Krystian Morgan's blog featuring motion graphics, short film experiments and feature film.

By Krystian Nov.8.2010
In: Blog, Tools of the Trade

Using Scrivener to Write Screenplays

So last week Scrivener 2.0 was released. I wanted to do this post highlighting a few of the features and reasons why I opted into using Scrivener as my word processor over some of the more obvious choices.

Scrivener has many, many features, but I wont display them all, because I don’t use them all. Here’s a top 5 of my favourites:


1, Non-Linear writing structure.
This is the most major reason I chose Scrivener. Unlike most word-processors or script writing softwares, the Idea isn’t to necessarily go from A to Z, but instead go A to F to Y and so on… confused? Basically what I’m trying to say is that when writing a script, you don’t start on page 1 and write sequentially until page 90 or whatever, instead Scrivener lets you write out of sequence. What does this mean? – It means you don’t have to keep thinking what comes next in the story. You may start at the beginning then jump forward to the end if you feel you have a clear idea of how that is going to go. That was how it worked for me, I’d jump back and forth in time, writing what I knew I could write at that time, instead of delaying it until I got to that point in the story. This also helped me better define scenes pre and pro-ceding.

Scrivener achieves this by using separate documents that compile together into one overall manuscript. These documents can be chapters, scenes etc… it’s purely up to you how you organise them. It splits your writing into smaller manageable chunks. Enter ‘Scrivenings’ mode to view how your overall screenplay is looking.

2, Index cards.


I just mentioned how Scrivener uses separate documents for each scene. Well Scrivener also offers other views of this. One being an Index card view. This is a place where I would often start out. I could create a few index cards correlating to scenes and organise the order of them, write a brief idea of what might happen in that scene and suddenly the film’s structure stars coming together out of nowhere. Each index card links to a scene document, so creating an index card also creates a blank document with the same name ready to fill in the actual scene. You can label index cards if you wish, I used a colour key to reference the current state of that scene, whether it had been started or finished and also whether I thought the scene was good or needed some more work.

Scrivener also has an outline view, I didn’t really use this view when writing, but I believe it might come in handy for printing out for quick scene reference when it comes to working on the film itself.

3, Full Screen Mode


A few other softwares offer this functionality, but it was good to know that it was also present in Scrivener. I much prefer to work in this view, especially if I have a clear idea of where I’m going with the scene. I say I probably work 70/30 in this mode.

It allows some customisation and also the ability to bring some elements from the sidebar into the view for reference.

4, Work your way/ Project’s hub.
You can request documents to not be included within your screenplay. If you create a folder outside of your screenplay folder it will default to be left out. This has many benefits. I created a ‘Character’s’ folder in which I had inside separate character files including their abstracts and even sketches if I had some at that stage. By default you have a ‘Research’ folder, here I put images that I liked the mood of to write to, I also had location photos to give some perspective on the places I was writing at the time. I also put a few script .pdf’s in there, that I could look at if I felt unsure how to structure a certain aspect of the script, I could see how others wrote transitions, what types could be used etc… Amongst other things.

I created folders for everything that related to the script, so I wouldn’t have to navigate away in order to find something. It’s all there, all organised. Something I also do when finished is duplicate the actual screenplay and label the duplicate ‘First Draft’ and rename the original ‘Second Draft’. so I will have all the versions of the script at hand in the same pane.

5, It looks good Ok so this may be a pretty superficial choice but I think it’s important. The software looks really nice, there’s alot of attention to detail and everything looks intuitive and ‘right’ and when working on a big project like a writing task whether it be a script or a novel (which you can also use Scrivener for) it’s good to have a nice, slick place to do that.

In the words of Columbo, ‘Just one more thing’, well… a few really. Scrivener creates a single file that includes all your screenplay, all your folders including character and research. This is great because you can easily sync your project between multiple computers via drop box. See this post I wrote on my other blog on how to do this. Scrivener also has a back-up feature, which creates .zip back-ups at the click of a button, I used this for local and pen-drive copies whilst the ‘master’ file resides on my dropbox. The compile screenplay gives you many formatting options when you want to print or save to a .pdf, you can also export to many formats, including Final Draft for ‘finishing’ if you feel you need to.


Well that’s it. If some of those features sound good to you, I recommend trial-ing out the software to see if it works for you too. Have fun writing.

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