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The 8 Best Free Screenwriting Apps to Format Your Screenplay

There are many screenwriting apps on the market, but before you invest in one of the expensive heavy-hitters, test out the 8 best free screenwriting apps so you can format your screenplay with success.

by One Lit Place screenwriter and writing coach Rebecca Hales.

 

Screenplays are a lot of fun to write. They’re challenging, dynamic, and action-packed: an amazing artistic medium. If you ask around, it seems like everyone is writing or has written one. As a literary form, it’s highly accessible to write, and unlike other works of literature, there’s actual money at the end of the tunnel if your screenplay is optioned.

Yet if you’ve leapt into writing a screenplay all full of great ideas but not well-versed in its formatting conventions, you probably realized that adhering to the written structure—required of all scripts—is hard. Weird margins, random things in all caps, lots of direction amid the dialogue. 

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to set up the tabbed placements in a regular document only to get deep into the work and realize they’re wrong. 

Having to constantly deal with a screenplay’s formatting interrupts the creative flow of the actual writing. It’s nearly impossible to get exactly right; one wrong keystroke, or you lose track of a tab somewhere in the middle of a line, and the whole thing falls apart.

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As difficult as proper screenplay formatting is, it’s necessary. Nothing will get your script overlooked as fast as bad formatting. Producers, competition judges, and the keepers of the pursestrings dismiss poorly formatted (or not formatted at all) scripts without even reading them. And you can’t fudge it; a trained eye can see if the formatting is off with one glance.

The good news is screenplays don’t have to be formatted by hand anymore. There are now many screenwriting software and apps available to ensure you have a perfectly formatted script, leaving you free to write a great story.

You only need to find the software that suits your needs and budget, and you’re good to go. But before you invest in one of the heavy-hitting mainstays, you might like to try these 8 screenwriting apps that are either completely free or have free trials. That way you can dip in your toe to see how you like it before committing or moving on. 

Why Screenplays Must Be Formatted

script on computer screen

A screenplay (or script) is built upon several basic features that are standard and cannot be messed with. Why? Because these features play a big part in how we measure time in the film/TV world. Not just on screen, but in production. Time is money. That’s why scripts have standard margins, a standard font and point size, standard spacing, slug lines, and a format designed to highlight the different parts that belong to different departments. 

A writer has full control over the story, but one of the most magical things about a script is it’s a portal to collaboration. Your document becomes the blueprint for showing what is involved from wardrobe to visual effects. 

The Reason Screenwriting Apps Tend to Be Expensive

You’ve heard of the heavy hitters in scriptwriting software, such as industry standards Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter, but their price tags can be a barrier.

All screenwriting apps automatically implement the requisite formatting; however a more sophisticated one can also help you plan your story, and when you’re ready, even plan your shoot. 

Fortunately up-and-coming screenwriting apps are hitting the market, so this list is a review of 8 screenwriting apps that are either free or offer free trials and will not only format your screenplay but in one way or another will change your life as a screenwriter.

Highland 2 (Free Version)

Highland 2 is the brainchild of screenwriter John August (Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). This software is organized around the “butt in chair” principle, as in, put your butt in your chair and write. 

It has a barebones look and writes in rich text format. This distraction-free interface makes it a great accompaniment to other apps that have more bells and whistles. It’s also highly intuitive; you don’t have to tell the software that “this element is a slug line” or “that element is a character.” Highland 2 identifies that information based on the number of spaces you leave between elements. 

It can import your story from Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter, Celtx, Fade In, and Fountain, and it also prints/exports to those softwares and watermarked PDFs. There is a small learning curve as you get accustomed to the way the software works, but there are built-in tutorials and examples of scripts that use all the elements offered by the software.

Many features in Highland 2 are focused on helping you through the act of getting the writing down. There is a built-in time clock you can set to do a writing sprint, and you can set up a word-count goal and track your progress. You can also add notes and synopses in the script that won’t print unless specified, and endnotes that will number themselves automatically. Plus, you can use the scratchpad for notes and the bin for blocks of text. 

Favorite features

In addition to the usual reports, it offers a gender analysis tool to ensure you are passing the Bechdel Test (a fantastic feature!) and word analysis to flag repetitive word use. Even better, the Basic (free) version doesn’t lock off any features and you can work on an unlimited number of scripts. 

Drawbacks

Thus far, Highland 2 is only available for iOS systems, and it can’t be used on iPads.

If you decide that Highland 2 is the best software for you, you can upgrade to the Pro version, which allows you to use color-coded themes and customizations. (And they offer a discount for university writing students and film school students!)

Trelby (Free)

One of the oldest free softwares out there, Trelby is open source (meaning free) and allows users to program customizations as desired. Meaning, if you’re into coding, Trelby might be a good solution for you. With a very simple interface and a distraction-free design, it makes writing accessible, especially for beginners. 

