Image courtesy: Trelby

In a nutshell

  • Trelby is free, open-source screenwriting software that automates screenplay formatting
  • Trelby can also generate useful filmmaking reports based on elements in the screenplay
  • Screenwriting software can speed up the writing process and help streamline pre-production

Look at any screenplay and you’ll notice it follows a specific and rigid format. All-caps scene headings announce each new scene. Dialogue sits near the center of the page, staying 1.5 inches from the left and right margins. The font? Courier, size 12. Deviating from any of these or a dozen other rules will mark your screenplay with an ‘A’ for amateur. Luckily, there exists screenwriting software that can help you properly format your screenplay and give you more time to actually write. One such option is Trelby.

Let’s take a closer look at Trelby, the free, open-source screenwriting software. We’ll go over what it is, why you might want to use it and how to try it out for yourself.

What is Trelby?

Trelby is full-featured screenwriting software that helps you properly format your screenplay as you write. The free and open-source software project was released in 2012 as an update and rebrand of early-00s screenwriting software, Blyte.

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In addition to screenplay formatting, Trelby can also generate useful reports for filmmakers — for example, a location report showing which scenes take place in each setting. This makes it a robust tool not just during the writing process but all throughout pre-production.

Trelby offers similar features to other screenwriting programs like Final Draft, Celtx and Fade In Pro. However, since Trelby is open-source, it is available completely free of charge, which sets it apart from its competition.

Why use screenwriting software?

A screenshot of Trelby screenwriting program
Image courtesy: Trelby

You may be wondering why anyone would need specific software for writing scripts when we already have word processors like Microsoft Word and Google Docs. One answer is that screenwriting software helps you follow the strict industry-standard formatting guidelines. It’s possible to create a properly formatted screenplay in Word, but it will take you a lot longer. Plus, you’re more likely to make mistakes.

Using screenwriting software like Trelby allows you to write faster with more accurate formatting while keeping your focus on the story. In theory, that means you can write stronger stories with less distraction. Plus, industry professionals will take those stories more seriously because they are presented in a more professional manner.

Another bonus to using screenwriting-specific software is the ability to generate filmmaking reports. Trelby in particular can generate scene, location, character and dialogue reports on the scene and screenplay level. These kinds of reports are extremely useful when trying to coordinate resources and talent during pre-production.

What does Trelby offer?

Image courtesy: Trelby

Trelby offers the core features that screenwriters and filmmakers need. It may not be the fanciest option available, but it is free and open-source. Like its costlier counterparts, Trelby helps automate the screenplay formatting process using keyboard shortcuts and automated text recognition, thus streamlining the writing process.

Trelby also recognizes important screenplay elements like scenes, characters and locations to aid in planning your shoot. This means you can easily navigate between pages and scenes while editing your screenplay. Even better, you can generate customizable filmmaking reports that tell you what you will need to take your script to the screen.

Neat extras

On top of the basic screenwriting tools, Trelby also offers multiplatform support for Windows and Linux, promising the same experience on both operating systems.

To make the software more flexible, Trelby allows writers to change the view mode. Options include draft view, layout view, side-by-side and an overview that allows you to see all of the pages of your screenplay at once. For a more immersive writing experience, Trelby also has a full-screen mode.

For working with multiple versions, the software also features a comparison view that shows the changes made between different drafts. This makes it easier to see how a draft has evolved over time, or to revert to an earlier draft when needed.

All of this is complemented by an extensive name database designed to help screenwriters find the perfect name for their characters. The database contains more than 200,000 names from various countries around the world.

Image courtesy: Trelby

Cross-program collaboration

Sometimes, you’ll need to share a script with somebody who doesn’t use the same screenwriting software — or any screenwriting software at all. Fortunately, Trelby is also cross-compatible with the most common screenplay document formats.

Users can import screenplay formatted text or file formats including Final Draft XML (.fdx), Celtx (.celtx), Fountain (.fountain), Adobe Story (.astx) and Fade In Pro (.fadein). This means you can more easily edit old drafts and collaborate with other writers.

Export options include PDF, formatted text, HTML, RTF, Final Draft XML (.fdx) and Fountain (.fountain). This makes it easy to collaborate regardless of what software your production team prefers. In particular, Trelby offers a built-in, highly configurable PDF generator. Using the generator allows you to embed custom fonts and add watermarks to the pages of your screenplay.

But isn’t Trelby, like, really old?

Yes, the latest version of Trelby was released in 2012. But despite its age, Trelby is still a solid, functional piece of software that you can use for free, forever (thanks, open-source movement). It’s definitely worth a look if you want a robust yet accessible screenwriting toolset.

Writing in Trelby

When you sit down to write your screenplay in Trelby, you’ll first be confronted with a blank page nested in a simple interface. To begin writing a scene, start typing either int. for interior or ext. for exterior. Trelby will automatically format that line as a scene heading.

When you are ready to move on to the action, hit enter. At the top right, the element tag will change to indicate the new formatting style. Farther to the right, Trelby gives you hints based on the most commonly used elements: Hit tab to create a character heading and begin some dialogue or use enter to create a new line of action. When you want to start a new scene, typing int. or ext. again will create a new scene heading.

These and other shortcuts allow you to write more freely while still maintaining proper formatting. When you’re done writing, Trelby’s error checker can help clean up leftover formatting mistakes.

How to install and use Trelby

Here’s how to try out Trelby for yourself:

  1. Head over to trelby.org/download/
  2. Choose the appropriate download for your operating system. Follow the on-screen instructions to start the download.
  3. Once the download is complete, open the Trelby setup wizard ⁠— Setup-Trelby-2.2. Follow the on-screen instructions to install Trelby.

Before you start working on your masterpiece, be sure to read the Getting started guide for helpful hints and keyboard shortcuts.

More energy for what matters

Using software specifically made for screenwriting means you’ll have more energy to put into your story and your characters. While it can’t guarantee perfect results, you’ll end up with a relatively tidy draft that looks and feels like a professional screenplay. If you want to see how it feels to write in a dedicated screenwriting program, Trelby is a great place to start.

Nicole LaJeunesse is a professional writer and a curious person who loves to unpack stories on anything from music, to movies, to gaming and beyond.