If you read my recent blog about screenplay format, you understand the importance of your screenplay looking the part. If your screenplay is not formatted the right way, it’s not going to get picked up or made. That is a fitting standard considering we are talking about show business here, but the format does not need to be challenging. The format can, in fact, be very simple, especially if you use screenwriting software.
I’m going to offer you a few of my thoughts about the available suites of screenwriting software, what to use and what traps to avoid.
What Screenwriting Software To Use
When I started writing professional screenplays, Final Draft was the standard in software. Twenty years and a hundred scripts later, it still is, the shining gold standard software for television, stage and feature film writing.
In general, I think that the $200 price tag for Final Draft is well worth the money. The software is slick, works on all computers and offers the most dynamic range of options. This is an especially valuable piece of software considering it formats for all possible mediums.
The other value is this: everyone in the industry you want to get into uses it. You want to use what the pros use.
Recently, there are newcomers to the screenwriting software game. Perhaps in the interest of capitalizing on the section of the market unwilling to shell out $200 for Final Draft, providers like Celtx, Writer Duet and Dramatica (to name only a few) have cropped up. These programs cost a fraction of what Final Draft does and offer a slimmed-down but still strong range of options.
I have used a few of these programs before and I’ll say, they work fairly well. Dramatica gets high reviews for its purported role as a “writing partner” (because it helps you structure your story) and Celtx seems to be the go-to, inexpensive program for screenwriters.
My experience with Celtx, my go-to for a little while, was fine. For freeware (which has since come to cost a few bucks) Celtx got me professional-grade screenplays. Celtx Pro, the slightly buffed up version, was glitchy and prone to crashes.
The trouble with Final Draft imitators is the difficulty of working in the same software as your partner. Remember, a screenplay is a collaborative document, meaning you’ll share it with cast and crew.
Screenwriting Software: Beware
Many new screenwriters fall into the trap of trying to use a basic word processing software program like Microsoft Word. As dynamic as this seemingly ubiquitous program is, however, it is not made for writing screenplays.
In the interest of full disclosure, my first screenplay was written using Word. What a lot of unnecessary labor that was. The keyboard acrobatics alone necessary to keep up with all of the tabs for scene headings, dialog, parentheticals, was absolutely dizzying. By the time I was done, I spent more time and energy trying to get my lines looking right than on my story.
There are templates floating around that claim to help format Word into a screenwriting program, but they’re burdensome and should be avoided. Often the use of a template causes Word to become unreliable and prone to crashes.
When you’re writing a screenplay, the criteria for best screenwriting software comes down to its overall ease of use. The best programs, dedicated to screenplays only, allow you to free your mind and hands to get the story down on paper.