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There's No Free Lunch, But There Is Free Software!
by Des Nnochiri

Return to Writing Tools & Technology Issues · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

Yes, there is such a thing as free software. It goes by the formal name "freeware," and is developed and distributed by many more people than you imagine -- if you know where to look.

Some freeware developers do it as a hobby, some as a driving passion, others as a testing ground for products they hope will go commercial. Many have a genuine dislike of the mainstream "bloatware" offered by the Big Operating System Companies. You know": Installation programs that run to hundreds of megabytes. Prohibitive pricing. Drop-down menus that go on forever -- and point to tools that you didn't want to use, anyway.

For writers, especially -- whose source of income is varied, and often unsteady -- it's good to know that alternatives exist. Viable ones that you don't have to pay for. I'd like to consider some of them, now.

I'll start with the screenwriters, as they hold a special place in my heart.


This is a word processor, with special settings for Prose, Radio Plays, and Screenplays.

In Screenplay Mode, formatting is achieved by pre-set tabs: Scene Heading (Slug Line), Character, Dialogue, Transition, or Parenthetical. Just keep hitting the [TAB] key until you get the setting you want, then type in your text. A Status Bar at the bottom of the program window echoes the current tab setting.

Each document you create comes with an associated set of smaller files, including a scratch pad for casual notes, a library of special symbols, and a list of AutoWords. This last can be used to store boilerplate text, such as names of main characters, principal locations -- even DAY and NIGHT. You simply select the word or phrase, right-click on it, and choose "Make AutoWord" from the pop-up menu.

The software monitors words as you type, inserting AutoWords in a similar fashion to the AutoComplete function of your Web browser. You press the [TAB] key to accept, or continue typing, to overwrite the word.

Capitalization of character names is done automatically. The Dialogue tab set is selected by default, if you press [ENTER] at the end of a character name. And, every half hour or so, the program brews a pot of coffee. Well... perhaps not.

The software does have limitations. Chief among them is a lack of support for the industry-standard Final Draft (FDR) file format. RoughDraft only outputs to Rich Text Format (RTF). You will need another tool to create files in Portable Document Format (PDF), which is also widely accepted in film industry circles.

You can download RoughDraft 3.0 (the final version) from http://www.salsbury.f2s.com/rd_download.htm

CutePDF Writer

This converts Rich Text Format (RTF) files into Portable Document Format (PDF). The program registers itself as a virtual printer, and can be seen in your system's list of installed printing devices.

Instead of printing to pages, CutePDF Writer creates a file, whose name and directory location you will have to specify. Any changes to the output (PDF) file for a given document must be made as revisions to the original RTF, which you print again to the designated PDF file.

At the CutePDF website (http://www.CutePDF.com), they'll tell you that you need to download a Converter in order for the software to work. Don't worry; the download link is right there, and the program is also free.

FoxIt Reader

An extremely slim alternative to Acrobat Reader. (Which is also free, but a much bigger download. And slow. All those progress indicators you get in your browser as Acrobat is loading? Doesn't happen here. The PDF files pop up almost instantly.)

FoxIt presents you with a split window, with pages neatly bookmarked in a panel on the left. Editing of PDF files is possible -- but, in the free version, this leaves a watermark on every amended page. To lose this, you have to upgrade to the Pro version, and pay a fee.

You can get the free version at http://www.foxitsoftware.com


This is a word-processing package with an interface unlike most other such programs.

Rather than a menu system, there are buttons for grouped functions, such as File, Font, Paragraph settings, and Spell-checking. Clicking on a button brings up an array of icons in a panel on the left of the program window. These drill down to specific functions.

An interesting feature is Jarte's "clickless operation." Depending on the settings you choose, you can simply hover your mouse over an icon or button to activate it.

Jarte can be downloaded from http://www.jarte.com


An excellent dictionary and thesaurus. WordWeb gives definitions, examples of usage, synonyms, antonyms, and common phrases including each word you enter.

There is an option to integrate WordWeb into the menu of several mainstream word processors, and a number of the free ones (e.g. Jarte), as well. Numerous language dictionaries are also on offer.

The program is available from http://wordweb.info/free


A program for storing your ideas and observations on a project.

There are built-in themes for a Book, or a Movie. You can change these to suit your needs.

Icons are used to represent different elements, such as Notes, Plot Outline, Synopsis, or Character. You can move these around onscreen, grouping them as you see fit. In essence, you create a mind map.

Each icon points to a text file you create, containing information on that particular element. You can view and print the output, or export the files to a word processor.

A rare gem. This is very hard to find on the Web, these days. So I'm hosting it, myself.

Freeware Sites

There are several sites on the Web that give extensive listings of free software. I recommend the following:

  • Freeware Home (http://www.freewarehome.com) uses a framed, two-panel display. The frame on the left lists software categories and sub-categories: Business, Internet, Hobbies, etc. If you click on a topic, the panel on the right shows the programs available, with brief descriptions, and star ratings (out of a maximum of five). Download links and the author websites are given for each.

  • Freeware Files (http://www.freewarefiles.com) adopts a more modern, "Yahoo! homepage" type approach. There's a Top 20 of most popular downloads, a section for recently added items, and listings by category. It's worth spending some time to drill down to exactly what you want, as the catalog of programs is vast.

    There is a star rating system (best out of 5) here also, and screenshots of the programs. Visitors are invited to submit their own reviews. Don't ignore these, as they can point you towards the better options -- or away from those to avoid.

As in all walks of life, good co-exists with bad. Be sure to scan everything you download, with up-to-date antivirus software. And happy hunting. Still, it's good to know that, in these days of economic uncertainty, you can get something for nothing.

Find Out More...

A Pair of Handy Freebies - Moira Allen

Helpful Sites:

RoughDraft screenplay editor

CutePDF Writer text to PDF converter

FoxIt Reader PDF viewer

Jarte word processor

WordWeb dictionary and thesaurus

Freeware Home website

Freeware Files website

Copyright © 2009 Des Nnochiri
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Desmond (Des) Nnochiri was born in 1965 to the family of Ambassador Pascal Nnochiri, of the Nigerian Foreign Service. He spent his early years traveling with his parents, and was educated in England, the USA, and the Republic of Ireland. A film buff and avid reader, he spent several years at the Architectural Association in London, where multiple disciplines and mixed media are a way of life. He writes freelance now, and has taken his first steps into the world of screenwriting. In 2005, he won the BBC World Service International Vocabulary Competition. He was also a Web designer, and Information Technology (IT) consultant in a previous existence.


Copyright © 2018 by Moira Allen. All rights reserved.
All materials on this site are the property of their authors and may not be reprinted
without the author's written permission, unless otherwise indicated.
For more information please contact Moira Allen, Editor

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