March 20, 2014

Free Collaborative Screenwriting App WriterDuet Adds Intuitive Outlining Tool

Note cards and cork boards may be the most ubiquitous outlining tools among screenwriters. Together, they're simple, they're visual, they're movable. In short, they work. Now, what if you collaborate with another screenwriter in another time zone? Or even just on the other side of town? How's that note card covered cork board working for your collaboration? Maybe you like to work on your own in the coffee shop down the street. I bet everybody loves it when you drag your cork board through the door. Now, thanks to WriterDuet, the online collaborative screenwriting app, we have an intuitive outlining tool that you can share in real-time with your writing partner -- or use solo, if that's how you write. And WriterDuet is still free.

Back in September, we wrote about WriterDuet cracking the code of online collaborative screenwriting, for free no less. Now, I must admit that I write solo and I prefer pen and note cards when I break a story. I don't even use a cork board. I just keep my cards in a stack as I write them, then eventually lay them out on a large table to see how the beats are falling. Yet, I realize many screenwriters want tools to outline screenplays on their computers. I do, too, but I tend to use old-fashioned Word docs and good ol' bulletpoints. I could certainly streamline this process with the right tools, and the new outliner in WriterDuet offers an intuitive way to use note cards in its online application. For writing teams, this outliner could be a game changer.

First of all, here's the complete list of features and functionality that WriterDuet's outlining tool provides:

  • Real-time collaboration
  • Scene cards and vertical outline views
  • Contractable tree view for organization
  • Sequence and act separation
  • Emoticons and scene colors
  • Characters, with icons and colors
  • Free-form index card option
  • Option to view scene content in the movable cards
  • Print or download as PDF
  • Full-screen mode and cork board aesthetic

In a matter of minutes, you can learn everything you need to know about how to use WriterDuet's outlining tool. Basically, it's a note-cards-on-a-cork-board online that you can share and edit with your writing partner in real-time. Plus, you have the ability to chat in a side menu as you collaborate. You want to move a scene? Drag and drop it. You want to track a story arc in the note cards? Pick a color. You want to track your characters? Add their names to the cards, color code their names or even pick an icon to represent a character.

When you create a note card, it creates a matching scene in your WriterDuet screenplay. The same is true when you create a scene in your WriterDuet screenplay -- a new card will appear in your outliner.

I discovered a quirk, though. When I deleted a card, the scene remained in the script, and when I deleted a scene, the card remained in the outliner. I asked WriterDuet creator Guy Goldstein for clarification on this quirk, and he updated the app so deleting cards also deletes scenes and vice versa.

Now when you delete a card, an "Undo" message appears on-screen for a few seconds, reminding you that you can retrieve the card and scene if you deleted it by accident. Guy mentioned that a future iteration of the app may include a note card "graveyard" to find and retrieve previously deleted note cards.

The example above highlights the most important current feature of WriterDuet. If you find something that doesn't work the way you think it should in WriterDuet, you can contact Guy, and he will either change the app to fix it or at least explain why the app works the way it does and actively work on ways to make it better. The turnaround time on the example above was a matter of hours. Guy is a writer, too, and he makes these tools as much for himself as he does for the rest of us writers.

WriterDuet Outliner 3The left side of the outliner displays scenes in outline form with folders. You can display act breaks in your outline, too. To move scenes to new acts, you drag the scene in left side outline view into the act's folder. When I tried to drag cards on the cork board down to the next act break heading, nothing happened. I'm no coder, so this intuitive move may be difficult to implement. I quickly realized that I could accomplish the same task in the left side outline view, though.

WriterDuet also gives you control over formatting the cards. In standard mode, you can resize one card, and it will automatically resize the rest. Now, when I write note cards, I tend to write several cards for one sequence, which collectively represent one beat. Upon laying out my cards, I'll stack those cards together to represent that story beat. In free-form mode, WriterDuet will let you drag and position cards however you want, even on top of each other and at different individual sizes. Simply turn off free-form mode, and WriterDuet will snap back to its uniform grid. When you return to free-form mode, your custom arrangement will still be there. Cool.

