I got this question recently:

“I am in the process of outlining a new screenplay and I want the margins to be correct from the start before I begin writing. My question is: Can I achieve this on a regular Word document, or do I need to buy software?”

The quick and easy answer is that yes, you can can write your screenplay in MS Word. But it’s not going to be easy to get everything set up correctly. It really depends on how good you are with Ms Word and how much time you want to spend trying to essentially create your own screen writing program. MS Word is a very sophisticated program and you can set it up to do anything using macros, templates, hot keys, or a variety of other methods.

The industry standard for writing a screenplay is Final Draft. You can buy it from Amazon by clicking here. While the cost of the software is almost $200 in my opinion it’s well worth it as you don’t have to worry about the formatting at all and can just concentrate on your story.

But there are some other free (or much cheaper) options available.

I’ve been using Google Docs to write my current screenplay. This is completely free, you just need a Google account. Then you simply grab the Google Docs template (https://docs.google.com/previewtemplate?id=0Ac3tAuweYU9QZGQ4bm45N21fMzI3czZuYzc3Ng&mode=public&pli=1) and start typing. It’s very buggy and really isn’t a polished tool yet, so I’m not sure I recommend it to anyone. But it is free. I’ve been using as an experiment to see how good it is. I’m not that impressed at this time. But Google Docs offers two great features that I really love. Your file is saved in the cloud so you can access it from any computer and Google Docs allows collaboration so two people can be viewing and editing the same screenplay at the same time in different locations, you just need to be connected to the internet. The collaboration feature is very useful if you’re co-writing a screenplay with another writer. Plus, you can save the screenplay in rich text format (RTF) and then import it into Final Draft when you’re ready to polish it up and it imports into Final Draft with only minor formatting issues.

I’ve never used Celtx but I’ve had friends who say while it’s not as feature rich as Final Draft it does get the job done. You might try this out instead of trying to build your own program in something like MS Word. You can find it here: http://celtx.com/

I really like the idea of being able to access my script from anywhere on any computer without having to install software and I really like the idea of collaborating on scripts with another person who’s not in my physical location. Scripped seems to offer these two options plus a whole lot of features like Final Draft. It’s a paid membership site but it looks pretty good. This is definitely something to think about as it’s much cheaper than Final Draft. You can find it here: http://scripped.com/. I haven’t tried Scripped but I plan to give it a try in the very near future.

13 thoughts on “Can you format your screenplay properly in MS Word”
  1. I really like Celtx. I used it for a while before I scraped together some dough for Final Draft, and the only issues I ever had were a few minor wonky format things when converting to pdf. I think you lose some features like the ability to remove (CONT)’s and the like, but for a free program, it’s pretty awesome.

    It also offers some cool stuff like a pretty good Index Cards function, and the ability to do storyboards and other production things like that, if that’s your thing.

  2. I use Celtx as well as Scripped. I am a member with Scripped and really like all that they have to offer. It is not just the what they have on there site but the outside things they make available for you. Back in November I was able to go to a class and screening of ‘Nice Guy Johnny’ with Edward Burns thanks to Scripped. I have a production company looking at a script of mine at this moment that I wrote using Celtx. Hope this helps.

  3. Celtx is everything you could ever need.

    For some reason there is this arrogant ignorance in LA (no offense intended) that if it’s not Final Draft, it’s somehow worse than foolscap and a pencil.

    Celtx is free and it’s everything you could need if you’re a writer.

    The only time you need might need Final Draft is if you’re working with a production company who is getting your story made into a movie and they require Final Draft.

    Celtx is not sub par. It’s not half baked. It’s not a half step above MS Word but a world apart from Final Draft.

    Celtx is not simply adequate until you’re a pro. It’s everything you need if you’re a writer.

    Plus, it syncs to the cloud so you can access your work from your iphone, your iPad, your computer, your parent’s computer, your work computer, your boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s computer/ipad/iphone – anywhere there is internet access, you have a versioned, backed up, up to date copy of your screenplay.

    And yes, you can get rid of CON’T by unchecking the “Show CON’T” option.

    1. That’s certainly a glowing recommendation. I’m going to download it and give it a try.

      I don’t think people in LA look down on Celtx I think most people simply haven’t tried it so they just keep using what they’re used to and what they’re friends are using.

  4. I’ve used both Final Draft and currently use Scripped. Scripped sometimes gets a bug but I work around it and I like it ’cause it’s web based.

  5. What should be disclosed here is that a “screenwriter template” is available in MS Office 2003+ that works just fine for newbies to the screenwriting game. However, it doesn’t have all the “bells & whistles” of a “Final Draft” or “Movie Magic”, but then it doesn’t cost $200 to create perfectly formatted scripts; and, then if one likes writing they can always invest in more advanced programs later on. Personally, I like this older antiquated program and am still using it after completing 7 scripts.

    1. Good suggestion. I didn’t think to look for a “screenwriter template” in MS Word. Is it built into the system or is it something you download and add on? I’ll have to have a look for this.

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