Putting a Face on Theatre
Hey, playwrights: what software do you use to write your plays?
I’m not asking because I need advice: I’m asking because I’m wondering whether you’ve ever asked yourself that question. I’ve known so many playwrights over the years who simply use Microsoft Word (or an equivalent Mac-based program) without ever asking themselves whether there are other options to consider.
Believe me, there are other options to consider.
Of late, I’ve noticed several playwrights using a program called Celtx. Its primary distinction seems to be that it’s free, though I’m sure it has lovely features that distinguish it from its competitors in some other way, too. There’s also ScriptSmart, a free plug-in offered by the BBC, and a variety of screenwriting-centric software packages that can be made to work for plays, too, like Scripped Writer and Movie Outline and Movie Magic Screenwriter… but none of them are exactly what you need.
What you need, really, is the king: Final Draft.
I’m talking to you, Playwright Who Uses Microsoft Word. Listen up.
All of the things you struggle with in Microsoft Word—tabbing over to where your characters’ names need to appear, aligning actions correctly, keeping lines of dialogue from spreading inappropriately across pages, and a lot more than that besides—are all handled for you in Final Draft. In a few short minutes of practice and fumbling around, you’ll be writing more quickly than ever. Your scripts will look good effortlessly—and as someone who has read scripts for more than one theater, let me tell you, a script that looks good definitely makes a more favorable impression.
But it’s not just about looking better and writing more efficiently; there are a great many more powerful tools you can learn to use in Final Draft that will make you a more professional colleague for the directors and actors you work with. (I am reminded of the fact that for the first few years of Microsoft Word’s existence, 85% of the people who used it, worldwide, limited their interactions to four functions: typing, deleting, saving, and printing, or roughly those four. No underlining, no copy-and-paste, no graphics, no tables, no mail merges, no nothing.) With experience, you will learn how to use Final Draft to manage script revisions during rehearsals, for example… a feature that in my experience has proven to be worth the entire cost of the software just by itself.
Speaking of which: yes, it does cost money. A lot of money, it might seem: $249 for a new copy. But if this is the ONE big investment you need to make to work as a playwright (aside from a three-hole punch, some wire brads or script covers, reams of paper, and ink for your printer), isn’t that fairly reasonable?
No, I’m not secretly a Final Draft rep; I paid for my copy like you will, and I don’t get a cut if you buy. Save up for it. Ask for it for your birthday. And deduct the cost from your taxes, too, if you can.
You’re worth it. Your career is worth it. And your collaborators will thank you.