The most popular (and expensive) screenwriting program around is “Final Draft” ($249) along with its most popular rival “Movie Magic Screenwriter” ($249). However, don’t think you absolutely need either program when you’re first starting out. Paying for the screenwriting programs used by professionals is like learning golf by buying the expensive golf clubs the professionals use. As a beginner, you can save your self some time by getting a less expensive screenwriting program first.
Look at the $49.95 “Fade In Professional” that runs on Windows, Linux, and OS X along with ($4.99) iOS and Android mobile app versions. Fade In Professional compares favorably with both Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter in terms of features so if you want a less expensive screenwriting program, Fade In Professional might be a better choice.
The point is that the software you buy won’t magically turn you into a better screenwriter. If you can’t write a decent scene using paper and pencil, buying a screenwriting program isn’t going to make your screenwriting skills magically better. All it will do is help you format a bad screenplay faster and easier than before.
What you really need to do is learn how to structure a story and write a scene. Story structure is about plotting, planting clues that foreshadow the future, and telling a compelling tale with an underdog hero and an overpowering villain. If you can toss in a strong theme that resonates with the audience, that’s even better, but that has nothing to do with formatting a screenplay. Screenplay formatting is the final step to writing a screenplay, not the first. If you don’t have an interesting, well-plotted story, you likely won’t have a good screenplay even if it’s properly formatted.
Once you start writing your screenplay, you need to write interesting scenes. Too many novices mistake action for a compelling scene, but the action doesn’t lead anywhere. It\’s fine to have a bunch of characters arguing in the kitchen over breakfast, but if that argument doesn’t lead to another scene, then that earlier scene is pointless.
Think of scenes like dominoes. After one scene ends, it has to initiate a new scene. As long as scenes are linked together, you have an interesting story. The moment scenes have no relevance to each other, you have a disjointed story that causes the audience to lose interest rapidly. Scenes are mini-stories with exposition, rising action, climaxes, and cliffhangers of their own. If a scene does nothing more than present information to the audience, that scene fails. Scenes need to present information, show conflict, foreshadow the future, and payoff earlier setups of foreshadowing. Any scene that fails to do this is as pointless as a link in a chain that isn’t connected to anything.
So don’t think that buying a screenwriting program will magically solve all your problems. It won’t. You have to first learn how to solve story structure and scene structure problems with a paper and pencil long before you touch a computer and any screenwriting program. Only when you know how to structure a story and a scene should you even consider touching a screenplay formatting word processor like Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter. Until then, you don’t need professional tools when you’re first starting out. Keep it simple and you’ll not only save money but you’ll also keep your focus on what you really need, which is a compelling and well-structured story.