6 Best Screenwriting Software (Free & Paid)

Screenwriting is a necessary aspect of story-boarding and building for multiple forms of mass media, such as television programs, short films, feature films, and even video games. Filmmakers and writers of any background and calibre make use of screenwriting software to aid their script-building and writing processes.

What are Screenplay Software?

Screenwriting software are word processors specialized to the task of writing screenplays. Being able to pitch a screenplay requires writers to abide by a standard, industry screenplay format. More than often, the heavy formatting required becomes a hassle and looms over writers. This is where screenwriting software come in. It takes the load off of writers with regards to the meticulous formatting, and allows them to direct their attention and energy into the more creative aspects of building their screenplay, such as the story, it's scenes, and it's characters instead.

The Benefits of Screenwriting Software

Screenwriting software are designed to generate specialized elements of the standard screenplay format. Elements such as page-breaks, heading differentiation, parentheticals, extensions and so on that are imposed by standard screenplay formatting can be easily generated and formatted on these platforms. In-built specialized shortcuts, such as typing something out in capitalized letters leading the software to recognize it as a character name or using the "#" symbol to differentiate headings, make formatting and the overall script-writing process more straightforward and less daunting.

Compared to screenwriting software, regular word processors do not carry such specialized features that can help format screenplays. Going back and forth with manual formatting adjustments while focusing on story-writing becomes more and more tedious as you write on regular word processors.

There are a handful of screenwriting software available for writers to pick and choose from. Across these various screenwriting software, we see features that facilitate the screenwriting process in different ways. Some of these platforms include JotterPad, Final Draft, CeltX, Movie Magic, Highland and Scrivener. A deep-dive into what these programs offer, their pros and cons, and how they compare to their counterparts will allow you to discern which platform would serve your writing needs better.

1. JotterPad

JotterPad is a feature-packed, plain-text editor that offers multiple writing tools and aids for writers of any field. It is a writing app that is suited for both novice and experienced writers. While it is a text editor at its core, JotterPad offers the convenience of both the WYSIWYG Markdown and Fountain editor.

Some features that JotterPad offers include :

  • Cloud service : Sync and back up your work to unlimited cloud services such as Google Drive, Drop Box and OneDrive and continue writing anywhere both offline and online.
  • Multi-format Export : Export your work to multiple formats such as .fdx, .pdf, .docs and .fountain and still retain proper formatting
  • Fountain : Fountain is a lightweight markup language that helps you format your plaintext documents into a screenplay as you write. This tool makes space for you to focus more on the creative needs of your story instead of the formatting.
  • Cloud-sync : Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and iCloud.
  • Multi-screenplay and document management : On JotterPad, you can store and navigate multiple files in a fuss-free, easy-to-navigate manner.
  • Dark theme : The dark theme turns the white background and black text into a black background and white text, making it easier on the eyes for late night reading or editing.
  • Dictionary and Thesaurus functions : The built-in dictionary and thesaurus helps you look up definitions or words accurately and efficiently.
  • Version Control : The edits you make along the way will be saved and details such as the time the edit was made and who made it will be recorded as well.
  • Typewriter mode : This feature allows you to write or read seamlessly by focusing on the few lines on which you are working on at any given time.
  • Customizable typography
  • Readability Inspector : This tools helps you eliminate fluff and make your writing clear and concise.
  • Publishing : JotterPad lets you automatically upload whatever you’ve written to Ghost, Wordpress and Tumblr as drafts or published posts.

Price : $29.99 USD per year

This all-rounded app offers the best of both worlds; both Markdown and Fountain syntax, and the “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) element. You have the choice to switch from plain text to rich text format with clicks and highlights, or using syntax. Unlike other screenwriting software, JotterPad provides both the lightweight interface of a note-taking app, along with the professional features of a heavier, more technical word processor.

One thing to note is that it does not offer collaborative writing features, unlike CeltX, Movie Magic, or Final Draft's online collaborative tools.

2. Final Draft

The highly-rated Final Draft falls under the more prominent list of screenwriting software that is used for writing and formatting screenplays, by industry standards, across the television, film, and theatre spheres. Founded by Marc Madnick and Ben Cahan almost 30 years ago, they aimed to address the growing need to adhere to the rising rigorous industry standards and lighten the load off of writers .

Final Draft offers a wide variety of tools that allow for ease and efficiency when it comes to screenplay writing. Some of these include :

  • Standard templates : The software provides a handful of standard templates for you to use if need be. While some writers do not fancy writing with templates, others utilize this as a guide to ensure that they are moving in the right direction**.**
  • Format menu : There is a format menu that you can select from to indicate which type of line you would like to enter next in your screenplay.
  • Formatting assistant : This tool, which can run automatically or manually, can be used for the more advanced formatting checks, such as missing dialogues, extra spaces, and blank elements.
  • Index cards : Using index cards on Final Draft , you get an overall, bird's eye view of the scenes that you have already fleshed out. These index cards are fixed into a grid and each denote a scene in your script. You have the ability to review your scenes in order of appearance in your script.
  • Beat Cards : A pre-writing tool, Beat Cards allow you to lay aspects of your story to any degree. Unlike index cards, these are non-liner and not organized into a grid and can be color-coded and shifted in any way you please. wherever the user wants to see them. Details about your story, plot, character arcs and so on can be recorded in your beat cards for reference. Final Draft has been an undisputed player in the screenwriting software market. However, together with being highly-rated, it is also one of the more pricier programs out there.