Trelby can import from text files, Final Draft, Fade In, Adobe Story, and Fountain. And it can export to PDF, text, .rtf files, HTML, and Final Draft. It will watermark exports, but it will also produce reports and run stats.

Favorite feature

The app has a comparison view that lets you see changes made to each draft with highlighted text within the draft you’re working on. No more toggling from window to window.

Drawbacks

Trelby is only available for Windows and Linux computers and doesn’t allow users to lock pages or use revision marks. It also lacks some important features such as dual dialogue. 

Still, on the whole, Trelby is a good option for new writers. There are no limits to the number of scripts you can produce on the free version. It’s a great way to see if you’re into screenwriting before paying for more elaborate software. 

Story Architect (Free Version)

Story Architect started off as Kit Scenarist and allows users to configure the software as you need, including based on the functionality of other programs like Final Draft. It logs stats and produces reports including an event timeline and a beat board.

Story Architect can import from Final Draft, Fountain io, .docx, Celtx, Trelby, and ODT files. It can export to Final Draft, Fountain, .docx, and PDFs, all without watermarks. There are no limits to the number of screenplays you can create, and you can install images for your characters and locations and produce a story structure analysis in graph form.

The Pro version has an AI Assistant you access by earning credits either through paying or reaching word targets.

Favorite feature

Story Architect uses virtual index cards for outlining, making it easier for visual planning. Plus it offers a 50% discount on the paid versions for university students and professors. 

Drawbacks

It depends on how you feel about AI. The AI Assistant can do things like help you convert your screenplay into a novel if you choose the Pro version.

 

The Pro version offers collaboration, a number of AI-based tools including a character generator, and a mobile version.



Fade In (Free Version)

Created in 2011, Fade In has become a popular favorite among screenwriters. The free trial lets you test out its distraction-free layout with easy-to-navigate menus. The software is supported by iOS (Mac), Microsoft, and Linux. It can import files from Movie Magic, Final Draft, text editing files (.rtf), and is fully compatible with Fountain, Scrivener, Adobe Story, and Celtx. This import adaptability means you can start in one software and finish in Fade In. 

Like all screenwriting apps, you can create reports and track the stats of characters and locations. Make notes for later drafts by using index cards to plot your story. Screenplays are saved as an open screenplay format, which makes it future-proof and totally compatible with other software. 

Favorite Feature

The ability to add alternate lines of dialogue and have them marked and numbered is very useful. 

Drawbacks

It doesn’t offer any pre-writing tools like a beat board or the ability to add script notes. 

 

If Fade In feels good and you upgrade to the paid version, you can take advantage of its other features: full collaboration capacity or the ability to program software-based voices to do a table read. Plus, there is a mobile version you can purchase separately, but that will be compatible with your desktop software.



The Write Stuff by Studio Binder (Free Trial on a Paid Plan)

Studio Binder is one of the most influential websites for sharing information on filmmaking basics. Its articles and posts can help anyone navigate movie sets and all the nuances of set life. Their suite of software covers every aspect of filmmaking; The Write Stuff is their screenwriting app.

The layout is simple but still allows you to navigate to any of the other Studio Binder software you have signed up for. You can import from Final Draft, Fountain, and PDF, and can export to PDF or to Studio Binder’s software-specific format (.SB). 

You can format your title page and run most basic reports on things like characters and locations or leave comments for other users (since Studio Binder is, above all, a collaborative suite of software). Their free version of the story-planning tool ties in easily and allows for navigation back and forth. In fact, creating a new scene in your planning tool will automatically place it in the current version of the script, acting as an integrated placeholder along with whatever information you already have in-text. That version will then be saved and updated for every new move or addition you make. 

Favorite Feature

You can assign your own watermarks for export, which allows you to modify for different versions. And for filmmakers who can’t draw so much as a stickman, the paid version will create storyboards for you. 



Drawbacks

You can’t formulate dual dialogue on any version, and the export options are limited, forcing you to rely on Studio Binder or the import capacity of your companion software. 



If you choose Studio Binder’s The Write Stuff, the paid version allows for real-time collaboration and deeper integration with the other Studio Binder apps.This takes a lot of pressure off production when call sheets, shooting schedules, and shot lists can be generated with ease.

Writer Duet (Free Trial on a Paid Plan)

Writer Duet has been gaining a loyal following for the last several years. This is partially due to the fact that even on the free trial version, Writer Duet allows for real time collaboration. Someone else can check your spelling while you punch up the dialogue. 

The free trial version limits you to 3 projects, but that should be more than enough time to decide if the software is for you. Especially since those projects have no page limits, no watermarks, and can be returned to for as long and as often as you like. 

