A screenwriter friend just emailed me to ask how she could get one of her scripts to look good on the Kindle. She had Googled and discovered I’d written about reading screenplays on the Kindle twice back in 2009. (I was an early Kindle adopter.)
Back in 2009, I found there to be a lot of potential for reading screenplays on the Kindle, but a lot of frustration.
Six years later, what’s changed?
Nothing. Kindles and screenplays are still a bad fit.
Attempting to get screenplays to look screenplay-like on Kindle is a fool’s errand, so let me actively dissuade you from trying. Down this path lies futility and despair.
It’s not the Kindle’s fault.
Kindles are designed for free-flowing text like books. They don’t know anything about how screenplays work, and they will fight you at every step. We know. We tried. That’s a large part of why we made Weekend Read.
If you’re starting with a PDF, the closest you can probably come on the Kindle is to run the script through Highland and save it as a Fountain file. That’s just plain text, so if you then import it into Kindle’s parser, you’ll get a rough approximation, with everything set on the left margin:
INT. HOUSE – DAY
Mary and Tom carry in groceries.
They oughta call it, “Whole Paychec—
— THWACK! Tom is impaled by a spear.
I write in Fountain, so this looks fine to me. But that’s not what my friend was looking for. She wanted something like a printed screenplay, and you’re just not going to get that on the Kindle.
But you can get closer. If you dig into the text file and carefully set tags for character names and transitions, you can have them centered or moved to the right margin. Or you can bail on the screenplay formatting. Dave Trottier has instructions you can follow to make something that looks more like a published stage play. It’s incredibly tedious, but it’s possible.
With a lot of work, you can make something that looks okay — but only okay. That’s the best you’re going to get, and it’s not worth the effort. So in 2015, I use my Kindle for books and my iOS devices for screenplays. Each is the right tool for the job.