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Writing your Script with Plotbot

by PublishingCentral.com   


Plotbot (www.plotbot.com) is a web-based screenwriting application, with a focus on collaboration. It's free and requires only a few bits of information to get started with your own account.

Once you've filled in your information, you'll get instant access to Plotbot. No waiting around for confirmation emails and codes.

You'll notice right away that you need to either start a project, or join an existing one to start writing. 

To start off, you might want to play in the Sandbox for a while. The sandbox is like a mini-project that won't go live and embarrass you, or take up one of your two free private projects. If you like what you've done in the sandbox, though, you can convert it into a project with one click, so feel free to write in earnest while you figure out the toolset.

In Plotbot, every element is entered separately in a small form on your screen.
There are three types of elements:

The first is the Slugline. The slugline is where you'll enter the scene header. There are three pieces of information you can add here... 
  • INT/EXT (for interior or exterior)
  • LOCATION (where the scene is taking place)
  • TIME (Day, Night, Morning, Dusk...)

Next is the Action element. This is just an empty field where  you can describe what's happening on stage or on screen at this point in the scene.
Finally, and most importantly, is the Dialog element. This element has two fields. In the first, you'll enter a character name, and use the second for their dialog.
As you enter your elements, your script will begin to take place in front of your eyes.

The site is designed for script collaboration, and the default setting is to have your script open to all members of Plotbot. I don't know where all these collaborating scriptwriters came from, since all the screenwriters and playwrights I know personally are intensely private and don't share their plot ideas with anyone until they've got at least a solid second draft, but for those more secretive writers, you do get two private screenplays that are only open to those you invite.
Once you're familiar with the elements, you can jump in and create your first project. Click on Create in the top menu bar, enter a project name and description, choose whether you'd like it to be public or private, and (on the subsequent page) choose your copyright preferences.
For most writers, jumping right into writing the script is a bad idea, so once your project is set up, you'll want to start by creating a project outline. 
The outline feature of Plotbot is simply a basic text box where you can enter a concise description of your project.
In Plotbot, the outline seems to be primarily to point contributors in the right direction, rather than a place for the main scriptwriter to build a story outline, which probably explains why the tool for this is so flimsy.
After you've created an outline, you can move on to a Scene, and once finished a scene, you can add it to a screenplay.     You can create as many scenes as you need, and move them around as required. This is actually a very nice way to deal with the scenes in your script, and it's easy to re-order things if your screenplay starts to get convoluted.
Finally, when you're done with your screenplay, you can download it as an RTF or XML file. I like the XML option for its geekiness, but I'm not at all sure what use it would be to most writers. RTF, on the other hand, can be imported into most document editors and further manipulated and printed from there.
What I really liked about Plotbot
One of my favorite features of Plotbot is its method of keeping track of revisions for each individual element in your script. The sidebar on the right side of the screen keeps track of when each element was last written, how many revisions it has gone through, and if you're collaborating with other writers, who has made the latest revision.
To see all the changes, and revert to a previous version is easy. Just click the balloon by any element listed in the right hand sidebar.
I love how clean this interface is, and how easy it is to revert back to a previous version of any piece of dialog. However, it was a little slow to respond at times, which could hamper creativity.
I rather liked the text entry format. Entering everything one line at a time kept my head clear. However, some of the other writers I spoke to thought it slowed them down too much, and they lost track of their thought processes while waiting for the text boxes to appear.
The things I didn't like about Plotbot 
  • The flimsy outlining tool
  • Restrictions on the number of private projects
  • No ability to upload text or doc files
  • No offline mode.
Overall, Plotbot is a great tool for beginning screenwriters who need a tool that can go wherever they are (as long as they've got internet access) that can format their script professionally.
While it doesn't hold a candle to FinalDraft, this browser-based tool certainly has a place in the scriptwriter's arsenal, much as Google Docs can complement Microsoft Word.