Free Screenwriting Software: A Beginners Guide.

I started writing screenplays about 15 years ago essentially on a dare from a very good friend.  That friend — Mr. Drew Dull — is a founder here at 2 East 8th Productions and an excellent screenwriter. You can even take advantage of his screenwriting services if you have the need! I had no formal training or education and pretty much made a mess of it in Microsoft Word on my first run-through.  Then that same friend introduced me to Celtx — at the time a program you could download — and showed me a bit of formatting, and away I went.  It wasn’t until very recently that he asked me if I had ever even tried any of the other free offerings out there.  

In the interest of full disclosure, I am still purely a beginner as it’s only been a hobby for me.  I do know Final Draft screenwriting software is out there.  I also know they claim 95% of writers in the film industry use it, and I’m sure it’s great.  It’s just not free.  I decided it was time to do the thing that me from 15 years ago never did: make an informed decision! So as much as this article is for those of you starting your journey in screenwriting or just looking to freshen things up, this one was for me too.

The opinions expressed here are entirely subjective, and I was neither paid nor had contact with any of these companies prior to writing this article. 

MY Pick: Best Free Screenwriting Software

WriterDuet*

The entire reason that I decided to do this research was to see if I could find something that was better than what I was used to using.  WriterDuet is a comprehensive tool for screenwriting loaded with features in the free version to help you create, organize, and collaborate. This is my new go-to free screenplay software.  

This cloud-based option is the only free software that I reviewed that supports real-time collaborations, which is something I personally love to use while writing my scripts. This app is also heavily laden with handy tools like tagging to aid organization, statistics to make sure that your action to dialogue ratios are in check, as well as a host of other widgets and plugins.  

I like that with all of these options, you can fully customize your workspace to have your favorites right at hand.  One quick perk I found that none of the other free-to-use software included was the option for dark mode layout!  I honestly don’t know why this wasn’t more common, but when you spend so much time looking at your script on the screen a bit of darkness is just soothing.  The biggest detriment to all of this choice is that I might have spent a good chunk of time playing with the interface to get it just right instead of actually writing my screenplay

When I finally did get to writing, it was one of the easier interfaces to use for line types and formatting my script.  Another great advantage to WriterDuet is its ability to both import and export your script in a host of popular formats such as FinalDraft, Fountain, Celtx, and PDF.  There are available templates for more than just screenplays.  It offers templates for stageplays, VR, and graphic novels, as well as a few other niche formats.

The only real downside that I could actually find was that you can only have 3 active scripts in the free version.  This is a bit limiting and less than many others, but with the ability to save offline and re-import if you need to this ends up being just a minor inconvenience rather than a real limitation.

Summary of WriterDuet

Pros

  • Dark mode
  • Easy to use user interface
  • Real-time collaboration and chat*
  • The free version of the software is amazingly feature-rich*
  • Friendly to beginners and professional screenplay writers
  • Handy screenplay writing tools
  • Most exporting options (Fountain, Final Draft, Celtx, PDF, Plaintext)

Cons

  • All the features may get distracting
  • Limited to 3 active screenplays 

*Update

It has come to our attention that at the time of this writing the free account I have with WriterDuet was part of an experiment they were conducting. Some of the features listed here as free are not actually part of the free experience for everyone and others have since disappeared from the free accounts. We still really like so much of what WriterDuet has to offer as a free script writing software but some of the key points are now behind a paywall.


The Best of the Rest

It feels a bit like betraying an old friend ranking Celtx in the second position, but there was a reason I stuck with it for so long.  It’s held up well over the years and while it may not be my top pick as a free script writing software it might be yours.

Celtx

The old tried and true, this was the free little program that started it all for me.  It holds up really well, but for the purposes of this exercise, I chose to approach it as if I’d never seen it before.  You wouldn’t be crazy to ask “is Celtx still free?” They seem to hide that this scriptwriting software is indeed still free.  Once you sort that out, you get a competent, easy-to-use screenwriting word processor. 

There’s not much else available for us free users, but it is easy to sit down and just write a script.  For those that don’t like or need statistics and widgets in their screenwriting experience, this is a more than solid choice.  With a huge user base, the Celtx format is widely accepted, which comes in handy because that’s about the only option you get that’s free.

