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15 VITAL WRITING TOOLS FOR THE SCREENWRITER

Other than screenwriting software, all of the writing tools you need are available for free online. Here are the tools I use almost every day while I write or do the business of writing...

This post is an update of sorts.

Back in 2002, when I wrote HOW TO WRITE FOR ANIMATION, I included a chapter called Tools of the Trade. In it I included such state-of-the-art tools as Microsoft Bookshelf and Encarta. Needless to say, the world has changed a bit since then. I asked my publisher to let me update the chapter but they didn't want to go to the expense. So let me update my tool box for you here. 

Other than screenwriting software, all of today's writing tools you need are available for free online. Below are the tools I use almost every day while I write or do the business of writing. 

WRITING TOOLS

Dictionary.com

After trying several online dictionaries I have found this one to be the most useful. It's got most of the definitions you'll need, and includes derivations, synonyms and even pronounces words for you with a click of the mouse. Dictionary.com is an aggregator and incudes definitions from American Heritage, Random House, and Merriam-Webster. If you're a dictionariholic (not in the dictionary) check out this link for the 30 best dictionaries, thesauri, and definition aggregators.

Thesaurus.com

I find Thesaurus.com to be the best online thesaurus. It includes, among others, Roget's International Thesaurus, the hard copy of which I have used since I was writing screenplays in diapers (or was I using screenplays for diapers; I can't recall). But I still have a hard copy of Roget's in my bookshelf which I got to from time to time. Thesaurus.com is under the Dictionary.com umbrella, which also has quotes and a translator. 

Onelook.com

Onelook is the dictionary of dictionaries. Plug in a word and it will give you a dozen or more dictionaries to find it in, including specialized dictionaries from scientific to musical and everything in-between. Onelook has another talent that can be very helpful for such things as finding words for titles. You can enter parts or words with asterisks, such as super* to find a thousand words that start with super. I find this superduperuseful (also not in dictionary).  

Translate.Google.com

This is a remarkably easy translator. Just copy-paste text from any language and, provided you set it up properly, it will automatically translate it to English (or whatever language you choose). I find occasion in most screenplays I write to want a line or two in some foreign language. All I have to do is write it in English, copy-paste it into Google, then copy-paste the translation. True, it may have some grammatical errors, but it will look good in your script, and can be checked for accuracy by Gerard Depardieu or whoever is reading the line. 

BrainyQuote.com

I also occasionally require quotes in my screenplays, and BrainyQuote is a great source. I was just writing a screenplay that needed some wise Chinese sayings and I found just the right quotes from Lao Tzu and Confucius at BrainyQuote.

RhymeZone.com

When I'm writing a script with song lyrics in it I always go straight to RhymeZone.com. It's a no-fuss website: just type in a word and you'll get a long list of one-, two-, three-, four- and five-syllable words that rhyme with it. It will even let you find words that almost rhyme. Very handy.

RESEARCH TOOLS

Google.com

Duh!

Google.com is the king of search engines and my number one choice. You can just plug in a word and get a zillion hits. But the secret is to word your query properly. There's a certain knack to formulating a short and precise question that will give you the most usable results and reduce the strays. It's all about including the right keywords and keeping it simple. 

Wikipedia.com

If you need to research a specific subject the chances are Wikipedia.com will have a page on it. I'm working on a screenplay now that required research on US military helicopters and armament. I found it all on Wikipedia by going to a page on helicopters which linked to the page on the one I wanted which linked to a page with the armament I needed. One-stop shopping. Love it!

Google.com/maps

Sure, you go to Google maps when you're looking for the nearest Costco. But Google maps can be enormously useful for research. The screenplay I'm writing with the helicopters happened to take place in New York City. But I live in Los Angeles. No problem. With Google map's Street View I took a virtual tour of every New York street I needed, from Brooklyn to Broadway. I got to know the town so well I will feel much more at home the next time I visit. I could not have written this screenplay without Google maps. Well, not at easily anyway. I actually did a draft of this screenplay 30 years ago before there were even personal computers. The story was based in San Francisco at the time, and I had to fly there to do the research. But even by flying there today I could never do the same depth of research I do on Google maps. It would take me weeks and thousands of dollars in taxi fares.

IMDb.com

Ever want to refresh your memory on a film story to make sure it was different from what you're writing, or refresh your memory on a story paradigm you want to use? Just go to IMBd.com and read the film synopses. You can also use IMDb.com to check film casting should you want to put a potential cast list together for your script, or search directors or other key credits. You can also get film synopses at Wikipedia.com.

Joblo.com/moviescripts.php

Here's one you may not be aware of. Joblo has over a thousand screenplays you can download. Writing a sci-fi horror and want to familiarize yourself with the genre? Just download the Alien screenplay. Want to learn how to write hit animated features? Just download Disney's Frozen. You'll find the original screenplays of these and more at Joblo.

BUSINESS TOOLS

LinkedIn.com

If you want to get leads to potential collaborators, buyers, producers, etc., LinkedIn is the place to go. It's a vital tool for networking and getting valuable industry contacts. I've had dozens of LinkedIn contacts reach out to me to write projects. 

AIDB.com

For animation writers, Animation Industry Database is a valuable link. There are thousands of studios, producers, animators and other industry professionals listed, including principals, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and more. A great resource to build you contact list. 

WorldTimeZone.com

I write for countries all over the globe. And I can't tell you how many times I've needed to know what time it was at one of those studios. To find out I just go to Worldtimezone.com. If you have an iPhone or Android phone you also have a great app that will allow you to set your favorite cities and their current  times.

Carbonite.com

What's that you say? What the hell is Carbonite doing on a list of writing links? I'm including it because it could be the most important link you'll ever have. If you write professionally the chances are nearly 100% that you have lost a file or two. I happen to be the go-to guy for solving my family and friend's computer problems. I can't tell you how many times someone has called, begging me to find a lost file. Don't do this to your family and friends. Just go to Carbonite.com.

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If you know of any other links that would be helpful to writers please comment on this post and share them with my readers (and me).

~Jeff