And the Tony for BEST formatting goes to….

“The website says James Cameron uses Final Draft,” Norgren said. “He wrote Avatar with this.”

I love The Onion. I love their satire, their tongue firmly planted in cheek, their view on current events, and the quality of their videos is amazing. It’s a happy day when I can share an Onion story.

And that leads me to this: ‘Sad Sack Purchases Screenwriting Software.‘ It encapsulate a great life lesson when it comes to creative writing – some people think that all they have to do is have the right piece of software, the right computer, the right pen (well, of course), the right formatting and bingo presto chango: a creative masterpiece is born. That the tools play just as big a part as the content. That the right tool will make writing easier.

Formatting stories are my favourite. It’s amazing how often I hear scare stories lobbed at writers: ‘If you don’t format your work in such a such a way, it won’t even get read. It’ll go right in the trash.’ My favourite formatting story: a teacher told me if you didn’t format ellipses in a VERY SPECIFIC MANNER then your entire work was useless and no one would take you seriously. I laughed. It was not appreciated. At all. So….. let’s address:

Is software important? I suppose. I have Final Draft. I don’t use it. I find it doesn’t really make writing easier, and frankly I find it a little annoying. It’s just not that hard to set margins, and create styles in Open Office. Open Office doesn’t annoy me (now there’s a ringing endorsement).

Do plays/screenplays/novels need to be formatted a certain way? Yes and no. Scripts ABSOLUTELY need formatting. It makes it very hard to focus on the content of your work if it’s a formatting mess. If there’s a complete lack of formatting it looks like you don’t care, which is never a good message. But you don’t need fancy software, fancy downloads, fancy anything. Make your script readable. And if there is an industry standard it should, generally, be followed. If you’re dying to be a screenwriter, there’s basically only one formatting formula, no matter that it kills so many more trees than necessary. (sorry did I say that?)

Does the right pen matter? How do you expect to create a masterpiece without the right pen????? Oh wait, that’s the wrong answer. Cards on the table – as I’ve said before, I’m rather obsessive about finding the right pen to write with, and the right pen has been known to make me very happy, and on any given day I have multiple pens on my person. Having said that, my favourite pens right now are a Grand and Toy pen that I got for free at a trade show, and a GBC Insurance Pen that I got from…..I have no idea where it came from. But I’ll bet it also was free. So, the moral of the story is the right pen is the one you get for free and not the one that costs $150 and doubles as a calculator/incense burner.

I’m confused. What’s the bottom line? Aside from the fact that I’m asking and answering the questions? Tools can help. Software can help. Formatting can help. They can all make the process easier… up to a point. Fancy software and exact formatting will never win you accolades and awards. In fact, if anyone compliments how pretty your script LOOKS, that’s not a good sign.

The only way to write that masterpiece is to use your brain. And until they figure out a iphone app to zap creativity from your mind onto the page, it all rests on you. Get to work!

About the author

Lindsay Price


  • Human beings are fetishistic. We like to have things just so. We will focus on the details and forget the substance. I personally find stage plays that are formatted like screenplays annoying and hard to read.

    I know that printed stage plays are formatted the way they are in order to fit the optimal number of words on a page, but since these are the scripts I grew up reading, they look “right.”

    But you know what I really like?
    I like words that look like they would sound cool out loud.

  • Do we need to format so that people can read our work cleanly and easily and we look like we know what’s going on and aren’t crazy? Absolutely. Other than that, the only thing we can do is write cool words. Very, very cool words. And there’s no format that does that for us.

    Formats are like a club dress code – they indicate that you have a basic understanding of the rules and are willing to play along to get in the door. But the most popular people manage to follow the dress code while still being unique, spectacular and amazing. All the dress codes in the world don’t make you cool…and being super cool can get you around the minor quibbles in the dress code.