet is free, there are some stipulations to the free title.
Unlike some other programs, WriterDuet allows its users to write their first THREE screenplays for free. After that, you either have to pay a per-month price or an annual fee.
With that said, if you are a first-time writer, it’ll take you some time to finish your first –second fully – and even third screenplay. By that time, you may decide to invest some money into a full version of this software or go with a competitor.
Scripts written with WriterDuet allow the user to save their script in the FDX file format, which 95% of Hollywood studios, producers, and production companies use, so if you get a script request from someone in the industry, you’ll be able to send the script in the proper format easily.
Fade In Professional Screenwriting Software, or Fade In, is screenwriting software for crafting film and television screenplays, stage plays, radio plays, graphic novels, and more.
The look of the software is very watered down, allowing the user to simply focus on writing their script.
While the software is free, you can only work on one script at a time unless you want to pay a fee to work on more.
If you’re just getting your feet wet in screenwriting, the simple free version will do its job just fine.
You can also save your script in FDX format, which means you can send your script to someone that uses Final Draft and its compatibility.
With the software available for both Mac and Windows users, you don’t have to worry if it works on your device.
Trelby is a free, open-source screenwriting program that provides a simple, uncluttered interface for writing scripts.
This is the only open-source screenwriting program we have on this list. This means any user can edit the program’s code to add new features or take away ones. This is how innovations are made.
If you’re looking for software that not only allows you to write your script but also does other things like budgeting, creating cast lists, and other related pre-production tasks, this isn’t the software for you as this software has none of those features.
Treble is designed to be clean and straightforward. If you simply want to sit down and write, then Trelby is perfect for you.
Kudos to Trelby for being 100% free. There are no extra features that you have to pay for.
This is free screenwriting software you may have never heard of before because it’s still in beta but available to download now.
It allows you to export for Final Draft, Word DocX, and PDF files.
A major feature that caught our eye that no other screenwriting program features are a clock that gives you an estimate of the duration of your screenplay. Each scene heading includes time for how long the software believes your scene will run.
This isn’t a feature that makes all other screenwriting software obsolete, but it’s a unique feature we haven’t seen before and could be useful, especially for those writers who tend to write longer than normal scenes. It’s also a great tool in quickly assessing the pace of your script.
The layout is amazingly simple and allows the user to focus on the most important, writing the script. Everything looks clean and sleek.
While the program is free, you can pay for dedicated cloud storage and buy a mobile version of the program for your phone so you can continue writing your script no matter where you are.
The only visible downside to Kit Scenarist is that since the program is still in the beta stage, you may run into some issues here and there as the programmers are still working out all the kinks to the program’s code.
But if you’re looking for something brand-new, free, with some unique features, this could be the perfect screenwriting software for you.
Fade in Screenwriting Transcript
Creating screenplays really is its own form of writing, and dedicated software makes life a whole lot easier. Fade In is a great affordable and professional tool for writing your next summer blockbuster, a period romance. We’re going to take the next few minutes to show you how to get the most from it. After launching fade in will provide you with a blank generic screenplay document. Now that’s fine if that’s what you’re writing. But if you’re drafting a different format, choose File templates new from template and choose the appropriate one from the list. You can also download alternate templates and install them via the file templates manage templates window. The magic of screenwriting software like fade in is the automatic formatting.
Let’s take a look. Typically you’ll start a scene by specifying whether it’s an interior or exterior. As you start typing fade in anticipates what you want. You can use the arrow keys to select if there are a list of items with simply press enter to automatically type the highlighted one. Here we’ll then type the location, then a hyphen, and then start typing evening.
As soon as Faden suggests evening, we’ll press Enter to accept. To the right you’ll see the Format tab showing you what style of formatting is being employed for your current line of text. When we pressed enter, fade in automatically switched from the scene heading to the auction format, since that’s commonly what follows a scene header. Of course, if for some reason you need to switch directly to a character speaking, you could select that formatting option instead. After typing the name of the character, pressing return will automatically switch you to the dialogue format ready to type the characters lines. Simple. Of course having to click over to the format bar every time you want a custom format could get tiresome. Instead, hold down the Alt key on a PC or Command key on a Mac and press the number keys to switch between the different formats.
As you continue to build your scenes, you’ll see that fade in automatically creates a list of scene headers, and you can double click to jump between them. But that’s not the only convenience when working with scenes in phaedon. It’s common for writers to block out the scenes on index cards. You may leave the third scene on written while you focus on later scenes and then come back to it. Fade In actually works the concept of index cards right into the writing process.
Choose documents, index cards, and fade in switches to a view of your script laid out with one index card for each scene. You’ll see here we have three scenes we’ve already written along with the second scene that’s currently just a heading placeholder. Double click in the body of an index card to add a scene synopsis and any notes you want to jot down. You can also set a color for the card that will appear in its top right corner both here and in the navigator window.