Summary of Celtx Free Screenwriting Software

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Well known format
  • Imports and formats PDFs very well
  • Enough features to be very useful, but not so many that they overwhelm

Cons

  • It leans very heavily toward the paying customer
  • Actively hides the free version behind full-screen buy now ads that get a bit tiresome.
  • Limited export options (Fountain and Plaintext)

The Rest

It’s not that any of these are inherently bad.  I just found that for a beginner, or my purposes, they weren’t a fit.  I encourage you to try for yourself based on your needs after seeing what they’re about.

StudioBinder

This one was tough.  If you want features, this genius bit of software has them all from call sheets to production schedules, there is a tool for nearly every step of the process in the StudioBinder screenwriting suite.  That was kind of the problem for me though. I just wanted to write! 

Just writing is fine within the tool when you find it, but it becomes cumbersome to navigate between what it considers a project versus what it considers a script. Importing a script was also overly complicated and collaborations are not possible in the free version.  If you’re a full-fledged production company, a paid version of this screenplay software could be massively useful.  However, if you simply want to write a screenplay, I think there are better options.

Summary of StudioBinder

Pros

  • A massive tool with a mind-boggling number of features in the free version
  • Great for planning out much more than screenplays
  • Screenwriting tool itself is easy enough to use (just not get to)
  • Possibly unlimited number of scripts (I got to 9 and quit)
  • Comes with a chat feature and tutorials (you’ll likely need them!)

Cons

  • Not geared towards those who solely write screenplays or beginners
  • Limited to PDF for exporting screenplays
  • All the other options can get distracting
  • The layout is a bit messy and getting to the writing part is cumbersome
  • Importing scripts is sort of hidden, and it only imports 50% on the free version

Trelby Screenwriting Software

This is the first real bit of scriptwriting software that is completely free on this list.  Unlike the other cloud-based software on the list, this is a program you download. Sometimes it’s nice not to be tethered to an internet connection in order to write. 

Much like the hat, it’s named after (trilby), this program has an outdated feel to it.  However, that old-fashioned feel also never asks you to pay for anything which is nice.  It’s an open-source text editor for screenplays with just the essentials and nothing else. Currently, it’s available on Windows and Linux (sorry Mac users), and its open-source nature means it’s adaptable if you have the know-how.  If you can’t get your hands on a typewriter, the Windows 98 vibe could be the next best thing for that vintage feel.

Summary of Trelby Screenwriting Software

Pros

  • Totally free you will never be asked to pay.  You own the full version.
  • Simple and great for those who want a pure writing experience with no distractions
  • Can import Celtx files and export to PDF, Final Draft, and Fountain
  • Easy and quick hotkeys for line types

Cons

  • Limited to Windows and Linux (unless you’re an Apple dev who wants to take a crack!)
  • Very limited options for style
  • Toolbars are tiny and hard to read

Causality

This one is truly a different screenplay editor than everything else on the list.  A visual-based story forming type of software that seems to stress a lack of form over the strict form of most screenwriting software. It’s more like a beat management system than a script word processor. Like many of the others, it’s free to a point and you can save or print up to 10 pages of a script before they ask you to upgrade.  If strict linear writing doesn’t suit your brain, this is absolutely worth a try.  

Summary of Causality

Pros

  • Inventive, idea web style, story-focused writing tool 
  • Great for organizing beats and structuring your writing after the fact
  • Helpful for story design
  • Import and export to popular file types (Fountain, Final Draft, etc.)

Cons

  • Non-traditional and won’t suit more rigid screenplay writers
  • The cut-off for free comes very early (10 pages)
  • You’ll need to invest time in tutorials and examples to get comfortable most likely

 

Is there really a “Best Screenwriting Software”?

For me, it took actually writing a page or two of a screenplay idea in each of these apps to get a feel for how they suited my style.  I’m a sucker for statistics, add-ons, and customization so WriterDuet was nearly my perfect partner.  I found this to be a great creative script writing exercise too.  By the fourth hour of testing screenplay software, my shallow idea had morphed into a script that I wanted to finish writing.  

Using something less conventional like Causality let me look at my ideas differently and the whole horse approach of the StudioBinder software made me think about actually casting and shooting this little script someday.  Are my days of working in Celtx done?  Of course not. It’s still a great way to write though I hope to convert a few of my writing partners to the new kid in town after they read this.  At the end of the day, my best recommendation is to try a few for yourself.  Write something, get the feel for the layout, and find out what app lets you write your best screenplay.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: