Finished screenplay: my experience

I wanted to share my experience writing my first screenplay using Scrivener, the good and the bad. I know Scrivener isn’t intended to be screenplay software, and I know the developer’s mantras, but people are always going to try to mutate good tools to their purposes, and I hope it will be useful to others to hear how it worked (or not) for me.

I used the RESEARCH folder to keep my logline, my outline and my synopsis handy. This is also where I kept notes (my own and others.) I did not outline with the notecards, but that’s something I’d like to try in the future.

I ended-up making each scene a new document in DRAFTS. This was very easy. After entering a slug, I simply selected the slugline and chose to break the document and “make selection title.” Wa-la. This allowed me to have a color-coded notecard for each scene, which allowed me to see certain aspects of structure at a glance.

I did almost every bit of writing in fullscreen mode. This one feature has to be my favorite. A clean screen is a focused writer (or at least one step closer to a focused writer.) The ENTER/TAB system for selecting elements works great. I wish changing elements wasn’t a two step process (COMMAND-Y, then a 1.) I wish I could assign those to function keys, but all-in-all a very minor quibble.

So, the process of writing the first draft in a thoroughly modern, uncluttered OSX application was very pleasant.

Then it came time to print the first draft for feedback, and this is where the experience slipped. (I’m sorry, I don’t care what anybody else says, printing drafts/manuscripts is as fundamental to writing process as typing.)

I was glad to see that a lot of screenplay conventions were possible (starting numbering on page 2, etc.) In fact, everything necessary for producing a professional manuscript was there except for one item: while Scrivener has basic widow/orphan control, it does not understand that the CHARACTER/DIALOGUE combination should be treated as one paragraph, not two, and so has the nasty habit of leaving a character name hanging at the bottom of the page.

I decided for a first draft that was only going to trusted readers, I could live with this one deviation. I exported the draft as a PDF, and found quirk #2. For some reason that I still can’t quite pin down, certain scenes refused to print in the correct font specified in the export settings.

Again, since this first draft was only going to close associates, I released it into the wild with these quirks.

Once I got feedback, I stored these notes in my RESEARCH folder. (I don’t know off hand if there is a way to attach notes to the text for which their applicable, (ala Word) but that would certainly be handy.) Regardless, it was quite nice to be able to split the screen between the script and the notes and see both at the same time.

When it was time to release the second draft, I knew that I would have to format it in FD or Word. Even my first set of readers all bitched about the broken dialog. (The screenplay format is completely unforgiving.)

I imported an RTF of my draft into Word, and then began the laborious task of reassigning formatting to every element. (I have a screenwriting template that ensures proper formatting.) This took a few hours, not the end of the world, but time that I don’t really have. A PDF export later, and I had my second draft, properly formatted.

The end result is that my script had to leave Scrivener, and will never come back. I’ll have to make revisions (there are always revisions) and it would be far too tedius to make a several hour round-trip between Scrivener and Word each time.

I’m guessing that when an RTF is imported in FD the formatting gets properly assigned. I need to look into that.

It’s absolutely maddening that one tiny feature can throw such a monkey wrench in what would otherwise be a complete workflow. (I truly despise both Word and FD.)

I honestly don’t know if I’ll use Scrivener for my next project. I know that I’d dearly love to.

Thank you very much for your feedback. I am just starting with a drama and setting up an environment, that will suit my needs.

This is nasty. I think you refer to Stageplay US, becaue in the UK Stageplay Character and Dialog are on the same line.

If I understand it correctly, these widow/orphan control can not work in Scrivener, because the text styles are not really hierarchical styles, which could be logical tided together. So if you have Character and Dialogue on two lines, they are just two lines for Scrivener. But Keith may describe this better. And maybe I am not right and he has a workaorund for you.

I miss this feature too, which is available in Avenir. Workaround: I put my notes in the Document Notes Window, so that they are attached to the document I am working on.

Yeah, this is bad. I have an other use case, where I have to leave Scrivener. I made an article about a piece of software with screenshots and decided to export the text and to include these screenshots with captions in aka NeoOffice. I would use LaTeX but the editor gave hints, that he would prefer some Office-Format. I send this file to friends to have a look at it. I won’t come back to Scrivener, when they have suggestions how to improve the article.

But perhaps I do not need it. The structure is there. Improvements will apply to some paragraphs and I am done. I hope. :wink:


That’s really interesting… I’m doing a first draft screenplay in Scriv for the first time at the moment and loving it, but then so were you at that point from what I can tell.

I’ve recently started writing using the Sequences method, which actually spiked my considerable scepticism at all the theorising, basically because it’s not really a theory. The story is created in eight sequences, each fifteen minutes-ish long – if you want to get Syd Field on it, the first two are your first act, the middle four your second act, the last two you third act.