Of course, you may want to start the writing process in this view as you organize your story. Right-click between two cards and choose Insert index card to add a new one. Right click and choose cut to remove one you can drag to rearrange the cards. Of course remember this will also change the order of the scenes in your actual script. To return to the standard script view, just the Select index cards at the bottom of the Navigator, a show button gives you the option to include the top line of the synopsis from the index card in the navigation listing. It’s a good idea since the scene headings themselves are often repeats if you’re reusing locations.
In fact, you may want to choose Show synopsis first, for a more helpful navigation entry. By default fade in list the page count for each scene. But you can also list time in minutes and seconds based on the industry rule of thumb, one minute per page. We’ve already seen the Format tab at top right. But there are additional tabs for characters you’ve added to your script so far, your locations and other scripting shortcuts. The items listed in these tabs are what will autocomplete as you type. For example, let’s say we plan on having multiple scenes in the master bedroom. We simply add it to the list here in the locations tab. Once it’s part of the list, the next time we type in M after an interior or exterior master bedroom is included as an autocomplete option.
The other tab has Well, all the other stuff. Let’s say we have a lot happening at noon, we’ll go to the same times and add noon as a time. Now after masterbedroom, we’ll add a dash and then start typing noon. It’s there waiting for us in order complete, and we can use the up and down arrows to select between it and night, pressing Return or Enter to come in. Sometimes you’ll end up writing a character out of your script entirely. Maybe you added a French maid and then decided it was too offensive a stereotype to your French audience. To avoid confusion when you’re counting characters later, click the rebuild button. Faden will scan your script and include only characters currently appearing in the script in the resulting list. And should you decide that calling your heroine Gruen Hilda is not going to track well with your audience. You can rename her in the characters tab. Faden will ask you to confirm that you want to propagate the changes throughout the script.
Welcome to the Quickstart tutorial for writer duet screenwriting software. Let’s take a tour of the writer duet layout. on the page itself, you’ll find that you have everything you need to start writing. Type I n t.or e x t.to. Start a new scene automatically. Use Enter to create new lines and tab to navigate between common line types like action, character and dialogue. For more about screenplay formatting, check out the formatting guide under help script examples formatting.
Although I do definitely recommend just giving it a try, First, select the comment bubble to the left of your active line to add comments, image or video links or to check or restore the changes that have occurred for that line throughout the scripts history. Now let’s take a quick look at the left sidebar we’re ready to do it has all of the tools and features that you’ll need. When you open the menu panel, you can explore the menu options or search using the features search bar, you can navigate to Tools like the Outliner time machine, and you can manage tags, revisions, reports and more. In the menu, you’ll also find the Customize window where you can adjust functions, the display formatting etc. The portfolio panel allows you to open your portfolio and create new projects. You can also manage the documents associated with your project. For example, double click the title page to open it.
From the menu on each dock, you have options to rename, copy, merge documents, or even create views within your documents.
In the Project panel, you can change project details and select the template for your document. Ready to do it auto saves to our servers to allow you to work with others or across devices in real time. In the Save widget You can also find save options under Save as or you can export to any relevant file type. The cards panel displays your content and card form, jumped to a card by clicking the arrow icon or seen number in the top right corner, tag or color a card. Focus on a card to isolate that scene or remove a card to delete that scene. All within the menu in the upper right corner of each card.
Click hold drag to move cards to new positions that will be reflected in the document. The private pad widget is a space to collect private notes as you write. If you share the project, no one else will see these private notes. The share panel has everything you need to start and manage collaborations, view add or remove collaborators or edit their permissions when necessary with a number of options. Since ready to do it is sinking in real time. You can write at the same time on opposite ends of the script, or even the same line. Next step, the comments in chat panel here. All the comments made in the project are sorted in chronological order by default, you can reply to comments from the option that appears on hover. You can also edit color, resolve and remove comments.
The chat widget allows for group and individual chat, chat or video chat with contacts by clicking on their name. Under the Menu icon find options to review their live or past changes or follow along as they’re working with the mirror tool. The line types and tools panel lists all of your line types to switch between as needed. In the tool section beyond tools for editing. As you write, you have tools for importing and exporting your script formatting tool dialog and full screen mode. In the bottom left corner, you can open up the layouts widget and choose from a variety of layouts like focus, which strips away any distractions and lets you focus on the page.
Writer duets layout is highly customizable. widgets can be added and removed or dragged anywhere to fully customize your layout. You can even customize the colors under customize display. In the profile and notification panel, you can manage your account information. Under account you can update your avatar email password and subscription.
The notifications widget will notify you of collaborator activity, such as New comments on the script. This is also where you can upgrade your subscription we recommend right to do at Pro for unlimited scripts, full co writing capabilities, full access to your scripts infinite history, total customizability and production tools. That should be everything you need to get you started. With any more questions you have, check out the knowledge base in the menu under a help knowledge base to explore the details and intricacies of all of our features. And please always feel free to reach out with any questions. our support team is here to help. So get in there and start writing.
