Screenwriting Workflow and Final Draft

I’m having a little trouble understanding the workflow between Scrivener and Final Draft. Initially I expected Scrivener to be an idea repository, outliner, and electronic cork board. I would then jump into Final Draft when ready to “write”. Now that I’ve used Scrivener for a couple months to organize my thoughts for a screenplay, and started looking at Final Draft, it’s become less clear to me. I’ve found a lot of threads about exporting from Final Draft for use in Scrivener, which I don’t get. I see some Scrivener formatting options for screenplays. I realize there are probably as many different workflows as there are Scrivener users, but is there a general expectation for workflow and when it’s time to jump out of Scrivener and in to something else? Are there any example workflows? Keith started this program to work on scripts, yes? Is he still using Final Draft?

Actually, no, I created the program to work on a novel, and included some features that should be useful to academic writers and others, too. But during the beta testing stages, a number of scriptwriters started using Scrivener and really wanted a script mode, so I eventually provided one which has improved and been enhanced over the past year or two.

There is no set workflow, but the way I would imagine it working is the same as I intended for novels: research, plan, outline and write the first draft in Scrivener. Then export to Final Draft for editing or final formatting.

The next free update features easier import and export to Final Draft using FD’s FCF format, so it should be much easier to set up any workflow you want. (The Final Draft guys were very generous and gave me access to their format.) I myself don’t use Final Draft, though, as I’m not a scriptwriter but a would-be novelist.

Hope that helps.

Thanks for the quick reply Keith. That helps. I’ll spend some more time learning about script mode. I am wondering how much time I should spend on a first draft in Scrivener given all of the “SmartType” features in Final Draft for character names, headings, etc.

Why do I see comments from users that want to import Final Draft docs into Scrivener?

NOTE: None of this is meant to be a knock against Scrivener. Bought it. Use it. Love it. Just trying to figure out the best way to get my pieces into a professional looking screenplay format. Still learning the capabilities of Scrivener and Final Draft.

As you say - there’s probably as many workflows as there are people. One reason I import stuff from Final Draft into Scrivener is when I’m working with someone else who doesn’t have Scriv and there’s a lot of back and forth.

Another reason is that - this relates to your other question - I usually get a script 97% finished in Scrivener before I realise it’s time to start working on the piece in FD with a view to pacing, page layout, certain transitions and small scenes that I have been leaving till the last minute. I actually go to FD partly to motivate myself to finish the writing process sooner. As for the page layout thing - I’m quite OCD and hate when a scene starts or ends in the top or bottom eighth of the page - I frequently extend or chop a scene to make it fit a page better, especially within the first ten pages.

Anyway what this means is that I never have a finished version of the script in Scrivener. In order to do any re-writes though, I bring it all in again and chop it up using Option Command K (having selected the scene headers). It’s slightly more time consuming, but it’s not a bad workflow as it does provide you a chance to go through the script again, maybe make sure my scene headers are consistent and so on.


Thanks for taking time to share this Robin. It sounds like you’re writing dialog and everything in Scrivener. I’ve essentially done all my beats and outline and was thinking dialog was the time to jump to Final Draft. I’ll give this some more thought.

You may want to do a search for “final draft autocomplete” here on the forums; Scrivener does indeed feature autocomplete of script elements. You have to set them up yourself - Scriv can’t auto-remember them for you the way FD does - but it’s really not much work at all to set it up, and then five seconds to modify it if a new character or extension pops into your head halfway through the draft.

Thanks Antony. That is good to know. Is there a reason I’d want to start that level of writing in Scrivener, as opposed to doing it in Final Draft?

Mainly for the flexibility Scriv gives you - being able to drag and drop scenes around, take snapshots, create alternative scenes with ease, create child documents etc… and of course all the note/comment features in Scriv (the document synopsis, notes, label colours and so on) are unparalleled in FD.

I used to write exclusively in FD. It was far and away the best app for comics, screenwriting and just about any other scripwriting… until Scriv came along. Now I write the first draft of everything in Scriv. The only time I go into FD is for final formatting, and amends/revisions (FD’s Revision Mode, which I find very useful, has no equivalent in Scriv).

Basically, from my POV the question would be “is there a reason I wouldn’t want to start that level of writing in Scrivener?” :slight_smile:

OK. I think I’m getting this now. It seems for a screenplay that I should:

  1. Be putting beats on the note cards
  2. Putting random thoughts in the “Document Notes” of the Inspector (I had been putting these in the main body of text files)
  3. Writing the actual screenplay (e.g. dialog) in the main area of each text file.

Maybe it is stated somewhere, “here is how a screenwriter gets the most of Scrivener”, but I haven’t found it. I think it would go a long way to helping people jump right in if there was a document that showed how a typical screenplay/comic/novel utilizes all the elements of Scrivener.

I did watch the video, and read the tutorial, but it just didn’t click for me until I had already spent a lot of time just goofing with the program, and asked a few questions in the forum. Perhaps it has been more intuitive for others. I admit I’m trying to learn a lot of new things (i.e. Screenwriting, Scrivener, Final Draft, etc.) all at once.