You can take WriterDuet's outliner for a spin using the app's demo screenplay, or add your own content and see how it works. Simply click here, and when you arrive at the demo screen, click on the 3x3 grid icon in the toolbar above the screenplay.

It's free either way. If you're part of a writing team, get your partner to join you online to see how WriterDuet and its outlining tool work in real time.

What do you think about WriterDuet's new, free online collaborative screenwriting outliner? Share your thoughts in the comments. And since Guy will likely respond to most questions and comments, let's remember to keep it constructive to help him make the tool better for all screenwriters.

Link: WriterDuet

Your Comment

6 Comments

I use scrivener right now but this is looking amazing for an online app. My question is what happens if you are writing and lose internet connectivity? Also does this work on a chrome book?

March 20, 2014 at 4:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Peter

Works perfectly on a Chromebook. If you temporarily lose connection it will automatically sync all your changes and get updates once you're back online. :-)

March 20, 2014 at 6:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Outstanding software! I would love to see a desktop version of this program. Thanks for sharing, and best wishes in your future development.

March 21, 2014 at 8:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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An offline version is in the works - coming soon!

March 31, 2014 at 2:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Um, are any of you *working* writers? I am, and I don't obsess over non-productive things like this, I write. I certainly don't drag bulletin boards into Starbucks, in fact, I don't ever write in Starbucks, I write in an office, as does everyone I work with.

When we outline, everyone from the showrunner to the head writer all the way down to the lowliest assistant all sit in a room with an actual bulletin board and index cards on the wall. Usually the showrunner says, "here's what's next" meaning, here's what the next episode's about.

Then we all call out ideas, which an assistant puts onto an index card, color-coded depending on what it's about, and onto the board.

In the course of an hour-long meeting, cards are added and rearranged, and we take notes in our own notebooks. A few people use laptops to take notes, presumably Microsoft Word or Notepad. By the end of the meeting, we all have a general idea about what's going on in this episode.

None of us ever actually use index cards, they're only for plotting the episode in the writers room, and only handled by an assistant, unless one of us has some ideas later and wants to rearrange some cards to see how something works. But we never sit in coffee shops with piles of index cards.

Next, the head writer assigns 3 or 4 of us to write an actual outline of the episode as we see it from the first script meeting, which we do in Microsoft Word. We e-mail a copy of our outline to an assistant, usually our own assistant but it doesn't have to be, who prints hard copies for everyone and also e-mails them to the showrunner and head writer. This e-mail exchange is kept track of for continuity purposes. The head writer and showrunner choose one of our outlines or write one of their own from pieces of 2 or more writers' outlines, or from the first conversation in the room.

Then they assign 1 or 2 writers to write the episode from the approved outline, which we do in Final Draft. If it's a really important episode, such as the first or last episode of a season, they usually write it themselves.

The first draft is submitted to the head writer, who sends notes back and a rough rewrite is done. Then the script comes back into the room with all the writers, who make suggestions. The head writer sends notes back to the episode writer, who does a full rewrite based on these now very detailed notes. The head writer and/or the showrunner polish this second draft and that becomes the production draft, with a few changes made along the way during filming.

All of this happens over a period of about 3 weeks, so someone is always working on something.

The script supervisor keeps track of exactly what was said and done during filming, which later becomes the shooting script (usually after the episode has actually aired).

August 25, 2015 at 1:45PM, Edited August 25, 1:45PM

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James
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That's great for you that you work in a writer's room, but not all "working" writers work for TV with a room full of people to bounce ideas off of and assistants to do our grunt work. Independent screenwriters need to do it all by themselves and some of us find index cards helpful for outlining a feature length screenplay.

September 4, 2016 at 4:24PM, Edited September 4, 4:28PM

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