Arc Studio Pro Transcript
Hi, Ted Wilkes here with art studio. And in today’s video, I’m going to walk you through some of the tools within the software, which will help you in maximizing your productivity when you come to tackle writing your next screenplay. So the first thing I want to share with you is the writing schedule, which sets of writing reminders for you which assist in shaping the writing habits you want to build, and keeps your momentum going when you’re working on a project.
In this instance, I’ve selected every day, which means if I haven’t written anything by 6pm, that day, art studio is going to send me a reminder email, which is going to give me a little nudge to jump in and get some pages written. Now, although writing every day, even just for 10, or 20 minutes is a great way to ensure that you are forming a lasting habit with your writing. I know that it’s often hard with other commitments to dedicate yourself to that regime. So art studio lets you set your own writing schedule, which suits you and allows you to create writing goals which are attainable for you.
Another function that you can use is the Send me progress reports tool. And if you check this arc studio will fire over an email to let you know how many pages you’ve written at the end of the day, and start counting up the writing streak that you’re on. This is a great habit forming tool, as it allows you to really visualize the progress that you’re making on a screenplay.
If you do miss a day, which is going to happen every so often. arc studio will keep the writing streak that you’re ongoing and you’ll be sent a nudge email to get back on course, it’s only if you miss two sheduled writing days in a row, they go straight will be reset to zero, which becomes a great motivator to be certain that you are forming that all important writing habit. Now the next thing I want to show you is focus mode. So here we are in a script. And if I go down here and click this symbol, it will hide all of the UI and allow for you to more easily get into the flow of your writing. This is sometimes enough for you to be able to get on with some distraction free writing.
If you want to go a little further, you might want to explore using the Pomodoro technique where you write for a fixed length of time and then take an allotted break. This can be a really effective way of breaking down a larger task into manageable chunks. intimates and springs are a popular way the professional writers use to maintain maximum creativity and productivity.
Just down here you can activate a time target which sets you off on a writing sprint of anywhere from 10 to 120 minutes. Another little neat trick is that you can have art studio nag you when you’re not writing by checking this function on so that if you do get distracted by something else, and you navigate away from your screenplay for 30 seconds, you’ll get a little nudge which directs you back to getting on with your work. When you finally hit your writing goal for this particular sprint.
You are then prompted to take a short break so that you can recharge your batteries and get ready to take on another sprint. You can like this video and subscribe for more screenwriting tips or you can find out more on our website arcStudiopro.com
Okay, so you don’t have $300 that you want to spend on Final Draft. You’d rather use that on equipment for your short.
Oh,my internet is broke. Let’s try this again. Let’s throw it into the gulags and we’ll put trilby there we go tr e lb why, and it’s brought up this is a free program for writing your, your scripts, it can be a feature a short whatever you want. Free of charge, it’s good. Okay, so we’re gonna go to [email protected] and we’ve got Windows and Linux sorry Mac users
There’s probably other programs just type in free script writing software for a Mac and you’ll find something but this is just for Windows it looks like I thought that a Mac version try Celtics see if they have a Mac version. Those difficult to find the download the free download for Celtics, anyways, geysers, getting started guide, full documentation, all sorts of stuff. Anyways, click next trilby will be placed on my computer. So you can use it for free to write my Oscar winning script. It’ll take a little while depending on your computer. This should be quicker than that. Done. All right,click finish, finish. And we’re going to go and have a look where did it put it on my computer? There it is. We’ll click that. And there we go. got trolled on the computer. Now the magic happens.
Okay, let’s go through everything we can do here new, open, save, save as close revert, import, export, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, settings. Okay, undo redo copy, paste, copy system. We got some stuff in here. We’re just going to go through this. And just let our brains let it sink in a bit. We don’t have to know what everything does. But we’re just going to go through here. Script report location part. This is advanced stuff. We don’t need to know this. We just want to write our script. Alright, commands manual and about. Alright, so let’s just start here. I haven’t used this in a while guys. So this is going to be rusty. I’ve been using Celtics a lot. But I find again, it’s hard to find the free download trilby makes it super simple that I use trilby for years. So I recommend it. So let’s see. Let’s type in a scary funny thriller. Okay, so that’s the title. Huh? It’s all coming back. Man. Okay, that’s not working the way I want it to. So let’s just randomly hit the keyboard. Alright, so let’s go to new there. I want to clean fresh slate. All right, let’s discard the changes. Go to let’s just look through these new script. Open script. Save, save as script setting. Right close script, sledding the sink into my brain so I can remember. All right, global settings. Alright, so we’re, what am I looking for? I’m looking for the title. And I forget how to do it. But I’ll remember Okay, over there. There it is. Action. And scene. So we’re on scene mode. As you can see, it says scene over there a man. I’m going to call this thing a man saves the world. Okay.
Okay, now I’m in character mode. So, you’ll see in the top right hand corner, you can click Okay, so I clicked I wrote Trevor. And now I’m doing the dialogue. So after you hit enter, it goes into dialogue mode. As you can see, it says dialogue.
I will save the world says Trevor. Alright, now we’re back into character mode. So I have to come up with a new character. who would it be?
There’s a character when you hit enter goes a dialogue. And when you hit tab, it goes to action. Oh, Jackson is is the new character but there was a slash which I got rid of. That would be that would probably imma save the world that would probably be wise.
I like living. Period. Hit enter. Now it goes back to character mode. But now as soon as you hit the T tripper pops up, you hit enter and it goes right to dialogue mode. So it goes really quick here. Trevor goes as do I he likes to live.
But not the But Doctor Who? Who’s the bad villain antagonist, Dr. Smash Earth Dr. Smash earth but you It seems Dr. Smash Earth has new weaknesses. There we go. Oh, it’s getting tense. How can they beat someone who has no weaknesses? Alright, Dr. Smashmouth. Now this is I’m in character mode right here. So it will remember that I wrote dr smasher right here. I hit Enter right into dialogue mode.
Alright, so we have three characters in the memory right now. So as soon as you type like oh yeah, I went to action mode there guys I hit enter and now this is action so it writes it sort of more to the left. Dr. Smash Earth shoes no shows. Dr. Smash Earth sneaks in and what?
What does he do? He jumps, jumps or jumps out of the darkness. There we go.
Oh, oh, I spelled it wrong. It’s going to our desert heroes. That’s how I spell the wrong spot heroes, right? That’s fine. Whatever. You get the point. That’s action. All right, I hit t all of a sudden Trevor shoots up, hit enter. This is going quickly. Oh, my doctor. Smash. Oh, not him.
But just smash of exclamation mark, enter Jackson. In the flesh, oh, the flesh. Alright.
It is heating up, folks. Alright, so we are again, hit enter. go right into dialogue mode
Speak of the devil. Alright, so you guys get the point. He just sort of put in the character. It remembers the character. Oh, now I wrote the end. It’s sort of thinking it’s a character. But what apps you guys get the point. It’s very quick. It’s very simple. We’re going to save as it will be called a trilby file tr e lb y. And you can put it anywhere in your computer. Know how to save the Earth. There we go. Alright, so it’s very simple, very fast. Each What?
Okay, whatever. So each page represents about a minute of screen time. So you’re using this. So you’re gonna find out how long your script is. So in the class I’m teaching, they’ve got three to four minutes to make a short. So this program will let them know how long their scripts going. Yeah, so that’s about it. Now, if you have a lot of action on the page, it won’t represent like one minute. But for dialogue, one page equals one minute, approximately.
Alright, so I’m going to go in here. Oh, this is the PDF that I made, and try to change the title. Let me try to remember how to do that. Oh, it’ll come I’ll remember. But for right now, I’m still it says untitled screenplay. I would love to change that. Let’s look through the settings here. Hmm, where are you? I want my name in there. Where spell checker barbapapa? I don’t know. We’ll we’ll have to keep digging here. I will find it. I will not give up. I won’t leave you guys hanging. You need a good title page. All right, so let’s go back in export. Is it in here somewhere? There’s the PDF that I made.
Now this is what you would send to your actors. Production Manager, cinematographer, whoever you make the PDF, you attach it to an email. You’re good to go. free of charge. All right. Where is the setting? I mean, crazy. It’s in here somewhere. It’s gonna be easy. settings new. Not in there. Keep digging. Select all those. Let’s see. No, that didn’t work. I selected the scene though.
Let’s go to the next thing.
layout. What’s that do? Not what I want side by side. I don’t know what half these things? Do. I just use it for the basics. Aha, we found it. Do you see that? title page. Okay. So by default, it’s untitled screenplay. You’ll want to change that unless your short is named untitled screenplay. It could happen. The man who saved the earth, then your name, my name here. You change that unless your name is My name here. I don’t think that could happen.
Now let’s go to your email. Because maybe you want to send it off to an agent. They aren’t able to get a hold of you. And you can put your phone number in there but I’m not going to. So the man who saved there is by Travis Gordon. Then instant classic Oscar winning. Alright, so export, you’re gonna make a PDF here. So anyone who has Adobe Acrobat, it’s a reader. There’s free PDF readers you can use as well. But most everyone on the planet can open it most times it’s the industry standard.
Alright, see open in Acrobat, and we’ve got the title. Everything looks good. Got the script. Good to go. Time to win an Oscar. I don’t know. I’m just feeling it here. Not really. So that is that. So that’s how I use trilby. The basics. You want to save your file. I recommend actually doing different versions. So it’d be a man saves the world. And then my next draft is the man saves the world version two and then on and on and on. Anyways, guys, thanks for watching. I will talk to you later.
Good luck, guys.
There are a ton of screenwriting software options out there in the world. With so many to choose from it can be hard to decide which is the best one to use.
While, Final Draft is considered the industry standard screenwriting software tool, used by 95% of productions in Hollywood, there are other options that do the same job, and better yet, are free.
One of those options is the free screenwriting software, Celtx. Today, we will take a look at the software and give things a breakdown to see if this is software that you should download today.
