Lesser Known Applications for Linux — Screenwriting

This is the third article in a series highlighting lesser known applications for Linux. These articles will be a bit Ubuntu-centric, but these applications should run nicely on your distribution of choice. Also, some of these applications may be a bit more than “lesser” known, but they are not part of the standard core of applications you see upon a few install of a desktop Linux distribution.

I use Ubuntu 7.04 on my computer, so I usually search the repositories via Synaptic for applications. Many times, I discover applications by reading about them in Linux forums or online articles. Websites, such as SourceForge, getdeb and Linux App Finder, are other places to search for lesser known applications.

After a couple of days and nights of caring for my sick 11-month-old daughter, I have finally finished reviewing applications and writing this article.

This installment will review applications that aid in writing screenplays, plays, and novels. It varies somewhat from the previous two articles in that it does reference a couple of better known applications for Linux, although it discusses some of the lesser known ways to use them.


There are some alternatives in the category of screenwriting applications, but don’t expect a Windows or Mac application like Final Draft or Movie Magic. In Celtx, you will find something with a lot more promise and stability than either of those solutions. But first, let’s look at other alternatives which happen to use better known applications — OpenOffice.org, AbiWord, and KWord.

A Macro Approach Via OpenOffice.org

To ease the task of writing a screenplay in OpenOffice.org, the use of a formating template is recommended. One can be found here. The template contains macros to apply the various styles and you can also map keyboard shortcuts to the styles. It works, kind of. It is not the ideal screenwriting tool, but it will do an adequate job if this is how you want to write.

The Application of Styles Via AbiWord and KWord

Efficiently using AbiWord and KWord as screenwriters involve the application of styles to paragraphs or blocks of text to achieve the standard screenplay formating. The styles can be set to flow from one style to another as a true screenwriting application would, but they never truly flow from one style to another. You can approximate how a screenwriter works, but you find yourself frustrated over the obvious things that you would like the application to do.


Creating and modifying styles in AbiWord is a pain in the butt. The style dialog box does not give you enough control over the all the elements of formating that you need to provide a tolerable screenwriting experience. About the only things it has going for it as a screenwriter are its speed, the clean looking interface you are greeted with upon starting the application, and the available tools (dictionaries, thesaraus, Google search, Wikipedia search, etc.). As hard as it would be to format a screenplay in AbiWord, it would be a breeze to write a novel or a short story in it.


KWord, on the other hand, has a nicer interface for designing styles. More detail is readily accessible than it is in AbiWord. Styles can be set up quickly and efficiently. The KWord interface itself leaves a bit to be desired. It is not as clean in appearance as AbiWord. It also lacks the tools that AbiWord possesses. But all in all, I could write a screenplay in KWord and be satisfied with the experience of it.

Preparing a Screenplay Via LyX

If you have never worked with LyX, then it takes some getting used to. It is not a word processor, so you do not get a WYSIWYG experience. It is an interface to the LaTeX document preparation system. LyX allows people familiar with word processors to use the LaTeX backend with a minimum of frustrations.

LyX comes with a template called Hollywood, as well as a script formating example document. The example does a decent job at showing you where and when the script formats are applied. The Hollywood template is just that, a solid base to work from.

LyX is easy to work with. But for some people, the lack of WYSIWYG is too much to overcome. As a screenwriting application, LyX does an admirable job.

Balanced Production Via Celtx

CeltxForget about OpenOffice.org, AbiWord, KWord, and LyX. You won’t need them. Celtx is the application to use. Why? Because it is much more than a screenwriter. It can handle the complete pre-production of a film, movie, or stage play. Character and scene development are fleshed out within their own sections. Project management is pulled together with a calendar, a storyboard, and reports. Wrapping the Celtx package are web services that allow you to collaborate with private partners online, backup your project, or share the project with the Celtx community. Celtx is built upon Mozilla code. It is not available in your Linux software repository, so you have to download it from the Celtx website. It is an easy application to install.

One thing to note about Celtx is in generating a PDF of your script you have to be online. The PDF generation is done upon Celtx’s servers. Another thing is text & PDF formating do not always match. There are slight variances. Sometimes PDF formating is slightly off at times, but nothing major and many of these little issues will be addressed in the next release.