Then each sequence has a beginning, middle, and end, which you can subdivide into eight sequences, and keep going recursively like that till you feel you’ve got enough detail to start doing the script.

Anyhow, Scriv is just perfect for this approach, particularly as each sequence can then have its bit of script attached. Naturally I’ve got all sorts of other documents in there too: research, character notes, thematic bits, general wibbling when I’m trying to get my head round things.

The printing stuff worries me – I’d assumed that keeping character and dialogue together was in there, somehow. Like you, I’m going to have to shunt everything into a WP at some point (probably Mellel – which has a pretty good import feature which picks up similarly formatted bits of rtf and asks you what style you’d like to apply to them all…) but that’s okay. It’s a way of getting a slightly fresher take on the script as a whole and standing back a bit, which is what I’m desperately bad at. Writing in bits is good; rewriting is more kind of holistic, for me.

Not sure what you mean by “attached,” as I’m not a user of Word. I think you are referring to comments, where you a little icon is placed next to a paragraph which can be clicked on and it opens a text box?

Well, yes, nothing quite like that in Scrivener, but there are a few alternatives that would match this. If I got a note from somebody and wanted to attach it to a part of the script, I would probably place the cursor anywhere near that spot or in it, and start an annotation with Cmd-Shift-A. Type in something like "Michelle: " to show who the note is from, and then hit Cmd-L to make a new attached document, and paste the contents of their note into that. If you turn on “Open Scrivener Links in alternate editor,” from the Navigation panel in preferences, it will automatically create a split and open the new document in the split. The datestamp that is put into the original document functions as a link to the note if you click on it. So, in a way it is like Word, just it is putting the contents of the note into a split instead of a little box.

Documents created in this fashion go into an automatically generated folder called Notes. You can move this folder anywhere after it has been generated. You could even move the note documents out next to their related documents in the draft (just make sure the “Include in Export” feature is unchecked if you do that!)

Another alternative is to simply drop the notes into annotations if they are not too long.

You’re not alone in despising Final Draft (mostly for its very un-Mac-like interface) but for formatting a screenplay you’ve written in Scrivener it really is the best solution (that I’ve found) since it adds (and removes again) your page numbers, checks for formatting errors etc etc.

Keith has made all the screenplay formatting work with Final Draft - both for exporting and importing. This means you can have a good, solid ‘round-trip’ workflow. It took me a while to get it working in both directions (my exported margins snagged me for some time) but Scrivener does a good enough job that it’s now a snap, and I now spend just a few minutes converting in either direction (don’t forget to save .txt files for Final Draft to read.)

On import back into Scrivener, the split document feature is invaluable in breaking the script down again, making the round trip pretty quick and painless. Best of all - if I’ve set everything up properly in Scrivener I only have to spend ten minutes even looking at Final Draft.

Sure I’m lazy and a button in the Export dialogue box to “Format export for Final Draft” would be nice, but whatever. It works!

Use QuicKeys to automate the keystrokes. It comes in handy with Scrivener.

Thanks for your post. I think some of your problems really stem from the fact that Scrivener was never intended for the whole workflow. At the point of a draft being created, the idea was always that it would leave Scrivener and be worked over for final formatting in a dedicated application such as Word or Final Draft.

Scrivener’s widows and orphans control is very basic - but that is because Scrivener was never intended as a tool for printing off a final draft at all. You could format and print off a novel or short story, but anything else really has to be taken to a word processor (or Final Draft). And this really is how it should be. Scrivener users work on a lot of different types of project. Some write scripts, some novels and some are academic writers. All have different needs in terms of final formatting. For instance, Scrivener cannot satisfactorily print and format footnotes and endnotes (it can print them roughly for first draft checking purposes, but not much else). There is no way Scrivener could provide correct formatting for all of these different users without becoming a different beast altogether (a formatting program); Scrivener is, and will remain, a program dedicated to drafting a long work.

As for certain sections not appearing in the correct export font - did you ensure that “Preserve formatting” was unchecked for those documents?

Thanks for your feedback and all the best,

Thanks so very much for Scrivener. I just can’t say that enough.

I understand your philosophy for the app, I really do. I even understand how you’re using existing frameworks to do the bulk of the heavy-lifting so that you can concentrate on the Scrivener-specific code. (I own a software company.)

I don’t know if this is easy/hard, possible/impossible with your code base, but if there was a method (special character, soft-break, whatever) to indicate that the LB should not be considered a paragraph break, then that would address a whole multitude of problematic scenarios. Basically, it would be the evil twin of the “page break” command that you already have … the “page don’t break” command. :wink:

Thanks for the tip. I’ll try the roundtrip with FD. Somehow I doubt I’ll be able to retain my system of keeping each scene a document, correct?