One thing that needs to be mentioned before we fully dive into this article: DO NOT WRITE YOUR SCRIPT IN A WORD DOCUMENT!
Being a screenwriter that works with a lot of first-time writers, this is something I see happen all the time. Writers who have written their script in a Word document.
If you would send your script to a producer or production company and they saw that your script was in a Word doc, there’s a 100% chance they’ll never open it.
It shows a lack of basic knowledge of how screenwriting works. A script is extremely specific in the way it’s formatted. While, yes, you can break the mold on how to tell a story, all formatting is pretty much standard.
Your script must have:
- Proper scene headings
- Action lines.
- Character Names
- Transitions (sometimes)
If you don’t know how to format correctly, something you can easily learn, then you probably didn’t take the time to learn how to write a compelling story. A producer doesn’t have enough time as it is, so don’t waste more of their time by not doing your homework first.
The good news? When you use screenwriting software, the software is designed to format things automatically for you, so you can spend less time on the way a script looks and spend more time on just telling an engaging story.
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As stated before, a great reason to download Celtx is that the software is free.
You don’t have to spend any money to get your ideas on paper. With Celtx you can download the software and immediately get to work.
With that said, if you’re looking for some in-depth features, Celtx has them too, but you’ll have to pay for those extras.
If you want to do more than just simply write a screenplay, like write a budget, put together shot lists, scheduling, and more, then you’ll have to pay, per month, for those features.
These extras start at around ten dollars a month.
Celtx has a lot of collaborative features that allow many people to work on the same script together. This is great for films that are going into production as everyone involved can see the script, make changes to it, leave notes, and more – all in real-time.
This is a great tool for student filmmakers.
Every new screenwriter should have some knowledge on how to format a script properly so if your screenwriting software isn’t working correctly, you’ll know how to make changes to get things looking and working correctly again.
While Celtx handles formatting well and is almost close to industry standards, the software still isn’t perfect.
The software will place (continued) on top of every new page, which isn’t needed.
Parentheticals in dialog should be on their own sperate line, which the software doesn’t automatically do.
Title pages are also a place where formatting can be a little different than industry standards, though to be fair, a program like Final Draft doesn’t handle title pages 100% correct either.
As an up-and-coming screenwriter, Celtx is a great option for you as it allows you to jump right into things and start writing. The icing on the cake is that its free.
Using Celtx will make you look more professional and will help you stand out from the thousands of other writers out there that choose to write their screenplays in Word Docs, really setting themselves up for failure before they even have typed…
… FADE IN.
Recommend (especially for first-time or new-ish screenwriters).
“Screenwriting is the most prized of all the cinematic arts. Actually, it isn’t, but it should be.”
– Hugh Laurie.
This quote is perfect and a hundred percent true. When it comes to film and television scriptwriting, the writer, known as a screenwriter, has the most important job in the whole filmmaking process.
Maybe, though, you are not familiar with what Script Writing is and why screenwriters are so important.
Have no fear, that’s what we’ll dig into today.
What is Script Writing?
Every film or television show that has ever been produced first started off as a script.
The script is the film (or television show) in written/text form. Scene by scene playing out on paper.
Every action. Every image. Every line of dialogue. Every plot point. If it’s on the screen, it came from the script.
In the most basic set of terms, a script is the blueprint for the film you’re going to bring to life.
In the world we live in today, some people may think that the script isn’t the most important part of the filmmaking process (looking at you major studios). Some will say that if you can hire a talented actor, that actor can elevate a poor script into a good movie.
Or someone might have the thought that if the film can just attract an A-list director, they’ll be able to fix problems with the script.
The only issue is, a poor script will never turn into a good movie, because the script is your film’s foundation, and if that’s not solid, your film will never be strong enough to stand on its own.
With that said, on the other side of the coin, if you have a solid script, your film will only improve when you add talent in front and behind the camera.
We as an audience can overlook bad acting and crappy special effects if we are engaged with the story we’re watching. If we have a connection to what we’re seeing on the screen, we’re more forgiving for those other flaws because the story we’re following makes sense and we’re invested.
There’s no other form of writing quite like screenwriting (aka scriptwriting) because there are certain things you have to be able to do that you don’t necessarily do in another form of writing, like when writing a novel.
In a script, you must SHOW and NOT TELL.
This means, any information that you are going to share with the viewer must be done in one of two ways;
If you haven’t pick one or the other, your script has been written incorrectly.
A lot of first-time screenwriters get themselves into trouble when it comes to this because they believe that they can write their script just like they would a novel.
That is WRONG.
The great thing about writing a novel is that you can really get into a character’s head. The writer can tell you exactly what that character is thinking/feeling. The character can express themself to the writer in a very personal way.
The write can reveal information to the reader that has nothing to do with the story but gives the story context. The writer can change perspectives and get into the heads of several characters in the story.
If you are writing a script and looking to write the script correctly, you can’t do any of that.
If you need to key the audience in on something you either have to show it as a visual, or a character needs to say it as dialogue.
