Writing Screenplays in Google Docs

Chromebooks have become extremely popular, especially for writers, because it’s a cheap option and it’s a good option. After I stole my nephew’s $100 Chromebook while he slept, I found these glorified tablets to be quite useful. Then I got an idea. Can you write a screenplay using web tools or Google Docs? The thing about a lot of Chromebooks is you can’t download software, so Final Draft, Fade In Pro, Highland, and even Scrivener are out as options. In short, the answer is yes, and you can write a screenplay in Google Docs. This should make you slap happy for a couple of reasons. 

1. The barrier to entry just got smaller, cheaper, and more accessible. Which is a relief to the many new writers that ask me about screenwriting all the time, but have no money nor the experience to warrant using a $249 software. 

2. Your work is backed up into the cloud, which means, not only can you access your script from any browser, but you can share your script for easy collaboration. 

There are also a couple of things to think about if you venture down this cheap road. 

1. You get what you pay for. So expect certain perks you can get with dedicated writing software to not exist. However, if you’ve never used one of these software’s, you’ll live in ignorant bliss. Then you’ll have the pure unadulterated joy of saying, “where have you been all my life?” when you do switch to Final Draft or Highland. 

2. If you do plan to make the switch eventually, exporting and uploading into another software is the most painful experience you will ever have if you do not prepare. You’ve been warned. There are formatting issues when you try to load a PDF or text document in one of those many programs. So if you start a script in Google Docs, finish the script in Google Docs. Do not switch halfway through your script unless you plan to rewrite all your pages or manually reformat your script. 

In this blog, I will show you how to download screenplay formatting extensions to use in Google Docs. 

Step One: Download the Extensions

Extensions will be in GSuite Marketplace and not the Google Web Store. The first time I did a blog on this, many people went to the web store and found nothing.

Go to : Gsuite Marketplace: https://gsuite.google.com/marketplace

Search: Screenplay Format

What you’ll see are four options. Only two work, so install the two without an X through them. 

Step Two: Using the Extension

Now you can go to Google Docs and start a blank doc. When that’s open, you’ll open the extensions from the Add-Ons dropdown. You should see Fountainize and/or Screenplay Formatter. Select one and start writing. 

Two steps, that’s pretty easy. Now I will give you a short walkthrough with what you’re looking at with each extension. 

Screenplay Formatter:

To your right is your screenplay formatting tools. Start by clicking the big blue button Set screenplay margins and font. Now you’re ready to start. 

If you’re familiar with screenplay formats, then you know what Header, Action, Speaker, Parentheses, and Dialog mean. If not, there is a nice guide to let you know. 

Start with the Header. 

This is where you’ll miss one of the great features of screenwriting software. Once you put in a location and character, your software will remember this. Unfortunately, Screenplay Formatter, at the time of this writing, doesn’t do this or at least doesn’t do it well. I’ve noticed the Header will bring up every location, from every screenplay. Character will bring up everyone in your contact list.

If you’ve never used screenwriting software, this is going to be the one thing you’ll get slap-happy about. Screenwriting software will format as you write. With this extension, you have to always click the format button before you type the next section. However, to me, this is not a deal-breaker. It’s free, after all. 

When you’re finished, your script will look like a script. 

Fountainize: 

I’m not sure if this extension is a part of the John August open-source text editor called Fountain. I suspect it’s not, but it at least works similarly. 

What Fountainize does is it allows you to format in a simple non-stylized text. In other words, you write and format later. However, this takes some getting used to, so I recommend you read the instructions in the margins and do a test run using their guidelines, which is what I did. 

I wrote out the text, as they suggested. It looks like this. 

Fountainize on Google Docs from Celeste Thoms on Vimeo.

I selected Convert Markup, and now my sample looks like this. 

Once I got used to writing this way I kind of got into it. I think I liked Fountainize better because it was the closest to my process, meaning I can write without stopping. If you ever use Fountain, which you should because it too is free, then you can probably copy-paste this format into a screenwriting software, use Fountain in say, Fade In Pro, and have your script. 

The other weird pro I love about using Google Docs to write scripts is I can switch between a screenplay format and prose writing seamlessly. This is beneficial because if I’m writing teaching notes, I can explain a method and then show the method. I can also write treatments that have scene ideas right in them. I don’t have to use my scripting software and have a word processor open at the same time.

One more note before I conclude this. Will you be able to do this on a tablet device like an iPad? No. Anytime I tried to use it in the browser, it would send me back to the app. I am only able to read and edit my document, but if I start to edit, then I cannot format from the app. Add-ons don’t work in the Google Docs app on the iPad.

Thank you for checking out my blog. I write blogs on writing and filmmaking. Like, share, and follow for more quicks tips. 

Comment below for questions, sharing additional information on this topic, or to just say hey.

Happy writing!

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