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Even if you’re just starting out with screenwriting, you’re probably familiar with the concept of screenwriting software. If not, screenwriting software refers to a specific type of word processor used by writers to write their screenplays.
Unlike a typical word processor like Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or Apple’s Pages, screenwriting software formats everything you write into a screenplay format.
If you’ve been around the movie business, you’ve probably heard of the program Final Draft and how it’s more or less the “industry standard” for writing traditional screenwriting.
Despite its flaws, the high price being chief among them, Final Draft is great software – it’s just not the only one.
The final document your readers will read will be a PDF anyway – so who cares how you wrote the script, as long as it’s formatted correctly?
But what are the best free screenwriting software options? And do they have all the same functionality as the paid options? We’ve compiled our list for you to read up on. They are:
1. Trelby – fully free, open-source, simple screenwriting program for Windows and Linux.
2. Page 2 Stage – fully free, open-source, older screenwriting program for Windows only.
3. FadeIn – free demo with basic functionality, but certain features require buying a paid version.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the above and review what features they offer – and what flaws they offer. Here we go!
Trelby is one of the best free-only screenwriting services available to screenwriters.
Taking the place of formerly-free Final Draft alternative Celtx back in my day, Trelby is a free service offering a stripped-down, bare-bones word processor designed specifically for writing screenplays.
One of the best things about Trelby is its simple use while still being functional as a screenwriting program. It is open-source, meaning it can be edited and iterated by others, but it is currently only available for Windows and Linux users.
What are some of Trelby’s benefits?
For starters, Trelby is completely free. Originally created under a different name, Trelby used to be a paid service, but in 2006 the creator decided to make it open source and more or less forgot about it. It was discovered by another creator online in 2011, and the pair teamed up to iterate upon it and make improvements.
Here are some of the features the current version of Trelby has to offer:
- Basic Script Editor + Formatting. The Trelby processor correctly formats scripts to the page and offers spellcheck and auto-complete functionality.
- Database of Character Names. One cool thing about Trelby is that it has a built-in character-name function so writers can access over 200,000 characters from different countries of origin.
- Simple Reporting. Trelby generates reports that break down your script into percentages, like the percentage of lines a character has or how many scenes are interior vs. exterior, and can even generate a graphical report of how active characters are across the story overall.
- Full-Screen Mode and Draft Comparing Tool. Trelby allows you to compare different drafts of your script so you can see what’s changed from version to version and change the way you view your script editor by switching to full-screen mode as needed.
- Import and Export to FDX. Crucially, if you are working with another writer or production company on a for-hire basis, you may need to be able to work with FDX files even if you aren’t writing on Final Draft – Trelby lets you import and export in FDX format.
Beyond that, since Trelby is open source, it is fully customizable and open to iterate and contribute changes and improvements to the program – though I’m not entirely sure how often this happens.
Lastly, because there isn’t a paid tier for Trelby, you get all of the features mentioned without buying a paid tier to unlock them, as some other screenwriting programs offer.
What are some of Trelby’s flaws?
Because Trelby is such a simple program, it’s hard to critique it too far beyond its lack of additional features that other paid-screenwriting programs offer.
However, as a first-time writer or working writer who is all about the work (and not the features), Trelby begs why you even need some of those other programs’ features in the first place.
The main downside I see is that Trelby isn’t available to Mac users, so those Apple addicts looking to get their screenwriting start will need to look elsewhere. You could try the free version of Mac-only Highland 2 or one of the other free options on this list.
Also, if you are collaborating with a co-writer, you must do it the old-fashioned way and swap drafts. Other paid programs, like WriterDuet, provide an online real-time collaboration tool, but WriterDuet has a paid monthly fee to unlock certain features.
What’s the Verdict?
Trelby offers more positives than negatives for a free screenwriting tool for first-timers or working writers alike. The program can do almost anything you might need on the page – as long as you are a Windows or Linux user.
Plus, if you’re a screenwriter who also dabbles in code-writing, you could use the program’s open-source nature and implement your own updates or changes to the program as you see fit.
If you aren’t a coder, you can still suggest your own changes – just don’t rely on anyone getting back to you too soon – it is a free program, after all.
That said, Trelby is probably one of the best (if not the best) viable and fully-free options to start or continue your screenwriting career.
2. Page 2 Stage
Page 2 Stage is another entirely free, open-source screenwriting program. Like Trelby, Page 2 Stage started as paid software and eventually became a free and open source. Also similar to Trelby, Page 2 Stage is not available for Mac – it’s only available for Windows.
Page 2 Stage is one of the older screenwriting programs. The latest operating system it lists on the website is Windows XP, so you can tell it has been around for a while – though how long it has been since it’s been updated is anyone’s guess.
Since you are looking for a free screenwriting service, there’s not too much room to complain, and Page 2 Stage supposedly does everything you need in a basic screenwriting program.
What are some of Page 2 Stage’s features?
For started, Page 2 Stage is a word processor specific for processing scripts in screenplay format. It offers the basic functionality one would expect therein, like using Tab and Enter to format between action lines, character names, and dialogue.
