Top 4 Linux screenwriting software
We put pro suites and no-frills tools to the test in search of the perfect place to write a script
Need to write the next top blockbuster, indie film or hit sitcom? We test out the best Linux software for the task.
A multi-platform software with a minimalist aesthetic, Trelby is clean enough to help you focus on the task at hand but still packs a surprising amount of tools and options into its interface, with auto- editing and formatting features alongside a character name database, reports, charts and more.
Compared to the other screenwriting tools in this test, Trelby is quite feature-light. The behaviour of the app – in terms of how it handles changes between dialogue, scenes, and more – cannot be changed. There are also no templates for different types of screenplay or a notes feature.
Despite having no way to change its own formatting behaviour, Trelby is extremely smart in its way of handling structure. It makes reasonable guesses between Action, Character and Dialogue; for example, going back to Action from Dialogue after a line break but allowing you to tab back into Action.
Trelby will remember characters and scenes and such, bringing you a drop down when necessary. However there are no built-in columns of structural view to browse between them all on the fly throughout the interface. You can find hidden databases within the saved files for them, but it’s not as quick or useful as having them right there.
The source is freely available for the software but it’s not currently in any or many repositories for major distros. However, if you don’t think you can quite handle compiling from source, there are binaries for Debian and Ubuntu-based distros for the large portion of users that use them.
Trelby is solid and definitely better than any basic word processor, however it could do with some extra features especially in management and navigation. Installing it from source is not for everyone either.
Not a program like the others, LibOScreenplay is actually a template for LibreOffice Writer, created for film-makers. LibOScreenplay and other auto-styling templates can be a good option for those wishing to keep things simple rather using dedicated programs, or just keep a low profile system altogether.
As a basic template, LibOScreenplay merely contains the basic formatting styles of the essential fields you’d need. These can be accessed individually from the Style menu and it will try and automatically change between them as you write. Otherwise, you’re using the word processing features of Libre Office Writer, which aren’t always designed for the task.
The template guesses fairly well in regards to changing cases or styles, however there’s no option to substitute tab or extra line breaks to automatically change the style again. You’ll find yourself manually changing the styles on a regular basis to keep the text correct.
Word processors, and especially Writer, do have some pretty powerful indexing and finding tools. However, there are no drop-down lists or databases for the different scenes, characters or locations. You’ll have to set up an index and keep updating it as you go on to get anything close to these features.
LibreOffice is easier to install than any of the applications on this list – usually included by default on a large number of distros – and the template is simply an OTT file that opens in Writer. You’ll have to manually install some fonts that come with the template but in a lot of distros that’s easy.
The only thing this and other templates have going for it is that it’s a lot better than trying to write out and manually format a script yourself. It doesn’t save enough time to consider it over the others though.
Both an online studio and a free desktop application, Celtx is a fully- featured screenwriting tool backed up by a subscription service that gives you lots of production tools. Among these are cloud storage, office and management facilities, scriptwriting and storyboarding tools, budgets and shot lists.
The most feature-full of this test, Celtx not only has a vast selection of script types, but it’s quite customisable as well. Add this to an online service you can pay for (a free 15-day trial is available) that will sync your files and allow you to edit them on the go and you have a truly modern piece of software.
Celtx does well to guess what you’re trying to write at any given moment, however it’s not quite as good at the workflow as Trelby is; to make up for this, the interface clearly labels how pressing return or tab will change the style of the text.
The important aspects for the main script are kept up front as part of an info bar along the side, such as scenes and notes. It’s a bit trickier to find a character database but it’s there, along with easily accessible reports so you can keep an eye on the action-to-dialogue ratio.
Celtx is limited to Debian and Ubuntu, although the online version is available anywhere. You need to sign up for a free account before you actually install the desktop version though, and the online equivalent is a subscription-based service. At the very least there’s no installation for the desktop version – it will run directly from the files.
There are some minor issues with the operation of Celtx and some less minor annoyances getting it installed that prevent a top score, but it’s overall a fantastic piece of software that makes writing scripts as easy as possible.
Pitched as the pro tool, Fade In does have a premium feel to it that’s supported by an extensive range of customisations and detailed options, plus cloud storage and good support for other formats. Another advantage is the Fade In Mobile suite of apps that lets you import and edit your scripts on the go.
For pure film and TV scripts, Fade In has all the major features of the other applications in this test and is fairly customisable as well. We say scripts, as unlike Celtx there are no options for novels et al; it also does not have the excellent online service attached to it.
A good method of changing styles and cases as you type, with some light modification available in case your workflow becomes more action or dialogue heavy. The different styles are also quickly accessible from the side column if you find the need to change it drastically at a moment’s notice.
A very solid database structure that is accessible via the main interface for quick references to characters and locations, as well as a decent method of searching through scenes via a navigation panel. However you cannot use a search function in these fields to make looking through them easier.
Not available in any repos right now, and you’re limited to using RPM and DEB binary files, or a manual install that’s not done from source. RPMs and DEBs will obviously cover a wide variety of distros, but it still makes it a limiting factor, especially if you ever need to update it.
We really like Fade In. It’s an excellent piece of software and the management is good for simple scripts. However, for larger projects it doesn’t quite have the same appeals as something like Celtx.
And the winner is…
There’s a lot to be said for the simpler interfaces provided by the Trelby program and the LibOScreenplay template, but in the end it was the excellent Celtx software and its suite of cloud-based tools that won us over. One of the key advantages here was its range of built-in script templates, with Celtx catering for novels, comic books and audio plays as well as scripts for film and theatre – Trelby was great for its workflow and auto-formatting features but didn’t allow you to change between different script types, while Fade In was a really compelling choice but was unfortunately limited to just film and TV scripts.
That aside, Celtx still had the edge on Fade In when it came to the scriptwriting itself, with its clear interface offering up all the tools you could want but without crowding your clean writing space (Trelby scored good points for this too). We really wanted to like Fade In, but when it came down to actually writing our scripts we found that the workflow was just better when using Celtx.
Get to know the simple rules for switching sections using the Tab and Enter keys, and you’ll find that Celtx is designed to help you get your thoughts down in no time at all. Hit Enter from a Scene Heading section and you switch to Action, hit Enter again to start another Scene Heading. Hit Tab from an Action section to switch to Characters, and hit Enter from there to start Dialogue. When you add in the cloud infrastructure to support multiple writers collaborating on a project, complete with file storage and management, plus production tools to simplify the related aspects of creative writing for entertainment such as storyboarding and photography, you’ll find it’s the complete package.