WRITING ON THE CORNER OF FOUNTAIN AND HIGHLAND

Posted by Tamas_Harangi in Blog, screenwriting | 0 Comments

28

Dec

2013

I finally finished my new screenplay that I’ve been working on for over a year. It turned out to be a unique experience, insofar as it was the first time I used four different screenwriting apps to find the right workflow to get my ideas on the page.

I could’ve stuck with Final Draft. Despite the many complaints by others, I don’t have any major issues with FD, but I seem to be on the permanent lookout for a more effective outlining solution than FD can offer. So for this project, in search of the best outlining and drafting workflow, I played around with some of the new apps available. Here’s my rundown of the various tools I used with their pros and cons. If you’re anything like me and geek out about writing tools, some of my experience might be of interest.

First, the issue at hand:

Outlining

Final Draft's index card mode

Final Draft’s index card mode

When I work on a story, I do my best to start with as good an outline as I can, and sometimes I manage to make it very detailed, but depending on the project, the outline may be quite broad before I jump into the draft itself. In almost all cases, I end up doing further outlining and inserting story elements once I’m in the draft. In this last screenplay for example, I got a bit stuck with my outlining at about the midpoint of the story, so I decided to start working on parts of the draft anyway. That, in turn, got the juices flowing and the characters connecting, and it allowed me to find the way through the rest of the story.

Some would call this approach undisciplined, I prefer the term “organic”, in any case, it works for me despite the occasional “outline guilt” I have to suffer as a residual effect of going against the advice of many screenwriting gurus.

My old standby for this whole process has been Final Draft. Starting with version 7, they introduced the “Send to Script” feature on their index card summaries, which was a much-wished-for (by me at least) addition. For the first time, I was able to really start in “Index Card / Summary” mode in FD, adding detail and additional scenes as needed, and once I was ready to go into the draft, I’d use the “Send to Script” feature so that everything I’ve done so far could now be part of the actual draft. Not a bad way to go, but the interface for the index carding phase has been less than perfect — that is until I got ahold of the word processing app, Scrivener.

If you have ever spoken to anyone who uses Scrivener on a regular bases, they have most likely talked to you about their undying love for this software, and rightfully so. Scrivener gets so many things right that it’s hard not fall head over heels for it. It was designed primarily for writing novels, and in that particular task, it seems to be unsurpassed. Despite thinking primarily with the mind of a prose writer, Scrivener also sports a screenwriting functionality, with its usefulness partially powered by how well it communicates with Final Draft — formatting script files to the FD standard and importing and exporting .fdx files in a painlessly reliable fashion.

But where it becomes truly useful is outlining. If you’re a detailed outliner, Scrivener is worth the price of admission for its extensive functionality in this field alone. It features not one, but three different ways for you to organize your story structure. You have a standard “Outline View” a “Coarkboard View” of index cards laid out in order, or a “Freeform Coarkboard View” of loosely scattered index cards you can shuffle to your heart’s content until you’re ready to commit their order.

Scrivener's full featured outlining offers many options

Scrivener’s full featured outlining offers many options

It was this aspect of Scrivener that prompted me to start my new script in the software, working with the index cards and building them into a draftable script, then reorganizing them as needed. Where I ran into a little bit of lag with it was the writing of the draft itself. Though Scrivener is certainly functional for this, its interface and behavior during the process is a tad awkward if you’re used to working in Final Draft. At least enough so that I found myself doing a couple of round trips between outlining and drafting in Scriverner, then sending to Final Draft, writing in it for a while, then sending back to Scrivener when I wanted to do some further freestyle outlining. As mentioned above, the roundtrips were painless and comfortable due mostly to Scrivener speaking fluent .fdx. Nonetheless, I found myself looking at other options in hope of a better solution. And that’s how I found myself on the corner of Fountain and Highland.

Fountain LogoDeveloped by John August and Stu Maschwitz, Fountain  is a new way to write screenplays in a plain text file while using a simple markdown syntax — what that basically translates to is a plain text document which, when the writer follows certain rules, can be formatted into a screenplay by any piece of software that understands that syntax.

So if you write.

————————-

INT. COFFEE SHOP – NIGHT

A LONE MAN pounds away on a laptop, trying to ignore the BARISTA moping around his legs.

BARISTA
We’re closing in five.

LONE MAN
I’ll be out in four.

CUT TO:

—————————

An app that uses the guidelines of the Fountain syntax can display this plain text file as:

INT. COFFEE SHOP – NIGHT

A LONE MAN pounds away on a laptop, trying to ignore the BARISTA moping around his legs.

BARISTA

We’re closing in five.

LONE MAN

I’ll be out in four.

CUT TO:

When I first heard of Fountain I wasn’t sure what practical use it would be to me, but the idea of being able to draft in plain text did tickle my nerdy sense. The first practical application came when Scrivener — ever on the leading edge — started supporting Fountain as an import / export format. So for the first time, I could use the “Folder Sync” function on Scrivener, and have it export the entire screenplay into a Dropbox folder, which then allowed me to edit the file in iOS on the go, then, the next time I’d open up Scrivener, it would automatically import everything I wrote in the Fountain file and update the draft with the changes.