Writer Duet lets you import from Final Draft, Celtx, Fountain, Word, and others, and will convert a PDF back to an editable format. You can also export to Final Draft and all of those same apps. Since WD is an online software that saves to the cloud, you can log in from any computer or mobile device. Or you can write offline, and it will automatically sync up when you connect to Wi-Fi. 

Like all software, it lets you format your title page and run all the basic reports. It also allows you to use its index card feature to plan your story or rearrange your story for a rewrite. Writer Duet has text, video chat, and in-document comments for real time collaboration. Plus, it remembers which change was made by which collaborator. And it allows you to rearrange its toolbars to accommodate your particular style of working.

Favorite Feature

You can comb through previous versions using a scroll bar that helps you track your changes. Want that line of dialogue to go back to what it was last Tuesday? No problem!

Drawbacks

The interface takes a minute to get used to. It looks a lot like website development software with the placement and look of toolbars, which can be intimidating to new users and slow things down at the start.

 

If WriterDuet suits how you want to work, however, the packages include a student/educator 50% discount. The full package includes tools like software-voiced table reads.

Arc Studio (Free Trial on a Paid Plan)

Developed in 2018, Arc Studio was set up to go beyond typical screenwriting formatting. This software is designed specifically for collaboration, especially for use with TV writers’ rooms. Even the interface is designed with this in mind, allowing for easy navigation from your episode back to the series bible, and tracking all collaborators.

The free trial version limits users to 2 scripts and can import from Final Draft, Word, Fountain/text, and PDF versions and can export to a Fountain/text file or a watermarked PDF.

With a distraction-free design, you can open and close the toolbars as you need and navigate back to previous versions. 

The Pro version gives you full collaboration. “The Stash” or the repository where you can keep everything you’ve cut out, can be used to keep track of omitted scenes in case they need to be revived. This is especially important since each script can be accessed and edited by several users with the tracking software turned on or off and color-coded to the creator in the outlining and plotting tools as well as in the main script. That collaboration is also why there is an inbox that allows you to pull scenes into the document and notes that do the same. 

Favorite Feature

You can “pin” open a toolbar or make it disappear to better control your work environment. 



Drawbacks

Most of this screenwriting software’s capacity is in its collaborative features, which are available only in the Pro version. If you’re not writing for TV or doing a group-based project, this software might be more than you need. 

 

Or if you do decide that you want the collaborative capacity of Arc Studio, the free download comes with a 7-day free trial of the Pro version and a 70% discount for anyone with a .edu email address.

Fountain.io (Free)

Fountain.io is not a screenwriting software per se, but a fantastic and versatile side tool that makes your writing a lot easier. Fountain.io is an app built in plain text language (think .txt or .rtf files you get from Notepad) that uses particular markups for screenwriting; when you import your file to a screenwriting software, those markups will be interpreted correctly and integrated.

With Fountain.io, you don’t have to learn a new software; instead, you simply format a plain text document and it’s interpreted by your screenwriting software.

For example, you can write a slugline in all caps or start it with a period, and it will be interpreted as a slug line by the screenwriting software or app you use. Another example is if you put a blank line between an action and a character’s name, or write the character’s name in uppercase and start the dialogue on the next line, it will format a centered all-caps character name with centered dialogue underneath. Cool, right?

Files are saved as VFT-8 text files, meaning as .fountain, .txt, or .spmd. These file types make them accessible from anywhere, with or without Wi-Fi access, and with or without a screenwriting software. Writing on your phone on the subway? Fountain.io has got you.

Favorite Features

Saving your work as a text file means the files are future-proof. No matter what technology does, in 20 years, you’ll still be able to convert the text file into a screenplay. (Not that you should wait that long to bring your story to life. It’s just an example).

Drawback

You not only have to get used to the syntax of Fountain.io, but at the end of the day, you do still need a screenwriting software or app. This just gets your first basic draft in place. The rest is up to you.

 

No matter how your quest for the right screenwriting app goes, you can upload and re-upload your Fountain.io file countless times in as many apps as it takes to find the right one for you.

 

As mentioned earlier, there are apps considered the “gold standard” in the industry, such as Final Draft and Movie Magic. There’s also an up-and-comer fan favorite named Celtx, which holds its own against the behemoths of the screenwriting world but only gives you a 7-day free trial. There are also a number of pre-story software options for planning, and some AI-driven options for development. 

 

But if you’re looking to get your feet wet before making the big investment, to format your screenplay, these 8 best screenwriting apps are the best out there that offer free plans or generous free trials.

 

My best suggestion is to try them all until you find one that fits your needs, your writing style, your tech habits, and your bottom line. No matter what, there is a screenwriting software out there to help you get your story off the ground. So get writing!

Work with Rebecca

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When you’re ready to learn from the best, get suggestions and strategies for your screenplay, or have Rebecca read your draft and offer concise, constructive feedback to help you get it picked up and optioned, reach out!  

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