We’re about to put out the first revision to Fountain since we launched it two years ago, and are calling for comment from users and developers.

When we were developing the plain text screenwriting syntax, we tried to balance normal uses and edge cases. Overall, I think we think we got Fountain mostly right. But Stu Maschwitz and I always expected that we’d evolve the specification as we learned more about how people use it on a daily basis.

The theme of the Fountain 1.1 update is “Use The Force.” It’s all about better control over “forcing” elements.

Most times in Fountain, you don’t need to force anything. It just understands what you want. But when you need to, you can force a Scene Heading with a leading period. You can force a Transition using a leading greater-than symbol.

For Fountain 1.1, we’re discussing adding two new forceable elements, and making a change to how Action is forced.

LYRICS

Highland has been testing a Lyrics variation on Dialogue for a while now, and it works. We think it’s time to make it official.

You create a Lyric by starting with a tilde ~.

~Willy Wonka! Willy Wonka! The amazing chocolatier!

~Willy Wonka! Willy Wonka! Everybody give a cheer!

The parser will remove the ~ and leave it up to the app to style the Lyric appropriately. For screenplays, lyrics are often handled like a dialogue element, but in italics.1 For stage musicals, it’s often uppercase and placed on the left margin.

Lyrics are always forced. There is no “automatic” way to get them.

CHARACTER

The ability to force a Character element will be helpful for names that require lower-case letters, and for non-Roman languages, where a character might be named something like 黒澤.

To force a Character element, precede a line with the “at” symbol: @

@McCLANE

Yippie ki-yay! I got my lower-case C back!

The parser will remove the @ and interpret McCLANE as Character, preserving its mixed case.

Speaking of lowercase, one other change is that Character Extensions, the parenthetical notations that are on the same line as a Character element, are no longer required to be uppercase:

HANS (on the radio)
What was it you said?

The parser interprets HANS (on the radio) as a Character element.

ACTION

Figuring out how to handle forced action required the most discussion.

Fountain interprets an uppercase line followed by a second line as a Character. Most of the time, that’s what you want:

MARY

Hi, Tom.

But sometimes you really want two lines of action, with no blank line between them. You’re going to for a style — but Fountain doesn’t know that. So instead you get:

BOOM

BOOM BOOM. Closer.

In Fountain 1.0, we allowed the user to force Action elements with two trailing spaces.

BOOM{two spaces}

BOOM BOOM. Closer.

This has turned out to be problematic in practice. The spaces are invisible, and can be introduced by accident as you write. Highland and Slugline users got confused. Hell, I got confused, and I co-created the syntax.

MARY{two spaces I didn’t realize were there}

Wait! Why isn’t my character name where it should be? Why isn’t my dialogue being handled like dialogue? Nima!

Furthermore, not all Fountain apps supported the spaces consistently.

In the end, we’d like more transparency and less invisibility. Using spaces to force Action should be deprecated.

In Fountain 1.1, we propose that users force Action by preceding a line with an exclamation point:

!BOOM
BOOM BOOM. Closer.

The parser removes the ! and interprets BOOM as Action.

BOOM  

BOOM BOOM. Closer.

Since forcing action is rare, and the other changes are purely additive (and evident to the naked eye), we don’t anticipate huge issues for most users.

Unless we hear a hue and cry about these changes, we anticipate making them official next week. Apps can start supporting this syntax shortly thereafter.

But we’re not stopping there. Upcoming goals for Fountain include:

  1. Better consistency among apps when parsing Fountain. We keep finding edge cases, and want to make sure they are handled the same way regardless of which app you’re using.
  2. New syntax for marking changes or highlighting elements in finished documents.
  3. Continued development of screenplay-like formats, including three-camera and stageplays.

If you have notes or suggestions, I’d invite you to join the discussion on the Take Fountain Glassboard. Registration is free and open to everyone.

  1. Courier Prime italics are especially nice for lyrics.