Screenwrite Mode for GNU Emacs

Wow—I cannot believe it has been nearly one month since I have written a post. My time has been divided between being quite busy and feeling quite ill. But my apologies for the delay.

Over the time away I’ve had plenty of ideas for posts, one of them is today’s offering: a short blurb—an advertisement of sorts—for Screenwrite Mode, originally by Vance L. Simpson. Although the link is to a fork by Klaatu la Terible. I want to talk about the use of Screenwrite Mode, provide some suggestions about its use, and offer some alternatives.

What It Does

Screenwriter Mode makes Emacs easier to use when writing screenplays like these. More specifically, the mode provides commands for conforming to the most common format of screenplays, e.g. that discussed at length in “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trottier. I am using the mode to author the script for my game, and here is an example of the formatting it automatically creates:

                                                 MISSION ONE BOSS

VIOLET flies into a particularly darkened area,
unnaturally so.  There is static interference over
the radio.  There is a mound of corpses in sight.


          ...Do you hear me?

An inhuman being appears.  [TODO: Detail the
description of the WITCH.]

                    VIOLET (CONT.)
                (still calm, measured)
          Who is this?

                (borderline boastful)
          I am the one hired by the
          fools of Cross Anchor to take
          back this sector of the
          Plane.  I am a Witch of the
          highest caliber.

The Player has three conversation choices:

The mode works nicely and with no serious surprises.

Well—except for one.

The Problem With Key-Bindings

Screenwriter Mode binds four keys:

  1. M-a
  2. M-d
  3. M-s
  4. M-t

All four of these keys have a default, useful meaning in Emacs. For example, M-a is the command to move backwards one sentence, and M-t transposes two words. Personally I consider it a grevious error to rebind the keys, especially since they are useful in the context of editing screenplays.

I rewrote the bindings as follows:

(define-key screenwriter-mode-map (kbd "C-c C-s") 'screenwriter-slugline)
(define-key screenwriter-mode-map (kbd "C-c C-a") 'screenwriter-action-block)
(define-key screenwriter-mode-map (kbd "C-c C-d") 'screenwriter-dialog-block)
(define-key screenwriter-mode-map (kbd "C-c C-t") 'screenwriter-transition)

I strongly recommend doing something similar. And fellow mode authors out there: do not rebind fundamental keys like this. Use keys begining with the C-c prefix instead (in my opinion).


As is often the case, EmacsWiki helps a lot if you do not find Screenwriter Mode to your liking. I used the fork of Screenwrite Mode first and was happy with the results. Therefore I cannot speak to the pros and cons of the other options. But if you are unhappy with Screenwrite Mode then you have other choices at your disposal, a common occurrence that I love about Emacs: the plethora of package choices.

That’s it for my blub. Again, my apologies for the lack of posts these weeks. My plan is to return to my previous schedule of more frequent posts in the very near future.


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