When you’re writing a screenplay, you want the words to flow from the tips of your fingers onto the screen effortlessly.
Clunky, complicated software can get in the way of your writing goals. Ease of use is just as important as the features, compatibility with other software, and stability so you don’t lose your hard work.
What’s worse, sometimes if you take a long break from writing or update your machine, you’ll find the software you purchased is now no longer compatible with your system, leaving you without a way to even access your writing.
There are a lot of different options out there. Some of them are free, some seem like a good deal, while others seem priced a bit too high. And that is why we have scoured the internet and combined it with our years of experience to select the best of the best for you.
Table of Contents
- Best Overall: Final Draft
- Best Budget: Highland
- Best Alternative: Celtx
- Best Under the Radar: Fade In
- Best Free: Fountain
- Final Thoughts
Final Draft is the industry-standard screenwriting software that runs on Windows, MacOS, and iOS with versions for iPhone and iPad. But what makes it the best of the best is functionality, usability, integration, and how well it is maintained by Cast & Crew, the makers of Final Draft.
Functionally, Final Draft 11 has all of the bells and whistles you could ever want for screenwriting software. Beyond its rock-solid text formatting, it contains an index card-driven Beat Board panel designed to help you research, layout, and organize and map your story to the page. It’s an especially cool feature that makes structuring and tracking your story fun and easy.
Additional features allow you to connect and collaborate directly with your writing partners, assign voices and play computer-generated table reads, generate breakdown reports for production, notate, label, reformat, and easily navigate through your work.
Writing in Final Draft is simple, intuitive, and best of all for iOS users, you can take it with you and write anywhere with Final Draft Mobile. Like almost all screenwriting software, switching elements is a simple press of the tab key, and all scene and character elements are stored for easy access.
One terrific and overlooked feature that should probably be in more writing applications is right-click access to a thesaurus and synonyms within the application.
At $250, it may seem expensive for a single program, but that price buys you a license for two systems that will never expire and won’t ding your credit card every month like a subscription service.
This is the software that is used by Hollywood as the industry standard for screenwriting and is backed by countless writers and directors for its excellence.
However, there are many alternatives if you’re looking for screenwriting software without the price tag that are worth giving a try. Check them out below.
Highland 2 centers around offering a distraction-free interface with a sleek design, and a price point that certainly won’t break the bank. Highland 2 is free for the basic version, and $50 to unlock the Pro version which, among other things, removes the watermark from PDF exports.
Originally offered as a free program, Celtx went through some series upgrades over the years and is now a subscription-based online service.
For $15/month you get access to a screenwriting platform designed to aid in all aspects of film creation from concept to completion.
Whether you're writing a screenplay or stageplay, Fade In is one of the most advanced screenwriting software programs available. While it might not be the kept secret as it once was, with Rian Johnson using it for Knives Out and Craig Mazin writing in it for HBO's Chernobyl, it's not as widely adopted in the studio system as Final Draft.
The standout feature is its simplified user interface with easy editing capabilities like revision modes. There's something clean and simple about the software that almost encourages you to write.
Better yet, it can open Final Draft (.fdx/.fdr), Rich Text Format (.rtf) from Movie Magic Screenwriter, as well as documents from Fountain, Scrivener, Adobe Story, and Celtx.
You can download a fully functional demo version for Windows, MacOS, or Linux here. The full version costs only $79 for life.
At the end of the day, writing is writing. Software can make the process a little easier, but it will never do the work for you.
Fountain doesn’t cost money, there is nothing to download, and you can use it in your favorite text editor right now because Fountain is nothing more than a simple set of rules for writing a screenplay in plain text. After you finish your masterpiece, you load the text file into a growing list of Fountain-friendly apps that will display your writing in the correct Hollywood format.
Software for creative work can be a very personal thing. Pick the application that feels best for the way you prefer to work.
There are many others out there besides the ones above, like Movie Magic Screenwriter. Screenwriting software can only offer features to make the task of crafting a story a little easier—it can’t help you cure your writer’s block, and won’t make you any better at writing.
People have written for thousands of years with nothing more than a wall and a chisel, and some of them even managed to churn up tales that were more interesting than something you might see on Netflix.