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Collaboration, Formatting

Screenwriting with Google Docs?

Screenwriting is possible with Google Docs, but is it really the best option for new or experienced screenwriters? A detailed breakdown.

Writing a Screenplay with Google Docs

Google Docs is one of a collection of powerful apps created for the Google Drive suite, and has rightly taken its place as one of the widely used word processors on the internet. Its applications are many, its functions are reliable and flexible, and the interface is accessible and clean. Screenwriting with Google Docs is possible, with a few additional steps. This article will cover the major components necessary to write in the screenplay format, and discuss how Google Docs can achieve the necessary end results — and how Arc Studio Pro builds on that principle. 

Formatting with Google Docs

There is no real-time direct format extension. Instead, the writer has to use a third-party extension (Fountanize is the most notable example) to cast screenplay text into an accepted standard screenplay format. This requires the screenwriter to manually indicate each element in order for the Fountanize function to read and adjust the margins of the text, and requires re-application as more text is written. If the document is lengthy, the application of Fountanize can also include a time delay. 

fountanize screenwriting plugin for google docs
Fountainize requires the screenwriter to manually indicate each element in order

Outlining with Google Docs

Outlining is a key part of story composition. Google Docs also has a native outline that the user can edit, and that will automatically log certain formatting elements, generally ones that are typed in all caps. This can help the writer navigate their screenplay, but it is not always consistent, and nor does it categorize and isolate different narrative elements like scenes, acts or beats. 

outline features google docs for screenwriting

Comments and Revisions with Google Docs

Collaborative features like Comments and Revisions are part of Google Doc’s native operation, and have set the bar for many other collaborative creative word processing. While these are undoubtedly vital for cross-platform use, it is only possible to provide comments or changes directly on the text, while the outline and its constituents must be separate documents if the writer wishes for feedback on them.

comment features on google docs

It is possible to write a screenplay using Google Docs, but for every additional step, the process and flow is interrupted, something that can result in a more frustrating writing experience and affect productivity. 

Collaboration with Google Docs

Google Docs supports powerful collaborative functions, which are often necessary when writing screenplays with a partner, or within the context of a writers’ room, where multiple writers must be accountable for the production of the document. In this respect, collaboration tools in Google Docs include the ability to track changes made by individual writers.

Limitations of Screenwriting with Google Docs

While it is possible to create a screenplay using Google Docs, there are several limitations that can make it more stressful and time consuming than necessary.

Structure 

Achieving structure is the salient challenge with screenwriting with Google Docs. There is something lost in the gap between keyboard and on-screen formatting when limited by extra steps. Screenwriting is unique, blending compositional process with structure, and therefore achieving flow is extremely difficult. Optimization of the process can only really be achieved with real time, dedicated formatting.

Consistency and Creative Choice

Screenwriters often make creative formatting choices that defy the basic conventions, and those choices that can interrupt apps like Fountanize when attempting to integrate them into the margination defaults. Even existing conventions, such as a capitalized slugs (including short location slugs or shots) can result in incorrect margination, and because they are embedded in the script, may be overlooked — errors that can show up in documents intended for showcase or marketing. 

formatting inconsistencies when screenwriting on google docs
a capitalized slugs can result in incorrect margination

Intuition and Format Onboarding

Because Google Docs does not use real-time intuitive formatting, it is extremely difficult for a writer new to screenwriting to learn quickly how to write a formatted screenplay. Without the natural guidance of a screenwriting-dedicated software , a writer must either be knowledgeable about format, or self-educate in its application so as to produce text that Fountainize recognizes. 

Automated Formatting

Without automated formatting, screenwriting with Google Docs lacks important advantages. Automated formatting mitigates small errors in real time, while a formatting error can become easily lost in a large document. Automated formatting also provides predictive character name options so that the writer need not type out the entire name in every instance. Without automated, predictive formatting, a Google Docs user must continually update their unformatted script portions and risk losing their stopping point.

Other Limitations

In addition to these issues, Google Docs suffers issues of margination inconsistency, font limits, and does not provide native file sharing in formats recognized by the screenwriting apps more commonly used across the industry. Using Fountainize, Google Docs may generate a relatively accurate approximation of a plaintext file, but it does not guarantee smooth conversation across screenwriting platforms. 

Arc Studio Pro – Google Docs For Screenwriters

Arc Studio Pro owes a debt to the efficient, attractive design of Google Docs, and strives to deliver a similarly clean, confident experience tailor made for screenwriters. Arc Studio Pro has many feature concepts in common, but with expanded functionality and scope in order to promote creativity and serve the very specific needs demanded by the screenplay format. 

Side Menu Layout

Google Docs has a conventional word processing menu, but Arc Studio Pro’s menu design is streamlined and screenplay-dedicated, providing both immediate visual context for the available features and options, while remaining consistent with the overall distraction-free design. The menu, by virtue of its specificity, also onboards new writers to their screenplay-specific toolbox and allows them to investigate Arc’s features at their own pace.

arc studio pro interface

Element Menu & Customizable Formatting

Arc Studio Pro’s element menu is fully absent from Google Docs, and also has specific advantages over other screenwriting software in that it disappears when it is not needed, leaving a visually clean workspace. The menu is triggered by either clicking the icon or holding the CMD (CTRL) hot key. Not only does it provide script element shortcuts, it also incorporates a submenu for formatting and other functions.

arc studio pro advanced format options

In addition to these benefits, it is also possible to create and hot-key assign custom elements, so that users who have particular needs, or who must conform to an existing unique element demanded in certain professional settings can easily program in their element requirements. Users can also set their editing flow to automatically determine which format follows another.

