Being a bit of a nerd (“A bit?!” — Everyone), I like to keep an eye on trends in script formatting and writing software. Remember, I’m the guy who designed the comics template for Scrivener. This stuff interests me.
As soon as Fountain was released (along with its companion app Highland,
still in beta), I started wondering if I could tinker with the format and use it to write comics, especially when travelling.
(Right now, if I’m away from my desk but want to get work done, I simply have to take my laptop. I’d love to be able to just use my iPad, but Scrivener doesn’t yet run on iOS.)
Turns out that, despite being designed for screenplay format, Fountain actually works pretty well for comics “out of the box” (note: there is no box) by using some of the built-in “forced format” syntax for underlines and emboldening.
So here’s what I’ve come up with. Behold, a portion of comic script written in Fountain:
**PAGE 1** _PANEL 1_ This is a panel description. CHARACTER ONE Hello. (cont) Now, let's see how a longer line of dialogue might look, both in the raw script and the preview. _PANEL 2_ This is another panel description. And this is the second para of a panel description. Note how no special formatting is needed. CHARACTER ONE Hi there. CHARACTER TWO (OFF) Don't start without me!
A veritable masterpiece, I’m sure you’ll agree. But here’s the good bit: what the above looks like in Highland.
Pretty darn good, isn’t it? And yet the original format is so simple, both to write and read. Which is the point — like its inspiration Markdown, Fountain is designed to be human-readable in its original plain text form.
(Frankly, if you’re not bothered about making your page and panel numbers bold or underlined, you could even forget the asterisks and underscores. I’ve just used them here to closely replicate my Scrivener/Final Draft format.)
Right-click to download the template — you have to do that, otherwise it’ll load straight into your browser window, because Fountain is just plain text. Kind of neat, actually.
If comics is all you care about, you can stop reading.
But here’s another possibility that interests me: using Fountain to write games.
Now hang on, you might say; surely this is a step too far. Surely, dear sir, you have flipped your goddamn lid.
But no. I’ve opined for several years now about the lack of dedicated writing software for games. Different publishers (sometimes different studios within the same publisher) use entirely different bespoke software, designed for their specific needs and workflow pipelines.
Or they just use Excel. Excel, for heaven’s sake.
It’s a big old mess, but it’s also a tough nut to crack. Contrary to what you might imagine, a game script isn’t a movie script with more bald space marines. It’s a cutscene script, a branching systemic dialogue map, a level plan, a directorial aid, a barks database… so many things to so many different people, and none of them care about the bits they won’t use.
The voice actor wants their lines in screenplay format, but doesn’t care about techie stuff like level notes. The designer placing dialogue triggers wants an Excel table and line numbers, but doesn’t care about arty stuff like VO parentheticals. And so on.
The games writing app in my head allows me to write like a screenplay — with paired character/dialogue formats, parentheticals, action lines for context — but with extra bits for scene/level headers, dialogue branches, design notes, alts, auto line numbering, etc. It allows me to type all of this information as I go, and then extracts and formats what it needs for different export types, all from the same base file.
So if I export “For Character A — VO”, it spits out screenplay-formatted sides with Character A’s lines, parentheticals, scene numbers, etc. But if I export “For Character A — Triggers”, it gives me an Excel table containing the same lines, numbered, with design notes. And so on.
The game writers among you are now drooling. But put your tongue back in, you mucky pup, because this is most assuredly a pipe dream. Nobody will ever build this software.
Why? Well, for a start, there are at most maybe 5,000 people in the entire world who would ever pay for it. Frankly, even that’s optimistic. It would have to retail for a small fortune to be profitable.
And now we have Fountain, and Highland… look, you can see where I’m going with this. What if we could write in plain text, using a Markdown/Fountain-like format, and use a parser to pull the necessary bits out according to the required destination format?
This is still a pipe dream. People who use bespoke software have no intention of switching away from something they feel gives them an advantage. People who just use Excel have no intention of learning a new application — why do you think they use Excel?
And, of course, it’s possible that maybe I’m overlooking something fundamental which guns down this idea without a second thought.
But maybe not. I’m still dreaming.
Backwards compatibility is another reason I like Scrivener — a Scriv “project” is actually just a package of RTF files. While not open source, RTF has become so ubiquitous that it’ll be supported for many years to come by plenty of other apps, should Scrivener suddenly explode. ↩