A writer’s life – Screenwriting Software

Scrivener screenshots

While going through the learning curve of experimenting with different approaches to the scriptwriting process to see what works for you, one of the challenges of becoming a writer is becoming aware of how your mind works at different stages of that process, and finding tools that help rather than hinder.

Over the years I’ve bought and tried to map my thinking process to a number of software tools, with varying levels of success.


Two Camps

Screenwriting software largely falls into two camps:

1) Script formatting (e.g. Final Draft, Movie Magic, the excellent Fade In)

2) Lead-you-by-the-hand script development tools (Contour, Plot Control, Blockbuster)


Each has its own pros and cons, but one aspect has always been missing for me: the ability to collect and organize research materials and story ideas, all in one place.


Enter Scrivener

I  use Scrivener extensively just for this capability, and use it up to script submission, at which point I export to an .fdx file to do a last formatting pass in Final Draft (some industry standards are best lived by!)


Initially I wanted writing software to do two main things:

a) Research: Help me capture and order thoughts and research materials while brainstorming a new project.
b) Structure Beats: Include my notes on Structure Beats inline with the script, so I could see and refer to them while writing, that could be easily hidden when outputting a clean script.
… as well as having a usable, intuitive script formatting model.


a) Research 

Scrivener’s Binder is split into two areas, Screenplay and Research.

When you output or “compile” your script, it only looks at material in the Screenplay section. Which means that I can import anything else into the Research section (text, Word, PDF, images, etc), organize it into a folder scheme, and have it instantly accessible while I’m writing, without cluttering up the script itself.

There are some screenshots here:


BONUS: Scrivener has a split-pane view, so I can have reference material in one window, while writing in the other.  (Or across two monitors!)

BONUS: Everything (script and research material), is saved in one Scrivener project file, which I can save to Dropbox, and sync across my main PC and my laptop for when I’m on the move.


b) Structure Beats 

In the Screenplay area of the Binder, I create a folder per script section (currently I use 8 following the Mini-Movie-Method) and in each folder add a text file for each scene.


Folder – Act 1A Ordinary World
– Scene 1
– Scene 2


I then add text files for each Structure Beat, e.g.

Folder – Act 1A Ordinary World
– Ghost/Backstory
– Opening Scene
– Scene 1
– Scene 2
– Inciting Incident
– Scene 3


This allows me to see all my Structure Beats inline as I’m writing, rather than having to switch to some sort of synopsis view. (NB: Other programs may do this: this is just how I handle it in Scrivener.) I can also tag them as “structure” files, and create a single search so I can see them in one “Structure” view.

For these Structure Beats, I uncheck their “Include in Compile?” check box, and lo, they’re not included when I output the script.


Additionally… Corkboards 

A number of tools provide some sort of clumsy, bolt-on index card/corkboard metaphor.

Frankly, most suck, and are either:

  • too restrictive in what you can enter or see at any one time
  • require you to switch to a different view to edit, which breaks your flow
  • or just behave glacially (yes you, Final Draft) which makes them a pain to work with.


Scrivener’s seems less offensive, but I ended up not using it for index cards, as using text files inline as described above was easier. It is however, very useful for putting together a corkboard of characters and their traits.


I’ll stop there, other than to say Scrivener is perhaps more useful if you have a story structure system in mind, and are not looking for the tool to lead you through the writing process, like Blockbuster, or Contour.

I use a mix of ProSeries, MMM, Truby, and Save the Cat techniques, and have created my own templates for use in Scrivener.

There’s a free demo for Windows and Mac, and it’s $40 to buy.