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Screenwriting : Looking for plotting software recommendations by Gav Elias

Gav Elias

Looking for plotting software recommendations

I am a complete newbie to screenwriting. I have settled on trying Celtx as my scriptwriting software as it seems pretty user friendly, easy to use, will auto format in the right style for me and, importantly, it's free! I can also access the Celtx Studio from my PC and my MacBook and from the iPad's Celtx Script app, allowing me to sync across all my machines. However, I am wondering what is a decent software to use for the plotting and planning phases. I am a very visual person and like things to look good and organised, so that would be awesome. I would like something where i ca plot the scenes, flow, developments, twists etc before i move on into writing the script. As I am using Celtx, which is free, I am willing to pay for the plotting software. Any suggestions?

Kerry Douglas Dye

In my head I've designed the perfect software program that combines formatting, outlining, tagging, graphing, etc. But I've never found software that actually does all this in one package, and inevitably end up using an ad-hoc combination of Final Draft, Excel, Visio. Years ago I used a neat tool called Power Structure that does some of the things I need, particularly graphing. But (at the time, at least) it didn't integrate with the actual writing phase, so I ended up not using it much. Which is all to say: if you find something good, let me know!

Cherie Grant

Kerry, you have the idea now you need to the find funding to create the perfect screenwriting software.

Wade E. Campbell Jr.

Gav, I use Movie Magic Screenwriter 6. I had to pay, but it was well worth it. If writing is something you love to do, it might be worth investing in.

Gav Elias

How is Final Draft as a plotting tool? Just asking as I am doing a part time degree so could get an educational discount on it and use it for plotting and writing if that is do-able.

Wade E. Campbell Jr.

it has a tool for plotting, color coding, it took me roughly 10 - 15 days to figure out all the tools and special features, but once I got going, it was easy. I just typed and it formatted it for me. I was able to look at previous notes from brainstorming, it is great. I don't think you will be able to get a student discount, but you can look it up when you have time. Movie Magic Screenwriter 6. Good luck!

Cherie Grant

i really should read my manual and figure out all the features.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Final Draft is extremely limited as a tool for visualizing story. There's an "Index Card" view and a sort of stacked Scene View. Not even outlining. So... I use it for writing, mainly because it's the industry standard and it's what I'm accustomed to. If you know what you need to write, it's a speedy way to get it out in the right format and ready for production. But I would not consider it a story or plot development tool.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

For plotting... there is a software called Plot Control. try www.plotcontrol.com or www.reelwriting.com... it's less than $50. I'm assuming they have a template for plotting out your script. Haven't tried but if you're just starting out... it may make writing it easier. Good luck.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

I know some screenwriters that use Movie Magic AND Final Draft. I guess the use the best tools from either or... I may even look into that myself. Apparently Final Draft 9 is hugely improved with more bells and whistles.

Wade E. Campbell Jr.

They are going to keep adding new things. They probably already have Final Draft 19 in the works. Where will it all end.

Cherie Grant

with software it never ends until the apocalypse.

Gav Elias

Is Save the Cat a good plotting method? The annoying element is to find something that could ideally import into Final Draft, though that is unlikely. Would save chunks of time on re-entering characters, locations, scenes etc.

Chad Mercree

Hi. You can buy a premium Celtx membership which includes lots of preproduction tools like storyboarding, breakdowns, etc. Worth checking out.

Lynn P. H. Adrian

Amazon studios sets up multiple story boards that you can submit for input. It's free.

Gav Elias

Yeah, i am considering a premium Celtx Studio membership. Is mindmapping software appropriate for story plotting at all? Just wondering as I have been looking at the likes of Scapple, Mindjet and MindNode.

Gav Elias

Cheers Lynn! Just having a look at Amazon Studios and it's Storybuilder, with the Blake Snyder template as a starting point, looks just the job. And free!

James Breckenridge

Celtx has a Storyboard capacity that sounds like what you're looking for. But know that most software programs are margins and tabs and they will, by themselves, not help you create a dramatic screenplay in proper form. I agree with Alle - story first - form (although important) second. Remember that the form of a screenplay is in some ways a kind of code and designed to be accessible by professionals in a way that is somewhat familiar (not confusing), but always surprising. As the artist once said, "Exaggerate the essential, leave to obvious vague." Good advice for writers as well.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

Save the Cat software... I believe is used for plotting... beat sheets... outlining etc. I don't think it's very expensive. I use Final Draft to actually write the script. You can print out index cards etc. Some people use Movie Magic. These are more expensive. But what it sounds like to me. Save the Cat software is what you need before your write. You can check it out at www.writersstore.com You probably can get it in the U.K. maybe. Not sure.