Page 2 Stage also offers multiple variations in multiple languages, making it a convenient choice for writers worldwide, from South America to the Middle East and everything in between. There’s even a version of English set to British style + spelling for your convenience.
Being open-source also means that if you are a writer who knows how to code, you can iterate and implement your own changes to the software, which is convenient for those who know how to do so.
There is also an auto-save, auto-spell check, and up to four viewing options, including an Index car view or outline view showing the whole script as one continuous document.
Other than those features, there isn’t much else to mention, but again, there isn’t much else you need if this is your first screenwriting program.
What are some of Page 2 Stage’s flaws?
As an older program, Page 2 Stage lacks a significant amount of functionality and finesse that modern, paid screenwriting programs provide.
Also, the fact that it’s only available to Windows users makes it a bit of a disappointment if you’re looking for a free screenplay option as a Mac user. As mentioned above, you may want to check into Highland 2 or WriterDuet instead.
I would also be wary of potential compatibility issues trying to run this program on the latest versions of Windows.
While I think it still works on newer versions, there isn’t much information about the program online to confirm. So be prepared to be disappointed, just in case!
While Page 2 Stage wouldn’t be my first choice, even for a free program, its simplicity does provide a welcome answer for those looking for bare-bones, straight-to-the-chase screenwriting software. For first-time writers, it fulfills a need – and you can’t beat the fully free price point.
However, I wouldn’t recommend this software to anyone looking to start screenwriting full-time or to career screenwriters looking for an alternative to the program they are using now.
While FadeIn is technically a paid program, we’ll discuss the free version of FadeIn and what comes with it for you to use.
FadeIn, the paid version, is one of the best, if not the best professional alternative to the industry standard paid screenwriting program Final Draft.
With similar features, FadeIn rivals Final Draft at less than half the cost, and even the free demo version of the program gives the FD juggernaut a run for its money.
That said, there are limitations inherent in using the free version of FadeIn, so it’s important to know what is and isn’t available to you in the demo version versus the full paid version.
What are the benefits of FadeIn?
The free demo version of FadeIn is the version of FadeIn. To use it long-term, you will need to buy the paid version, but all of the functionality of the paid version is built into the demo. Here they are:
- Autocomplete and Revision Mode. Like Final Draft’s SmartType, FadeIn’s Autocomplete tool suggests frequently used character and location names, while the program’s revision mode allows you to color code revisions and lock scenes.
- Easy Formatting. While FadeIn offers a built-in default formatting, you can also customize the program formatting to control every aspect of your script’s layout and appearance, including image support for putting images in your script.
- Real-Time Collaborative Tools. FadeIn’s collaborative tools, while not as core to the program’s functionality as another program like WriterDuet, allow multiple writers to edit the document simultaneously, with changes made in real time.
- Easy Sidebar Navigator. A navigator tool lets you quickly sort through and color-code your script to navigate it in many different ways, not just by scene heading but by custom-marking sequences, plot points, or themes and characters.
- Full-Screen Mode. FadeIn lets you fade all the tools and menus to the background, so all you have to focus on is your script and your writing in full-screen mode.
- Dialogue Tuner Tool. This mode lets you edit all of the dialogue from one character in one window without having to scroll through the rest of the script, which makes rewriting characters a lot easier to do and even lets you check for frequency of word use and automatically adjusts line lengths to prevent hanging letters from making an extra line.
FadeIn is also unique on this list because it is available for PC, Mac, Linux, as well as Android, and iOS.
FadeIn also lets you create industry-standard breakdown reports to keep track of production-related components as you revise your work for producers and executives and allows you to import and export in other file types like FDX files.
What are some flaws of FadeIn?
Despite the full features being available to you from the free demo, once you’ve written more than ten pages of your screenplay, you will be continuously notified of the need to upgrade to the full version. Most users suggest this happens roughly every five minutes, which can be very tedious.
Also, any document you export as a pdf with FadeIn will come with a “demo version” watermark. You can get rid of this by buying the paid version, so writers looking to jump from hobbyists to career writers would be advised to upgrade before they share their work professionally.
That said, I believe you can export your script to another file format, like a Celtx or Final Draft file, and open it in one of those programs without upgrading to the paid version.
But if you constantly have to use a friend’s version of Final Draft to print your script as an official PDF, you’ll want to save yourself the trouble and just upgrade.
FadeIn is one of the best programs to use and experiment with for free, especially because you can use all of its features and functionality without upgrading – up to a point.
However, to develop your craft into a career, you’ll need to warm up to paying for the full version – at least before you send out your script in any kind of professional capacity.
But as far as working with one of the best programs in the industry for free, you can’t get access to a better program for free than FadeIn.
Grant Harvey is a freelance writer, screenwriter, and filmmaker based out of Los Angeles. When he’s not working on his own feature-length screenplays and television pilots, Grant uses his passion and experience in film and videography to help others learn the tools, strategies, and equipment needed to create high-quality videos as a filmmaker of any skill level.