Unlike a novel, which we the reader hold in our hands and read for ourselves, the script is never seen by the viewer. The viewer only sees and hears what is taking place on the screen.
Also, unlike a novel, everything written in a script has to be written in the present tense, as the action taking place on the screen is happening in real-time whereas a novel can summarize the events that have taken place.
This can make conveying information to the audience exceedingly difficult as a screenwriter and can lead to what we call “heavy exposition”.
You ever watch a film or television show and come to a moment when it feels like a character is just telling you, the viewer, things you need to know because they’re important to the story? That’s exposition. It feels forced if not done properly.
Think of your favorite and least favorite film and television shows. What did you pick as your favorite? What did you pick as a film you hate? If you analyze things closely for a moment you’ll realize, that while you might hate or like a film because of an actor, or who directed it, you’re remembering the film as a whole based on the story it told.
If I were a betting man, I’d say that the difference between your favorite film and a movie you hate, comes down to the story, and that is all on the screenwriter and how he wrote his/her script.
Script writing has many elements to it and can take a while to learn how to do all those things correctly. It can take even longer to become good at it. But it is also one of the most rewarding writing mediums there are.
I’d like to close out by writing a little scene to show as an example of what I’ve talked about here today when it comes to writing a screenplay compared to a novel, and how you SHOW in a film and TELL in a novel.
First, we’ll write a very quick scene as if it were inside of a novel.
Mike paces the room back and forth. He’s covered in his own sweat from having just come from the gym, a place he goes every day for at least two hours.
As he paces the room, a familiar face, Jill, enters the room with him.
Jill’s face, filled with a giant smile. She looks at Mike slightly confused having not expected to see him at this moment. She’s very thankful that she decided to come to the living room by herself.
Just moments earlier, she told her boyfriend, the man she’s cheating on Mike with, to not come out to the living room with her to investigate the noises she was hearing. If he would have come with her, Mike would certainly find out about her cheating ways.
“I didn’t think you’d be here till later tonight”, said Jill. “I was feeling restless and just had to see you right now”, Mike replied.
Jill starts to get butterflies in her stomach. What could Mike need to see her right now about? Does he know she’s cheating on him? She starts to lose her smile as she waits to hear what else Mike has to say….
Now, let’s write this small scene like we would in a screenplay and not a novel. Remember, all the information we need to convey must be in visuals or dialogue to tell our story.
INT. HOUSE – LIVING ROOM – DAY
Mike, paces the room back and forth. He wears his gym gear, holds a large,
almost empty, bottle of water. His face covered in sweat.
He stops pacing as he sees, Jill, joining him in the room.
Jill greets him with a big smile on her face.
What are you doing here?
Jill looks slightly behind her where the bedroom door is slightly cracked. We see a
shadow on the wall moving around. Appears to be in the shape of a man.
I was feeling restless and just had to talk to you right away.
Jill’s eyebrow slightly raises. Her smile starting to fade away.
About what? Is everything okay?
Mike stops pacing the room. He looks towards Jill. He goes to speak when…
he sees the shadow from inside the bedroom with his own eyes.
I knew it!
As you can see, we wrote the same exact scene as in the novel, except we didn’t tell the audience any information. Instead, we used visuals and dialogue to tell all the important information to the audience.
We do not tell the audience that Mike has been at the gym for hours. We show that he’s wearing gym clothes, he’s sweating, and almost out of water. As the audience, we can take this information and figure out what it must mean.
Personally, this is an aspect of screenwriting that I LOVE. Finding the right way to share information with the audience. The more you learn the art of screenwriting the more creative you’ll find yourself presenting the information.
Transcription: So recently, I’ve been writing a lot more often having to get into that sort of narrative feature realm more often than I usually do. A lot of you know that last year I did write my first feature with there comes a knocking. But recently, I’m having to dive into that even more sometimes, even on a deadline. So that’s got me thinking a lot about my process and how I get into that creative realm and what I do to keep myself there and moving forward.
So I wanted to talk a bit about that today, not about the ones and zeros of what actual structure is, or the different types of structure will mention it. But we’re not going to dive into that. So less on how to write and more on how to start writing. And to do that, I asked my friend Ricky stop to help me out on this episode, because he has a similar sensibility to myself. And he just finished writing and directing his first feature starring Idris Elba. So he had a lot of really good ideas that I wanted to bring to you guys as well. So I’m gonna let him start it out.
So guys, my name is Ricky stob, from neighborhood film company. And I’m going to share some tips for you on how we break story when we’re starting out of script. So the first thing that is absolutely terrifying for every single writer out there is facing the blank page. So what we do is we don’t make it blank, the first thing I like to do is actually build a file system, I’ll open the script up, I’ll put the title on, I’ll put my name, I’ll put the date, I just like to be able to see that I’ve started, you know, having little, little goals to make you feel like you’re making progress makes the spirit feel good. So that’s something that we do, we just set up the script. And we like to see that, you know, someday soon, there’ll be 100 pages after that first page, but it just feels good to get started.