I think spending “a lot of time just goofing with the program” is exactly the way to learn anything. No amount of how-to, cookbook instruction will substitute for hands-on experience, making mistakes, correcting them, and finding that you won’t break anything as you make progress.

I’m learning to screen-write by adapting works of fiction. A short story is a good place to start. Probably no one will want these scripts, but they give me a familiar model to learn. Only after much practice would I have any confidence to write an original story.

BTW, you may know that there are two kinds of scripts, a reading script that gets you in the door, and a technical script (usually written by a specialist) that maps out all the production elements. In a reading script, you don’t need to waste space elaborating shots or coaching actors on expression.

Good luck!

Can I just add, as someone who’s worked a lot with actors in my former life as a stage manager, that something actors really hate is having their performance dictated by the script? Just write the dialogue and leave out all the ‘sadly’/‘excited’/‘warily’/‘with increasing comprehension’ etc. parentheses. This might not be easy at first but you must (deep breath) trust the performers. When I first started sitting in rehearsal rooms I was full of naive ideas about the sanctity of the script, by which I thought that every full stop, every comma, was sacrosanct and that actors were little more than glorified vessels through which the author’s holy writ would pour. It was an important education for me to have read scripts beforehand, have the definitive reading in my head, and then see an actor take the scene and perform it in a way that was not only very different from what I had envisaged, but was also better. It made me realise that the best work is always, always, collaborative, and the joy for me now is giving the actors that freedom to play with what I’ve written. That doesn’t mean completely subverting the sense of a scene, but rather colouring it with their interpretations, and their choices, which usually make the whole thing richer. The main thrust of your scene should be apparent from what the characters are saying to each other and how they’re responding; if you’re having to add lots of guidance on how each line should be delivered then your dialogue needs attention.

DenVogel: I feel very like you, in that it took me a long while to ‘get’ Scrivener. I recently cracked it, by understanding its flexibility and strength in the preliminary stages; to be able to create the outline, and be able to make more detailed scene-specific notes in the Inspector palette, within the same window, is just brilliant - I really cannot overemphasize how great that is. For those scene outlines to be the same document as the scene, with all the former information at hand, is just wonderful. Plus, all my research documents are just one click away. I’m now converted!

Certainly, Scrivener is a very flexible program. Currently there is a video, tutorial project and comprehensive Help file (which, as Help files do, just tells you what each feature does rather than provide sample workflows). The trouble is that I am a one-man company at present, so I do all the coding, website design, forum replies, e-mail replies, sales, documentation and tutorials myself. (Oh, and I’m a teacher by day.) This means that it is very difficult for me to provide more than I already have (and it’s one reason why Scrivener is so cheap for what it is). Also, there’s the fact that I’m not a screenwriter myself, so having me writing a document on how I use Scrivener to write screenplays would be somewhat useless! I do hope to find a way of creating some more screencasts later on in the year, though.

Thanks and all the best,

Completely understood Keith. Wasn’t meant as a dig at you or the program. I appreciate how responsive you are to the forum, and that you give consideration to requests. It was merely a suggestion that would would have helped me, and I assume other newbies, realize the benefits of Scrivener more quickly. I liked it before, but now that I “get it”, I’m wondering how I could have started writing a screenplay without it.

I’d hate to see people stop using the program once the demo is up because they didn’t realize the full potential. Maybe I just didn’t grok it as quickly as the average user does.

PS-I’m glad to know you’re spending more time on the code and support than tutorials. :smiley:

No, you are absolutely right that it would be good if there were more workflow tutorials - I just wanted to explain why there aren’t as many as I’d like just yet. You’re not alone in wanting them - the request for more screencasts, for instance, is one I get a lot, and I know of a couple of would-be users who have given up just because it looked too complicated at first use. These are things I want to address, it’s just going to be some time. I really do hope to be able to provide more in the way of this sort of thing later in the year, though.

All the best,

Since this thread is likely to come up on a forum search, I thought I’d add a couple of tips that might help a newcomer (it’s basic, sorry, and it assumes in parts that I’m not talking to a working professional like, y’know, Joss Whedon or someone. And if I am: Joss, we should totally get a beer! PM me, and I’ll tell you all about Scrivener!):

What Scrivener Is And Isn’t (When It Comes To Screenwriting)

  1. Scrivener IS a great first draft tool. The binder allows you to break your story up into little chunks, and to work on those chunks either by themselves or as part of the whole. How you define those “chunks” is up to you. It may be as simple as creating three folders under your Screenplay heading (Documents > New Folder), and labeling them Act I, Act II, and Act II. You could then simply created new “Texts” in each of those folders (Document > New Text) and write your first act in the Act I folder, etc.

But because Scrivener allows you to add infinite complexity to the documents and folders in your binder, it’s possible to create a workflow that narrows your “chunks” down to the beat. If you’re a fan of Blake Snyder’s “Save The Cat” method of defining beats, here’s a thread that shows you how Scrivener’s binder can emulate an STC beat sheet. (Pay attention to what the corkboard looks like when you do it that way, and suddenly, index cards make a lot more sense.)

