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Best Tool for Breaking Story? Writers Guild Foundation 'Scribble to Screen' Suggests Pen & Paper

As we all know, apps and software abound to help screenwriters write their stories. If you’re in the market for Final Draft Writer for iPad or the desktop edition of Final Draft, both are on sale until the end of this month. If you’re breaking story for your next screenplay, as I currently am, you may find the apps and software getting in the way of your creativity. Instead, good ol’ pen and paper (or note cards) may be what you need to break that story. Along these lines, the Writers Guild Foundation has unveiled a very cool online exhibit, Scribble to Screen, that offers a unique glimpse into the writing evolution of some of the best-known films and television series, from handwritten notes and scrawled drafts to the final typed pages.

Check out the Writers Guild Foundation’s Scribble to Screen to discover:

This online exhibit reminds us of the simplicity and power of pen and paper when the kernel of an idea emerges, how we connect thoughts to previous ideas and how we develop nascent story structures. Put another way, drawing arrows between ideas and writing sideways up the margins still isn’t that easy to do on a computer or tablet. Unless it’s a tablet of paper.

Do you start with pen and paper? Or have you gone completely digital with your screenwriting process from start to finish? Share with us in the Comments.

Link: Writers Guild Foundation’s Scribble to Screen

[via The Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting on Facebook]


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  • First draft of MANCHILD was entirely pen and paper. Forces you to keep turning the page and moving forward instead of constantly tweaking your first draft!

  • Evernote + Final Draft handles all my screenwriting needs. For hand written notes I snap a picture and sync with Evernote.

    • Toby Linden on 09.19.12 @ 3:51PM

      +1 Evernote is my tool of choice for writing down story ideas and notes. I just love how it syncs across all my devices. However, I tend to structure my plot using Scrivener first and then export my scenes to Final Draft.

  • vincegortho on 09.19.12 @ 3:19PM

    Highly agree!
    Pen to paper is always there for you when lightbulbs go off.
    The limitations of screen left to right feel very restricting.
    I like to hand write my notes, put them away, then type them out without ever referring to them at all.
    For me, relying on memory seems to filter out forgetable fatty parts, thus savoring only necessary goods.
    I try never to become too attached and in love with everything I come up with.

  • Christopher Boone on 09.19.12 @ 3:54PM

    For me, in the early stages of a story idea popping into my head, I tend to write quick notes in a Word doc and save it in a story folder. Then I do a lot of “writing in my mind” on several ideas, and when a particular story won’t let go of my brain, I usually start outlining a few more ideas in Word, too. But eventually, I need to pull out the pen and paper to start mapping out the main beats and connecting smaller characters and subplots to the main throughline — arrows everywhere!

    I eventually migrate to handwritten note cards when I’m ready to lay out the complete story structure, always finding new things to insert.

    Then I’m back to Word for a full treatment minus most of the dialogue. When that’s done and tweaked a bit, I’ll start the first draft in Final Draft.

  • Well, I hate writing for the screen, besides the fact that I don’t own script software and Word is a nightmare! So I do write some ideas, thoughts, even camera movements and shot suggestions. The only thing I do write on the computer is a treatment and I take-off from that. By the time I get my ideas flowing I already got the whole film inside my head. I also use cards to structure the whole thing but I don’t usually go that way.

  • It would be badass if the writer’s guild do some sorta exhibit of famous/ cool scripts in their earliest form of scribble. I know that’s what this online thing is but I’m just sayin’ it would be cool to see a large exhibit like that. I’d gladly plod down a few dollars to go view something like that too.

  • Stupid f’ing spell check…did not do plop not plod.

  • The thing I like most about the pen and paper experience is that I can’t open an internet browser on the next page. Makes my time so much more productive.

  • I use a typewriter for this reason. It’s a bit faster than handwriting with almost all the advantages

  • I use two tools the first one is FocusWriter ( a simple, distraction-free writing environment. A white page and sugar on the cake, typewriter sound effects! Not just a gadget for me as it’s really ryhtming my writing. Like Brett I prefer to write at speedlight but on my computer

    The second one is a newbee in free programs named Trelby ( a very simple screenwriting program where I can organize the things done if Focus Writer…

    Of course paper and pen are always near me in every occasion. In fact my pen is a Zpen by Dane-Elec ( composed of a pen and a receiver where I can write on paper and then export what I wrote on my computer and I do not need to rewrite everything twice…

    • How is the Zpen at recognizing your handwriting? I’ve seen similar devices that required me to write too neatly to really be worthwhile.

      • Well no real problem with my own writing. But I use this device more o write ideas or diagrams (as it recognized drawing too on a big (A4 European format) notebook. The OCR included even not perfect is doing its job and I have few corrections to make. But I will never write a 150 page with it, as it will surely not recognize my writing after some hours…

  • Wow… can they read their own writing? lol

  • really cool article. Im just starting to learn screenwriting, and one thing i quicly noticed was that its impossible for me to start the writing process on a computer. Its much bteer to use indes cards and pen and paper (A4~A3 size, with enough space for drawing and notes). A PC is just too limiting

  • It’s funny how I got on this article; I was actaully looking for fine writing supplies such as the great Midori Travelers Notebook when I reminded myself to check NoFilmSchool like I always do :). Awesome article. Writing on the computer actually never really worked for me, too much distractions maybe.. I dont know. I always write, pen and paper and I love luxury writing supplies for some reason. Dont ask why, its just a feeling.

  • Apart from that btw, IF i ever start editing a story from paper to screen, I write in Ommwriter. Love it.

  • One method that I found myself using for a project with more subplots than I’m used to was to actually build a spreadsheet with Open Office Calc with all the characters and factions on separate rows and their interactions and the beats on each collumn. Even going so far as to using act and percent-markers on the collumns to build up the whole story and all that goes into it. This worked surprisingly much better than both traditional paper-postits and structuring software.