Celtx as a Screenwriter

As a screenwriter, Celtx excels. Scenes can be fleshed out prior to writing. Characters can be developed thoroughly. All the right questions are there to be answered in creating scenes and characters. All you have to do is answer them and your scenes and characters will seem to gain life. You will give your characters motives and personalities, as well as give your scenes movement and progression as plots and subplots weave together a solid storyline. And reordering scenes is as easy as dragging and dropping them into a new location.

When it comes time to begin writing, you will appreciate how the screenplay formating seems to flow as fast as your writing. Everything is there to make writing a screenplay as easy as possible on you, so that you can concentrate on your script’s story.

The Celtx forums tend to provide a way for Celtx users to offer ideas and script drafts for criticism. The Celtx developers will listen to ideas for enhancements to Celtx. The Celtx website has video tutorials, a wiki, and FAQs to help users learn the features and capabilities of the application. It is a solid application with a solid group backing it.

It’s a Wrap!

For screenwriting if Celtx did not exist, then KWord would be my next choice, followed by LyX and OpenOffice.org. AbiWord and OpenOffice.org would be my choices to write novels and short stories, with the nod going to OpenOffice.org. Celtx also makes for a good application to write a novel in as well. Linux has a solution to match your writing preferences.




  1. Thanks for the helpful review. What about running Final Draft or Movie Magic in Wine? Isn’t that always an option? In that respect how would you compare Celtx? I’m new to software like this.

  2. In my experience, Final Draft 6 is quite glitchy in Wine. Certain options (such as font) crash it entirely. There are issues with the pop-ups for auto-completion getting “stuck” on screen and blocking arrow navigation. It’s usable, but generally very frustrating. If you hate losing work as much as I do, I would avoid it.

    I haven’t tried Version 7 yet, and I also haven’t tried Movie Magic, but I wasn’t a huge fan on Windows to begin with.

    I first tried Celtx about a year ago. At that point, it wasn’t effective, but they’ve come a long way at filling in the missing functionality (for example, it didn’t originally have an ALLCAPS function, which is pretty necessary in screenwriting — now it does). There are still a few oddities with printing (especially when it comes to parentheticals in the midst of dialogue), and pagination could use some improvement, but as a general writing tool, it is quickly becoming my main application.

    The ability to upload your project to the Celtx server is particularly nice since I end up writing on many computers. Add to this the fact that I can install a dependable version of Celtx, for free, on any platform (Linux, Windows, OSX), and you can get access to your work just about anywhere.

    There are still improvements to be made, but Celtx is quickly becoming a first-rate tool for screenwriting and quick independent film-making.

  3. Thank you so much for taking the time to write the reviews on Linux for screen writing. The Linux community is so great at sharing! I use Linux exclusively at home, but I am not a programmer, just believe that Microsoft should not own the tools of communication, at least not all of them.

    I downloaded the program Celtx, it was very quick, extracted all the files with one click, and I was in business. It seems very intuitive. Your review saved me a lot of time and grief. I am very appreciative.

    If you go to my website you’ll see I wrote a novel. It’s been optioned, but the option has run out and the 21 page contract for purchase of the film was not something I could sign. As is often perhaps the case, I was going to get screwed. I’ve asked for a better contract but don’t know if it will materialize.

    Anyhow, I noticed that every director who has contacted me has wanted to know if I wanted to write the screenplay. The payment is about $20K for the first draft. So, I thought I’d play around with trying to write the script. I needed something in Linux, because that’s what I use. So, your review was just the touch to push me on my why.

    Thanks again for your kindness,

    Maury Lee

  4. I use OpenOffice with Macros I wrote , on a separate toolbar, which makes it smooth and no distraction to my writing. It’s ability to modify styles has even solved the page break problem — although that is the only occasional glitch. So before printing out I check for blocks of dialog on different pages. And for those times I need to share a draft with others, I can save it in WORD, keeping the styles and formatting. OpenOffice also does pdf.

  5. I have been looking for a great amount of time for Linux/UNIX tools to help produce a Screenplay and knew of all of the above (Minus templates for OO.org). Should I ever successfully write something, ill give you a special thanks.

    1. Trying it. Liking it, too. I am seeing greater stability in beta 1.4 than I saw in beta 1.3. I like the versatility available in Scrivener and understand why so many writers using Apple computers rave about Scrivener.

      It has been awhile since I have written about applications for Linux. I will be writing about some applications in the near future. Scrivener will be one of them.

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