Gordon Olivea

Software isn't the key. Work ethic, imagination and inner talent are the keys. You can download "Plot Control" software for a free trial period. I did - it's good, and if I was new I would have bought it because it does help with craft, but I made my own system a few years ago in Word, because of the flexibility. I have a section where I can write freely, in big block paragraphs just to dump ideas. I use Final Draft 8 for scripts. Plotting is necessary for most writers, but execution is everything. It's what producers and actors read. Buy Final Draft or Movie Magic and start writing. You can plot with a pen and paper. Why not? Spend your time learning the craft, reading scripts, and writing your own.

Lex Scott

celtx has this function. Click on the index cards tab along the bottom of the window. This produces a series of notes that represent each scene. You can add a new card which automatically adds a new scene to the current project, and along the top of the work window there is a button where you can swap between looking at the script broken into individual scenes, or the note cards that represent each scene. You can even drag and rearrange the order of the cards to reorder your scripts scenes easily. It really does everything you need it to, its basically a digital version of the pin board you would use to map out a plot. Try it out before spending money unnecessarily.

Gav Elias

I would have to disagree with stating software is not important. I am a very visual worker and rely on things that look good, make sense and are organised. The stories I come up with chop and change and interweave (think Tarantino's Pulp Fiction). Therefore, I rely on plotting tools to draft the entire story and ensure the interweaving works and makes sense. I can only do this by getting it out of my head onto a visual format that I can cross reference and check. Therefore, I would argue a plotting software tool is vital, for those that work like me at least.

Tony Boland

Well, there's a difference between visual and technical. If you're the later, then I would suggest Outline 4D or Story O. They can give you the detail you're looking for. Being a working writer and having used most of the software out there, it all looks pretty but doesn't do the work for you. At some point, you can have all the pieces of the puzzle but it's not until you start writing that the real magic happens.

Gav Elias

Completely agree Tony.It always needs an imaginative writer behind the software and that will never change. However, the old school 3x5 notes pin chart has moved on by now as well :)

David M Hyde

I use Celtx for my writing and Story-O for my planning. Story-O is a bit clunky at times (save your work often) but it does the job at a reasonable price

Kerry Douglas Dye

Software isn't "the key", but it is a potential tool. We all have our preferred tools, be they pen/pad, index cards, or (in my case) an integrated outlining/tagging/weaving/graphing/formatting tool that doesn't exist yet but would beautifully streamline my personal creative process. Why knock a man for asking other writers what tools they like? He might as well have asked, "do you prefer a standard or ergonomic keyboard?" Choosing the right tool for your writing process doesn't discount the importance of creativity.

Thomas Bailey

Personally, nothing beats the 3"x5" cards. There is something great about being able to put it on a wall and stand back for a minute... or let it rest and catch it in passing.

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

I agree Thomas Bailey.

Varun Prabhu

For novels, I use yWriter or Scrivener...I am guessing you can use those for your plotting needs. However, Final Draft or Movie Magic will also do well.

Robert Sprawls

I use Freeplane, but there is also Freemind, both of which are mind mappers, made for Windows, Mac and Linux. A few other tools are Anthemion Writer's Cafe and Power Structure, but Freeplane and Freemind are free and very effective in my eyes. Writer's Cafe is low cost and power structure starts to hit 3 digits and I hear it doesn't behave too well on Win7. There is another tool passed on to me called "Plot Control" but it's hard coded for the three act structure and I've moved my story to graphic novel, so it's next to useless for me.

Gav Elias

Anybody use Aeon Timeline at all?

Robert Sprawls

Alle, if it enabled you to see things more clearly, why was it less useful?

Robert Sprawls

Gav, I also use Aeon Timeline. Love it. Great timeline tool and I've tried a few before I found out about it. My story has a long backstory crossing multiple lives and events. It's helping me to put it in order. But, it's not a plot tool.