The other problem with editing in Scrivener is that readers typically give notes based on page numbers, which are, of course, meaningless inside of Scrivener. I had to lean heavily on search and replace, and it was much more cumbersome than simply going to page 42.

Here’s a Final Draft screenplay format with the right-margin tweaks required (for me) to import directly from Final Draft RTF into Scrivener, recognizing all elements.

Your mileage may vary.

It goes in /Users/YOURUSERNAME/Library/Application Support/Scrivener/Templates/Scripts and probably only works with the 1.055b beta release of Scrivener.


For reference, here are the margins (in inches). I only changed the right-margins from the default Final Draft format to match these in order to get painless FD -> Scrivener imports. Thanks to Keith for making such a compelling writing environment!

Scene Heading 1.50 - 7.50
Action 1.50 - 7.50
Character 3.50 - 7.25
Parenthetical 2.90/3.00 - 5.50
Dialogue 2.50 - 6.00
Transition 5.50 - 7.12
Shot 1.50 - 7.50

It’s entirely possible that I’ve got jacked-up margins in my Final Draft.
Final Draft Quirksmode.xml (11.1 KB)

I ask other Mac users to mark-up a .pdf in Preview with those little yellow sticky notes. When I get that back I can put that .pdf in Scrivener and split the screen, with my Scriv version in the other pane. Works a treat.

I think almost all .pdf readers allow stickies of some sort. You’ll be up against your colleagues’ tech savvy, it’s true, but ain’t that always the way?

As for breaking a fresh FD import into separate Scriv files for scenes - I do this every time myself. Just go through any screenplay you need to work on and break it up by selecting part of the scene header and hit Option, Apple, K (or it’s at the bottom of the Documents menu). It will create a new file with the selected scene header as the title. Scrivener doesn’t mind having the same file title multiple times, so you can have INT. CAR (or whatever) each time it appears. You can add page numbers to the file title, or add your own #1, #2, #3 numbering system to differentiate them - either as you go through at the time, or go back and edit the titles later if you prefer.

I guess you could do this with a split screen and with a marked-up .pdf in the other pane and combine the task with copy/pasting comments into the new scene tops.

All this might sound very time consuming, but it’s actually not that bad. Besides - going through the script sequentially has the added benefit of making you read it again. I sometimes get engrossed and realise I’ve forgotten to split off the last twenty scenes.

Excellent template PrimitiveWorker.

Keith has just put the latest version up - 1.06. It includes a Final Draft Screenplay format. Would you mind verifying the new version for any differences with yours and post the revised version - if any revision is needed, to the Zen for Scrivener thread and I will make a link to it from the templates sticky.

Excellent! Thanks.


I’m going to make use of the script installer Keith included in the latest beta and make script templates for all of Final Draft 7’s default formats.

Here’s the diff between my version and the version that ships with the new beta. Keith, did something mangle your right-margin values?

[esherman@futurist:~/Library/Application Support/Scrivener/ScriptFormats] diff ScreenplayFinalDraft.xml ScreenplayFinalDraftQuirksmode.xml 
<                       <real>7.2600002288818359</real>
>                       <real>7.5</real>
<                       <real>7.2600002288818359</real>
>                       <real>7.5</real>
<                       <real>7.0100002288818359</real>
>                       <real>7.25</real>
<                       <real>2.9000000953674316</real>
>                       <real>2.9</real>
<                       <real>5.2600002288818359</real>
>                       <real>5.5</real>
<                       <real>5.7600002288818359</real>
>                       <real>6</real>
<                       <real>6.8899998664855957</real>
>                       <real>7.12</real>
<                       <real>7.2600002288818359</real>
>                       <real>7.5</real>
<       <string>Screenplay (Final Draft)</string>
>       <string>Screenplay (Final Draft Quirksmode)</string>

The crazy decimals are just caused by normalising the attributes for RTF. Basically, when you set certain attributes of text and then save the text as RTF, the RTF format alters certain numbers fractionally. If Scrivener didn’t pre-calculate this, the format wouldn’t get recognised after a file was saved out and loaded back in (because internally everything is stored as RTFD) - everything would just turn up as “General Text”.

The margins set in the Final Draft format that comes with Scrivener are based on those in my demo of FD7. If I create a screenplay in that copy of FD, I can export it as RTF, import it into Scrivener, select Convert > Re-capitalize Script (I think I’ll move that to the Screenwriting menu) and everything works fine. Are you saying that the margins in your copy of FD are different and that the Screenplay (Final Draft) format that comes with Scrivener doesn’t recognise RTF files from FD for you?


Ahh, thanks for the explanation. On a side note, I’m sure the RTF format has a GoodReasonTM for doing this… :unamused:

Yes. The above changes reflected in the diff were required for me. It’s entirely possible that I inadvertently, at some point in the past, altered my FD margins from the standard.