I really love that idea about just putting something on the title page, just getting something down on paper to feel like you’ve gotten started, I think that’s such a great way in. And to be clear, at this point, what I’m talking about is breaking a story for a concept that already exists, which is what got me thinking about this episode to begin with.
There’s just this concept that people are interested in. And now I have to break this story. And for me, that means shower time, there’s something about the shower, that is really just such a perfect idea how I think it’s the white noise of the water, the fact that you can’t touch your phone, you can’t look at social media, there are no distractions, it’s just you and your thoughts.
And the main thing that I’m cracking at this stage is who is this about? Who is that person? What are they going through what will change in them and how for me, this is a massive guiding force and figuring out my beginning, middle and end since the character and the theme of the story is going to be what drives that inevitable ending.
Those things are what will lead you to that moment when you say, of course, this is it, it has to be this because it ties perfectly into your story, character and theme. But I’m also just thinking about any and all ideas that revolve around this anything that pops into my head, a line of dialogue, a moment, a set piece, a trailer moment, an image that enforces theme, all of that, and then I will log it in using Evernote and voice recording on my phone, whatever I have available at the time of just chucking it into there, and I’ll collect it into a space later.
A lot of the time, I don’t even really go back and look at that unless I’m stuck. It’s just getting these ideas turning in your head. And the ones that you remember are the ones that stick and end up in the final document. And of course research is a big thing to help me from getting stuck. So if I’m writing something in a courtroom, I’ll go watch a bunch of courtroom videos, I’ll read articles about that. And reading those real life things real situations will really give you a lot of ingredients to start cooking up some other ideas you wouldn’t have had otherwise. But once you have all these ideas down, you know your beginning, middle and end, then what
the next thing we do is we have some very, very practical resources that we rely on to start filling those pages. I think the biggest problem for a lot of writers is that they have these big, beautiful grand ideas, but it’s so hard to take them from your brain and actually put them onto the page. And so there are some really practical resources out there. I’m sure you know, you’ve heard of structure and outline and all these things. But what are the actual resources people are using? Well, I’m going to show you what we actually use.
So there’s a book you’ve probably heard me talk about, I think it’s amazing. I don’t know this author, Blake Snyder, but this book is awesome. And it’s so so simple. And that’s why I love it actually is it takes the really complicated ideas in my mind and helps me funnel them through this prism and say, Okay, how do I take a complex idea and make it simple for film? You know, there’s a great analogy that I think someone told me once I don’t think I made it up but they’re saying what makes films great is not their structure.
You know, just like what makes a T shirt great is not a structure. Every t shirt has a hole for the head, two holes for the arms and a hole to get your body in. But changing that structure putting two holes for two heads that don’t exist does not make the T shirt better. What makes a T shirt great are those little intricacies that are delicate and specific to your voice.
Not the structure of the Actual shirt. And so what I like to do is take the structure of the film off the plate. And what’s really great about the book save the cat is it lays out very simple structures for all kinds of different movies. And if your movie is a, you know, let’s say it’s a fish out of water story, it tells you all the tropes and things that are typically involved in those types of stories. And then you can apply your idea and put it into those into that format.
Now, this might seem to a lot of you, even as I say, and I remember finding the book is like, Oh, it’s gonna make my story so generic. But again, that is not what makes your story unique. What makes your story unique is your vision, your characters, your voice, the people you see in this world, the way that you paint that world, the way that it flows from beginning to end, the way that you uniquely craft them. That’s what makes your story your story.
structure can be a dirty word for people. But the truth is, every film has a beginning, middle and end. And that is a structure no matter what way you cut it. There is some form of structure to every film that you watch, we can get into the structure in another episode and debate all about that.
Like Ricky, I’m also a fan of structure or mile markers, as he called it in our podcast points that you know, you want to hit and knowing these points are a great guide, at least for me, when trying to walk through that beginning desert wasteland of the blank page save the cat does something like a three act structure, I believe and 15 major beats to hit I read it around 2010 and forgot all about it.
The ideas from that book stuck in the back on my mind. And we’re a springboard to my own process. For me, I’m usually thinking more in terms of 6x x one, A and B two, A and B, three, A and B. And this is especially useful for me in the active desert like Ricky, I do split the second act up as well, because I think it makes it pays better and it makes it a less daunting space to travel.
Now this process might change the way that I found my way through in the last few years has evolved overall and changed a bit depending on story too. But at this point, building out the structure. As far as tools go, I’m still in Evernote, although slugline two was just released and full disclosure, I am friends with one of its creators to Auschwitz. But this new version has a way of outlining that I really love.
So I think I’ll be moving off of Evernote and into slugline too for that part of the process going forward, since you can create your acts and beats and easily move things around. It’s pretty badass. So I’ll put a link to that in the notes.
Again, at this point, I’m building out my beats where I think they should fall in the axe. And I’m still not touching the script yet, since I don’t like to actually start writing until I have all my major beats built out where I can see them, rearrange them pitch those ideas to people and watch their reaction and so on. Ricky does something similar here too. But his is more of a physical thing.
Not something like Evernote will throw up tons of ideas literally onto a wall on the note cards. And we’ll ask ourselves, you know, what are what are all the ideas that are in our heads because I like to empty my mind so that the ideas that are in my heads are now physically written down. And for me, it actually creates a mental space where I can fill it with some new concepts because I, I feel like I’m holding on to them if I don’t actually write them down. And so we start by doing that. And then we literally take with save the cat and some other structural devices that we’ve had, we actually work in a four act structure. So that essentially the second act of a three act structure is broken into two acts.
For me, what that helps alleviate is most scripts die in the middle. Because if you think of a three act structure in 120 pages, that means the first 30 are the first act. The second act is 60. And the third act is another 30. But that doesn’t actually make sense to me. So well we also do is, you know, myself and my writing partner, Dan, we always try to keep our scripts under 100 pages if we can.
So if you break out for x, that’s 25 pages practice makes the script move a lot faster. But I’m going to show you something actually. So we write down every single scene in beat of the movie, as we can conceive it. This right here, you can see this, that right there. That is literally every single scene of concrete cowboy. And as we go through writing, we have every single scene written down.
What also creates an enormous level of satisfaction is once you’ve written a scene, you get to highlight the section on the outline. I know this is like super dorky and nerdy, but it feels so good to get to the end and have all your scenes highlighted because that means you’ve written all your scenes.
So now I’m finally writing the script, right? Wrong. Again, this might not work for everyone but my writing is rewriting and I like to do that from the smallest stage up. So my idea dump turns into a rough act map showing the major points, which then drill down further into the major beats. And of course at this point I have the character I know who they are, what they want and what they need.
So now with that built my major beats turn into scenes and I started a rough treatment, a very concise telling of the whole story from beginning to end with the intention of landing all of the ideas and tone of the main piece. So this ends up usually, for me landing somewhere between 13 and 20 pages, but it encompasses the entire story.
What’s great about this is it lets me see if the story is working in a very simple way. And I can show trusted friends to get some feedback on these ideas. Of course, at this stage, you need to be extremely careful who you show, The boat is still on rough waters, and you’re likely not fully confident in it yet, so the right feedback is key. But after that, I take that treatment and start turning it into the script, I copy over what I have placing an under proper scene headings, and I start rewriting and filling things in.
For me, this keeps me from ever feeling overwhelmed at that beginning point from ever feeling discouraged by that blank page. Because I’ve already filled it in before I even started. It’s a psychological trick that I do to myself, but it seems to be working really well. So by the time I start actually writing the film, I’ve already done a ton of work. And the writing gets to be a fun playground of ideas and construction. But it all starts with filling those beats or mile markers.
I think having those little goals, those super small mile markers, pays huge dividends. Because eventually, you know, if you’ve done this every day, for weeks and weeks on end, you’ll see that you’ve taken this big idea that’s been sitting in your head for so long. And you’ve made practical steps of progress to put it on the page. And the biggest part is you’ve got to get out the bad ideas for the beautiful ideas to flourish.
Like, you know, writing is rewriting everyone says that, but that part of the process you have to enjoy is just got to get your ideas on the page. And so really, you know, whether it’s save the cat, whatever app structure you like, figure out the the designs of structure that work for you and your spirit and your writing. And, you know, go forward and write with us.
Although Ricky and I are both talking about features. This does work for short films as well. Although my personal process for short films is a little bit different. There’s less work in the front end involved before I start getting writing. It’s not as detailed before I start into the actual script.
There’s no treatment involved when I’m doing just a short film, but to also say the obvious, we’re absolutely not saying this is how you should definitely do it. We’re just saying that these are the methods that have been working for us if thinking about structure doesn’t help you throw it out. If the idea of six acts sounds ridiculous to you, then ignore it.
What I think is most valuable about getting other people’s process is getting bits of ideas that might work for you and helping Matt to refine your own process or just not feeling alone because you’re hearing other creators like yourself dealing with and navigating the same things you are what matters is the destination, not how you get there that is completely up to you what works best for you find the process that helps you get writing and helps you continue writing and this episode wasn’t about detail on structure or the story ideas.
Like I said before, we may do that in another episode for this, I really just wanted to focus on the process of getting into the process. Because again, it’s what I’ve currently been going through professionally in the last few years, I’ve had to build out this process for myself very quickly. And so far, this is what’s really helped me continue down that path and get the work done.
So hopefully you found it interesting or it’s useful for you. And if you want to know more about process our podcast is back like I’ve been telling you guys last two episodes, we put up a really great and talk a lot about process, especially when it comes to writing. So definitely check the link in the notes for that as well. And of course the contest is over.
We’re gonna start going through everything. And of course announce the winners next week and announce one more contest. So if you weren’t able to get involved with this one, you have another chance. We’ll be announcing that next week as well. So until then, don’t forget to write, shoot, edit, repeat