  1. Scrivener IS NOT a layout tool. Keith has done a great job of allowing Scriv to emulate a screenwriting app, and the import-export-to-Final-Draft functionality he’s adding for later versions should make it even closer to a stand-alone, FD-style application. But it’s best that you look at all this as a (wonderful) convenience, rather than a final output mode. Final Draft (and its ilk) still has the final say on formatting. Final Draft is how your screenplay will talk to others – it’s an industry standard format, and it’s the professional way to do things. Final Draft does a lot of little things that will make your script ready for consumption by a producer.

Luckily, Final Draft is well-named. If Scrivener is your early draft tool… well, you get the picture.

Some FAQs (From A Long Time Scrivener Forum Lurker/Poster)

Why would I want to go back and forth between Final Draft and Scrivener?

Because once you’ve gotten used to the Scrivener workflow, it’s tough to go back. All your stuff is there – your research, your experimental pages (I make a separate folder called “Drafts” where I’ll throw all my fragments and aborted “chunks” (ew!), your side notes (I make good use of the notepad).

Scrivener also has a lot of “zen” features that FD does not. Full Screen mode is beautiful for distraction-free writing, and Courier looks a lot better in Scriv than in FD.

The basic idea: Write in Scrivener, and finish up in FD. If you need to make changes, go back into Scrivener’s safe harbor and fix what needs to be fixed.

Wait, though. Isn’t that kind of a pain in the ass?

A little bit, yes. Which is why you’ll find screenwriters in this forum telling you that they do the bulk of their writing in Scrivener, then make revisions and add little scenes in Final Draft. And that’s what this whole “added FD functionality” thing is all about. Ideally, Keith will make it fairly seamless to dump your whole Scrivener project into FD, then back again for revisions. Right now, that’s (for me, anyway) too much to handle – especially for small revisions. If you’re routinely sending pages to a producer as you move along, you don’t really want to be in Scrivener for that (in my mind). All that converting back and forth can be a time sink.

BUT, don’t discount the fact that Scriv makes it easier to generate that big, hulking 100-or-so first draft. Generating all of those pages in a structured, incremental way has been a boon to screenwriting on a computer. And think of how great it’s going to be when we can go back and forth seamlessly!

What about stuff like character names, parentheticals, transitions…?

Scrivener does all of that. Here’s where a Power-User with more skill than I might want to chime in, but I’ve found that my fingers had no problem learning to TAB through script elements. TAB-TAB-TAB to create a slugline. RETURN from the end of that line, and you’re in action. RETURN-TAB and you’re in character name. TAB from there, and you’re in dialogue. I know you can rig Scrivener to autofill character names and such, but I’ve actually found that repetitively typing character names is kind of old-school and fun. I actually like that Scrivener doesn’t unhook my brain from that part of writing.

What about page length and hitting certain beats and all?

This has been a point of controversy in the forums, but the short answer is that Scrivener isn’t meant for that. Scrivener is a place to unhook your brain from certain structural details, and just write. Let go, young Jedi. You should have read enough scripts (and seen enough movies) that your gut will tell you where you are in your writing. Leave page count and “where something falls on a page” to the Final Draft stage of your writing.

If you had one tip for a new Scrivener user…

Start small, and expand into Scrivener (instead of trying to use all the functionality at once.) Maybe try that three-act-folder idea, and begin working. As you progress, you’ll find that you need a little more, and Scrivener obliges more often than not. Maybe you’ll want to skip a difficult scene… and you’ll open a new text, write a few notes on the index card, and move on. Maybe you’ll want to jot notes as you go. Look to your right, and there’s a fine notes section. And so on.

One final (and rather snotty) note: As a longtime Scrivener user, I really do feel that this is software for writers – people who dedicate a regular amount of time to putting ideas to paper. Which is to say, if one wants to write a script in a weekend in hopes of winning the Diablo Cody lottery… yeah, might want to open Final Draft and just start typing. I don’t write this to be dismissive. It’s just that Scrivener is very much about the craft of writing. It’s flexible enough to accommodate almost any approach to that craft, but there’s enough of a learning curve that it doesn’t make sense for someone who wants to dispense with the pesky task of actually writing and get on to living in a mansion and having beers with Clooney. That sounded awful, I’m sorry, and I don’t mean to imply that ANYONE interested in Scrivener is like that. But I’m not erasing it, either.

Anyway, best of luck, newbies! You’re gonna get Scrivener faster than you think (probably by Wednesday!), and you’re gonna dig it!

At the risk of resurrecting an old thread, and in the full knowledge I may live to regret this…

I’d be willing to collaborate with a couple of other screenwriters to come up with a ‘for screenwriting’ bit of the Scriv manual. I’m not a technical writer, but I am a copywriter by day so there’s a good chance I know roughly what I’m doing.

Seancoffee? Denvogel?