Susan Lipschutz Kaufman

Final Draft. It's the only way to fly.

Robert Sprawls

Susan, FD is screenwriting software, but things such as plot, theme, characterization are higher order. Those are universal story aspects and apply to novels, short stories, comics, etc. FD is no more helpful for these things than is Microsoft Word, and perhaps a bit less so as it's specifically designed to write in script format. And sometimes, there is absolutely no software that has been made that fits what the writer needs. In that case, you're back to pen and paper. But I will say again, I love Freeplane, if for nothing else than as a sketch tool.

DB Jackson

I prefer Final Draft. It's easy, complete, and as close to the "industry standard" as you'll find.

Gav Elias

I am using the FD demo at the moment. Loving it for the writing and very speedy. Also liking the ability to use the scene summary view to summarise scenes and colour code acts and beats etc. However, it does seem very lacking in the plotting and character development/background side of things, or maybe I have just not uncovered these yet?! On the side of plotting, I have just stumbled across an app on my ipad called IdeaBoost. It looks perfect for plotting as you can have custom backgrounds (change to a cork board), colour coded post it notes, divide into sections and even hand write on the notes. However, not much about it on web at all. Anyone think this could be useful or using it?

Andrew Penner

I've been using Scapple by Literature and Lattes for a while now. It's a brainstorming program that allows you to freely and quickly put a lot ideas in a single space together and allows you to make the connections as you see fit. Because it doesn't make any assumptions about what you're trying to do it gives you a lot of room to explore and see how things work and play out together. I would not recommend using software like the Save the Cat plotting program because it demands you use an asinine beat sheet to tell pre-packaged stories. Scapple is $15 bucks and has a free trial you can test it out with, but at the end of the day a pen and paper works just as well. Best of luck

Paul S Millan

More than a software I would recommend some very good books on the subject before starting writing. Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee and The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri

Varun Prabhu

I use yWriter to keep track of my characters and story but this software is for novels.

Jim Fisher

For plotting, currently nothing beats Plot Control. Created specifically for the purpose of plotting a story. For writing, Final Draft is still the industry standard but Movie Magic Screenwriter 6 is a close second. In fact, MM6 allows you to move scenes in the Outline Navigator function and it automatically moves them in the script. Very handy. As fas as I have been able to ascertain, FD9 cannot do that.

Gav Elias

Thanks Paul. I have read a combination of books from Robert McKee, Syd Field, William C Marcel, Blake Snyder etc over the past few months to get a complete and diverse overview.That is why I only starting to write now after educating myself.

Gav Elias

Final Draft is my tool of choice for writing I think. I am currently using the trial but have seamlessly clicked with it and it just feel right for me. Scrivener looks like a possibility for character, plot, structure, organisational stuff etc.

James Breckenridge

Quick follow-up regarding books. McKee's Story is a great book and very dense for many people. After I first read his book, I attended one of his Story presentation weekends. Everyone I spoke with there had never read his book. They sat taking notes - busy as beavers, not knowing that much of his presentation was word for word out of his book. A month later I re-read his book and took more notes - as if iI were in college prepping for a test. It is not enough to read these books, one must, i feel, really study them. After all, in a few weeks you'll sadly forget most of it. That's why studying and re-reading all of these books is the only way I know of to absorb their instruction and later on, make it your own.

Gav Elias

Completely agree. That is why when I read stuff I use mini post it notes to flag pages, highlight passages, make notes on pages etc as I work through them. Then, when I do revisit them, I can immediately pick out the important sections I previously marked up.

Gav Elias

Yeah, sounds like sensible advice. Might give CeltX another chance before buying Final Draft. I am mainly looking for a plotting tool cos my story is of 4/5 characters that interweave and gets confusing ensuring all loopholes are shut :)

Jason Reed

Workflowy https://workflowy.com/ is good. If you watch the video on their website it gives you a good idea of how it works. After you sign up, it teaches you how to use it. Also, it's online, so you can access it anywhere without having to worry about losing anything. I got the recommendation from John August on his Scriptnotes podcast. Best of all, it's free.

Geoff Gohlke

Man get CONTOUR!!!! It's amazing. Simply the best planning software out there and it's so simple. Look it up and try it out!