Price : $249.99 USD per license on desktop iPad/iPhone app for $9.99 USD

3. CeltX

CeltX is another such screenwriting, and pre-production management software for multiple forms of moving media, including video games and VR. Celtx has been revered by writers because of its ability to help with scriptwriting, and managing multiple other processes in story development and production as well. Together with scriptwriting, this platform has tools that can help with scheduling and budgeting for filming and production.

Some features that CeltX offers include :

  • Collaboration : Writers can work online on the cloud, or offline through Celtx download  This online working ability means that both Mac and Windows are compatible with Celtx and can be accessed via iPad and Android devices.
  • Formatting tab : Celtx can instantaneously format your writing for you if you hit enter and tab. You can also pick from the formatting menu, or simple keyboard commands for different line types
  • Navigation tool : This tools rids you of the need to keep scrolling in order to look through your document. You can jump to any section or scene in your document.
  • Note-taking : Notes can be added to any line in your document and viewed under the notes tab. Information like when the note was created and by who is also clearly displayed.
  • Index cards : Similar to Final Draft's Index and Beat cards, CeltX has a similar feature that acts as a virtual corkboard. These cards These cards can be moved and rearranged however you fancy, and are perfect for easy storyboarding.
  • Breakdown and Project Catalogue : CeltX provides in-line script breakdowns that can help identify and sort out what you would need for post-screenwriting processes (production).

Price : $20 USD per month, billed yearly for 10 Screenwriting projects (price varies according to number of screenwriting projects)

4. Movie Magic

Movie Magic, yet another industry-standard screenwriting application has been reviewed to be user and beginner friendly when it comes to scriptwriting. Movie Magic has a highly diverse and powerful feature set that can be used to format formatting film, television, games, and even comic books.

Some features that this popular software offers include :

  • NaviDoc : This tool displays your script alongside your outline, scene cards, bookmarks and any notes that you may have. This enables you to keep track of the progress of your scenes as you write along.
  • Production budgeting and tracking : Movie Magic Screenwriter can create production tracking and breakdown reports for the various crew members to use with scheduling, budgeting and more.
  • Notes : Movie Magic lets you show or hide notes directly within the document
  • Multi-format import : Movie Magic allows you to import files from Microsoft Word, as PDFs and other rich-text formats without altering the files and their formatting much. It does not, however. support Final Draft documents.
  • Notes : An index-card mode of organizing scenes, similar to Final Draft.
  • Text-to-Speech tool : you can listen to your computer perform the script for you; in doing so, you'll catch things you probably wouldn't by just proofreading your own script.
  • iPartner : iPartner allows you to collaborate over the web, similar to Final Draft.
  • Templates and samples : Industry-standard and professionally authored samples are available on Movie Magic to guide you along.
  • Auto Backup and revision tracking : This rids you of the worry of losing your documents.
  • Spell check dictionaries and thesaurus

Price : $249.95 USD per download.

5. Scrivener

The Scrivener writing software is designed for writers across all calibres and writing styles, from freelance bloggers to film directors.

  • Templates : Use the template that are available on Scrivener to avoid having to format from scratch.
  • Corkboard mode : A tool that allows you to view and edit note cards to organize your work, similar to a handle of screenwriting software.
  • Cloud Sync : Similar to JotterPad, Scrivener's cloud sync feature saves progress across multiple devices, and writers can return to the files they were working on anywhere and anytime and be sure that their last drafts have been saved.
  • Collaboration : Similar to most software explicated here, Scrivener offers collaborative tools that allow multiple individuals to
  • Multi-document viewing : You can view two different documents of yours side by side. This is especially helpful if you want to refer to research material, photographs, or notes while writing.

Price : $49 USD (macOS) and $45 USD (Windows)

6. WriterDuet

Developed by Guy Goldstein, WriterDuet was designed to be an all-rounded solution for writers who wished to co-write scripts conveniently. As so, WriterDuet has grown to be popular amongst writers who rely on real-time collaboration and simultaneous editing. While most word processing apps do have collaborative functionalities, not many software provides this, and specialized and technical help in industry standard formatting for moving media.