arc studio pro settings
Arc Studio Pro settings provide the ability to determine Editing Flow

Outlines

While Google Docs has a robust outlining feature, Arc Studio Pro’s Outline include powerful functionality, allowing the screenwriter to use it as a compositional, narrative and organizational tool all at once. Arc Studio Pro utilizes multiple views and perspectives to enable the screenwriter to visualize their screenplay in granular or broad detail. It also includes customizable act structuring, with moveable beats, character and plot linking, as well as the option to add character images, and even feedback comments. Arc Studio also provides filtering functions so that the writer can view outlines by character or plot line. The outline itself can also be exported in PDF form and shared.

arc studio pro outline features

As helpful and well designed as Google Docs is, Arc Studio Pro’s Outlines is purpose built to help the screenwriter create documents for development, meta and macro composition that are just as important as the screenplay itself. Google Docs can’t provide that additional, necessary information that is relevant to the professional reader. 

Scene Navigation

One simple feature Google Docs lacks is the ability to distinguish text elements by Location and Scene. Arc Studio Pro provides menu options that enable the screenwriter quickly scenes, and to jump directly to them. Without the writer manually ensuring they are programmed into the outline feature, Google Docs does not have a discreet method of locating parts of the document by scene.

arc studio pro scene navigation

Feedback, Review Requests & Comments

Google Docs is famous for its feedback and commenting system, and Arc Studio Pro owes much to that design principle. That said, Arc Studio Pro has added several important functions to make up our battery of Feedback tools, beginning with the traditional nesting comments and tagging, In addition to the expected functions, comments in Arc Studio Pro are also, unlike in Google Docs, navigable within their own dedicated side menu option. 

arc studio pro feedback review requests and comment features

The Review Request feature is unique to Arc Studio Pro:  linked or emailed requests that allow the screenwriter to invite feedback on whole scripts, or on excerpts, along with the option to make a contextual statement for the benefit of the reader. The review itself includes a conclusion option where the reviewer can provide a dedicated summary. As it stands, Google Docs still necessitates a conclusion statement to be made in a comment. In Arc Studio Pro, readers can offer it in a script-feedback context.

arc studio pro feedback review requests and comment features

History & Collaboration

History functions are another one of Google Doc’s useful features. In Arc Studio Pro, the history of addition, removal and edit functionality, as well as version comparisons, are all present. Google Docs, however, does not have colour revisions specific to screenplay production.

In addition to incorporating collaboration functions similar to Google Docs, Arc Studio Pro has the ability to ascribe revision page colours to different users and history versions, and to customize them in other ways, including renaming, and also assigning versions to specific authors. These different categories of history entries can then be viewed in discreet tabs. 

arc studio pro history
The History feature has tabs for navigating automatic, manual and colour revision entries

Exporting Screenwriting File Formats

There is an array of possible screenplay softwares used by screenwriters. Different professional situations often require conformity to one app or another. While Google Docs can be made to conform to the plaintext Fountain format (though not always consistently) Arc Studio Pro provides the screenwriter with the ability to export their screenplay files in the most common application format, Final Draft, as well as Fountain and PDF options. Using Google Docs to generate clean files for import is problematic, as the smallest error or typo can throw off an entire block of formatting element text. In Arc Studio Pro, there is no intermediary step, so Fountain or PDFs will import far more cleanly into other programs. 

Setting Meta Data & Title Page

Arc Studio Pro provides user-entered meta data that provides information about the script, including title, logline, page target, author, and genres. This data generates a Title Page that can also be directly edited. Google Docs does not provide any kind of screenwriting-specific meta data, and a title page would have to be manually formatted.

arc studio pro document meta data

The Fountainize app also does not account for the formatting of a title page in Google Docs, and so any full highlight of the document to apply the Fountainize option would require the screenwriter to go back and manually reset the title page. 

Storage & Backup

One of the main selling points of Google Docs is the cloud-storage pioneering Google Drive system, which has led the charge towards cloud computing and storage. Arc Studio Pro adopted this philosophy early and completely, providing not only the option to back up screenplays to its own cloud, but also to Google Drive, and a screenwriter’s own desktop. Google Docs, while stable and safe, does not have the additional security provided by Arc Studio Pro’s comprehensive backup options. Nor does it have on-hand customer support readily available to address any issues concerning storage, or any other app issues.  

Arc Studio Pro’s Powerful Settings

Google Docs is of course replete with helpful settings, many of which would prove redundant for Arc Studio Pro given the uncomplicated needs of the screenplay format. However, many settings are not available to screenwriters using Google Docs, including but not limited to: dark mode, industry conforming settings, length tweaks, scene numbers, bolded scene headings and more. These settings simply do not make sense for use in Google Docs, but are directly relevant to the screenplay, and are therefore included in Arc Studio Pro

Conclusion

Arc Studio Pro incorporates all the deceptively simple functionality Google Docs users have come to expect, while providing far more scope, specificity and utility for both beginner and professional screenwriters. Just as Google Docs creates an excellent writing experience when used for its intended word-processing function, Arc Studio Pro streamlines the screenwriting experience with ever-improving features and work flow.

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Victoria is Arc Studio Pro's Community Development Specialist. She holds an A.A.S. in Film and Video Communications from Seattle Central Community College, and a B.F.A. from University of British Columbia's School of Creative Writing. She runs several online writing groups, and is one of the moderators on r/Screenwriting, the world's largest online screenwriting community.

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