Gav Elias

Interesting suggestion Geoff. Contour looks exactly like what i need. However, in looking at the Mariner's website (the software developer), I noticed Montage, their scriptwriting software. Does anybody use this? It looks virtually perfect from the summaries on their site. Has the formatting, sections for outlining, character development, locations etc, colour coded text to see balance of dialogue vs action at a glance etc. It seems to be a merger of Final Draft, Scrivener and Movie Draft all within one package. I had never heard of it before, but it does seem to tick all the boxes and worth a go at the demo at the very least!

Kerry Douglas Dye

Side note: the guy who developed Contour also wrote a great book called "My Story Can Beat Up Your Story". Highly recommend it. I've used Contour before... That said, I'm little help because I can't recall why I stopped. I think I tend not to like Q&A-type programs, and I believe Q&A is a major component of Contour. That said, I still use one of their key concepts (Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr). The framework is useful, though I didn't feel like the interface sang to me. But check out the demo, and may it sing to you.

Geoff Gohlke

I didn't know about Montage. That actually sounds awesome, I'll check it out. I use Contour sometimes for plotting when I have writer's block and I use Final Draft 9 to actually write for now.

Gav Elias

Indeed Geoff. Just been looking it up. In doing so, I am surprised it is not more known and the industry standard! Has the sceentwriting formatting covered (as other screenwriting software all do). It has sections built-in for outline, scene view, character sketches, tasks you can assign yourself such as deadline, words per day etc, research folder, locations sketch etc (all similar to Scrivener). It has ready to go templates for all kinds of formats such as BBC sitcom, stage play, screenplay and so on, and can colour code different sections (such as slugline, character, dialogue, action) for at a glance view of your script's split of action vs dialogue (as Movie Draft does) and then goes a step further. It also has queries you can build into it and customise as well as contacts database. For example, you can set it up ready with a list of contacts you want to send a cover letter to and have that letter in your document along with your script. Makes it super efficient in terms of having everything built into the one software instead of using multiple files and software. Another perk is you can mark scenes as 1st draft, 2nd draft, 3rd draft, final draft and so on. You can also register keywords against each scene, such as "A story" or "B story" and so on. You can then set up queries to just show the 2nd draft, or just show the A story scenes/outline at a click of a button. To me, it seems to have all bases covered and I am astounded, in looking at for the past hour or so, why it is not much better know?!?! Have a look here for some tutorials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLUxHgiCZkE And here for the product page: https://marinersoftware.com/products/montage/

Fernando George la la Cruz

I use Final Draft version 9. It is the industry standard of screenwriting. It's a great software.

Stewart Reade Wauchop

For plotting I use both Save The Cat and Plot Control software. It may sound confusing but using two variations on plotting a screenplay, I am able to use one to both check and spin off the other. Save the Cat is useful because it also has a screenwriting section which exports your screenplay scenes directly into Final Draft (including FD9), whether there is dialogue or not. I hope this helpful.

Ken Koh

Save The Cat or Truby's Blockbuster

Gav Elias

I have just used Contour demo. It is all you need for plotting it seems. It allows you to work out characters, hit beats for a 3 act structure and makes you think of reversals etc. It does seem rigidly structured, but definitely allowed me to my idea out of my head successfully.

Anthony Mouasso

Plot Control 2.0 is pretty neat! I made several outlines with it.

Susan Lipschutz Kaufman

Something is wrong here. I wrote 4 scripts following Save the Cat beat sheets on all. Why would i need a celtx or anything else? Please explain. Totally famushed.

William Martell

I use a pencil and paper.

Gareth Mollison

Power Structure is good and Inspiration 9 for brainstorming but a note book is best.

Dave McCrea

SuperNote Card from Mindola is by FAR the best thing I've seen...

Gav Elias

I am now using Contour. It is excellent and has exposed loopholes I thought out and fixed before I got writing. Might not be for everyone, but has definitely helped clarify my plot, build my story and kept me focused

Sylvia Marie Llewellyn

I've heard of Plot Control, I actually tried the trial they offered. But I'm in rewriting stage now with a couple of scripts. So when I start a new one I may try it.

Anthony Mouasso

Well the pen & paper method is the most direct connection with our brain so, it's also my favored. Having said that, developing an entire plot structure on paper could be quite the challenge so: Plot Control to me, at this stage is actually quite good to develop the entire thing, before I go to the writing stage.

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