Some other features available in WriterDuet include :

  • Templates : There are multiple templates available on WriterDuet for you to choose from, including stage plays, multi-cam sitcoms, virtual reality.
  • Online and offline editing : You are free to edit offline, but edits will only be updated and viewable by others once you are connected to the internet after.
  • Real time collaboration : Secure and reliant browser-based, real time collaboration between writers
  • Cloud-based : Access your projects to edit and share anytime across cloud services
  • Import from and Export to multiple formats/software : You have the ability to import files from other software like Final Draft and CeltX. PDFs can be converted into editable documents as well.
  • Outlining tool : Similar to the other software, virtual note cards can be used to organize organize storyboarding and brainstorming onto a corkboard-like space. You can customize the color, size, tags and position of these cards.
  • Ghost mode : This allows writers, part of a collaborative project or not, to write privately. Ghost mode keeps their writing, edits and changes private and to themselves until they choose to allow others to view them.

While WriterDuet Pro and Plus have a whole host of other tools and it's collaborative strengths shine and sets it apart from other players, the relatively high price and multiple tiers of subscription that can be confusing are potential deterrents.

Price : Starts from $9.99 USD a month

7. Highland

Developed by esteemed screenwriter John August, Highland has been praised for its clean design and UI that is easy on the eyes. The sleek design along with its innovative tools, helps writers focus on their words and not heavy formatting . Like JotterPad, Highland uses the Fountain file format that is compatible with multiple other screenwriting software.

  • Auto-formatting : Takes care of formatting nitty-grittys by auto-formatting things like indents dialogue and character cues.
  • Multi-format import and export : Files can be imported from and exported into multiple other platforms like Microsoft Word and PDF.
  • Editor and Preview mode : Highland's editor mode is a more back-end view of all your writing. While in the Preview mode (by simply clicking "View" and "Go to Preview"), what's been written in the editor gets formatted into a screenplay format and is then much closer for export or sharing.
  • Navigator : You can easily shift and drop scenes and different sections in whatever order you like.
  • The Bin : This tool comes in handy if you would like to store alternate versions of scenes in your document itself.
  • Notes : Notes on Highland can be color-coded and can be found via the navigator in the sidebar, making it easy to jump to any note you choose.
  • Auto-recognition : Highland automatically recognizes some screenwriting elements like transitions and and scene headers.
  • Multi-language and Spoken-language recognition : Highland recognized a handful of other languages and recognizes phrases and expressions that are colloquial English as well.
  • Gender Analysis : Highland is the first screenwriting platform to introduce gender analysis, and this has enabled writers to look at the breakdown of female and male characters in their stories.

Price : Free download, but $69.99 USD for Pro-Tier

Overall comparison

Software

Price

Multi-platform

Cloud Sync

Overall Strengths

Overall Drawbacks

JotterPad

$29.99 USD per year

Compatible with Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, Chromebook & Web

Google Drive, Drop Box, OneDrive, and iCloud available

Cross-platform and Cloud based, with an online web app. All-rounded functionality and serves writers of varied backgrounds at an affordable price.

No collaborative tools as of now, but will be supported in the near future.

Final Draft

$249.99 USD per license

Compatible with iOS, Mac, and Windows

Drop Box and iCloud available

Highly-raved software that has been around for 30 years.

No Android or web app available, and is comparatively pricier.

CeltX

$20 USD per month, (varies according to number of screenwriting projects)

Compatible with Android and Mac

Work online from the cloud, or work offline and sync later

Online and cloud based

Price varies according to number of projects, and work cannot be accessed outside of the CeltX's cloud.

Movie Magic

$249.95 USD per download

Compatible with Windows and Mac

No Cloud Sync

Has been around for a significant time

Not compatible with newer platforms and devices

Scrivener

$49 USD (macOS) and $45 USD (Windows)

Compatible with iOS Mac and Windows

Cloud Sync service available to sync projects between devices

Popular for novel-writing and have branched out into screenwriting

Does not support Android and there is no web app available.

WriterDuet

Starts at $9.99 USD per month

Compatible with iOS, Android, web

Drop Box and Google Drive

Collaborative tools are available, and is cloud-based

Work cannot be moved out of WriterDuet's own cloud

Highland

Free download, but $69.99 USD for Pro-Tier

Compatible with MacOS

No cloud sync

Created by John August, the founder of Fountain

Editor does not save in Fountain format and is not available on most platforms


Each of these software boasts their own plethora of screenwriting and editing tools. Some of the common features that we see across these software include easy to navigate toolbars, index cards, dictionary and thesaurus functions, and multi-format import and export functionalities.

Overall, the various functionalities and writing tools JotterPad offers prove it to be seamless, stylized and secure. Although it does not provide collaborative tools like a handful of other software, JotterPad still surfaces as a cross-platform, all-rounded, and easy to maneuver app that has been built with writers of all calibers in mind. Professional tools such as index and beat cards have proven to be a little cumbersome when it comes to navigating them on mobile and tablet devices. JotterPad's in app tools are not only seamless and convenient across all platforms and devices, but also serve both professional and novice writers alike.