HighlandScreenThe next step was me testing out John August’s Highland app. Highland is a highly practical utility that allows you to edit a plain text Fountain file, and it can import and export Final Draft files to and fro from Fountain. Its third function was the one that made me shell out for it though. Highland can take a screenplay pdf file and melt it into a Fountain file, then export into Final Draft — hugely useful if you ever find yourself in a situation where I was a few months ago, being asked to rewrite a script for which only a pdf file was available. Working with Highland made me wish for one thing though; I wished there was an app that worked with Fountain files, used plain text as its native format, but showed me the formatted version of a script for visual ease as well as proper page count tracking. Thankfully, Stu Maschwitz built just that app.

SLUGLINE

The minute I started using it, Slugline became my new app crush. You write in an interface formatted to the Final Draft standard, but the file that’s being saved lives in the plain text format. In my case this means it syncs to Dropbox where I can open it in iOS with any of a number of plain text editing apps, then write anywhere on the go. The next time that file opens in Slugline, it becomes a formatted screenplay again. Using some of the advanced Fountain functions, Slugline also allows me to quickly outline and make script notes in the same document in any editor. For example, if I’m sitting somewhere with my iPhone and want to make a quick, bookmarked note right in my script, all I have to do is open the plain text file and, following the Fountain rules, type a note in double brackets like this: [[Fix this scene and make better.]] In Slugline this will become a script note and show up in the outliner view on the side as a clickable bookmark. Outlining and omitting text without deleting it can be similarly done in any editor. For the workflow of drafting and adding outline elements on the go Slugline quickly became the missing puzzle piece in my writing toolkit.

The app features a very useful Outline-as-you-Write functionality that truly allows the writer to designate which elements become part of the outline — which can be kept visible on the side of the document — and which elements are part of the draft itself. An outline can encompass entire sequences under one heading, simply by labeling them with hashtags.

Slugline's "Outline As Yo Go" workflow offers the best of both worlds in a minimalist interface

Slugline’s “Outline As Yo Go” workflow offers the best of both worlds in a minimalist interface

The ease of this functionality is explained by Stu himself in a detailed article on the Slugline blog which I will link to at the end.

So, starting its yearlong journey in Scrivener, then Final Draft, then Scrivener again, my screenplay ended up getting completed in Slugline, with a significant chunk of the last act written on an iPhone in a particular spurt of inspiration while away from my desk.

Having played around with all these apps, here is my quick scorecard:

FINAL DRAFT:

finaldraftPROS:
1. Despite some complaints, FD is the industry standard in term of formatting, pagination, and proper handling bottom of the page dialog breaks, CONTINUEDs, etc..

2. The production and color / starred revision features will continue to make it indispensable for my workflow.

3. Available iPad companion version.

CONS:
1. Less intuitive outlining functionality.

2. iOS version is iPad only, and requires import export steps.

VERDICT: Don’t go pro without it.

Site: www.finaldraft.com

SCRIVENER:

scrivenerPROS:
1. Unique functionality for long form fiction along with many other writing needs, with full featured script writing interface.

2. Extensive outlining and draft organization interface.

3. Folder sync function supports Fountain syntax for plain text editing.

4. Easy export/import of fdx files.

CONS:
1. Though very functional, not quite as fluid for drafting of screenplays as Final Draft is.

2. Does not create a “Submission Quality” pdf file for you without a Final Draft step. Though this is not an issue during drafting, Scrivener doesn’t do a page-by-page view in the same sense as FD, and it also doesn’t consider bottom of page dialog breaks in its formatting. So if you do use it for screenwriting, you will need to export an fdx file so that it gets properly paginated before you can really show it to anyone. Because of this, it doesn’t exactly function as a stand alone screenwriting app.

3. iOS version is on the way, but not yet available.

VERDICT: The only app I would attempt to write a novel in.

Site: www.literatureandlatte.com

SLUGLINE:

sluglineLogo_01_200_01PROS:
1. Intuitive drafting interface with Final Draft-like typing and formatting.

2. Great integrated outlining functionality.

3. Highly portable file format with easy mobile editing.

CONS: UPDATE: Since I initially wrote this post, Slugline has undergone some significant upgrades, making my initial “Cons” a mute point for this software. As of this point, the only one that remains is the lack of revision features that are not currently part of the Fountain standard. I expect that to change though at some point as well, as the minds behind Fountain keep improving this new format.

VERDICT: Best of both worlds for outlining and drafting a screenplay.

Site: www.slugline.co

HIGHLAND:

highland-icon-200x200PROS:
1. Great plain text and Fountain editing and drafting interface.

2. Very useful for roundtrips between Fountain and Final Draft as well as for melting pdf to editable script files in either format.

CONS: UPDATE: Highland has also undergone many improvements since my initial post, though my original main “Con” remains: It only shows the formatted screenplay in “Preview” mode, and editing is done in the plain text Fountain interface. Suitable for some, but it will eventually make you want to get Slugline.

VERDICT: Useful companion utility.

Site for everything Fountain, including Highland: www.fountain.io

Of course, there’s always the option of buying a stack of 3X5 cards and a pen, but that would be too easy now, wouldn’t it.

Read Stu Maschwitz’s Slugline outlining tutorial here: http://slugline.co/blog/outlining

Disclosure: I’m not associated in any way with any of the developers or apps mentioned here. I’m just killing time writing about writing when I really should be writing writing.

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©2017 Tamas Harangi