By: Laura Huie
So, you have an idea for a script and you can’t wait to write it—but how do you make a start?
One of the best things you can do to develop your thoughts is to write a treatment. Writing a treatment will provide you with a way to capture and develop your story idea. Think about that moment when your inspiration first hit you and your story lay before you like a path waiting to be trod. Well, at its heart, that is what a treatment is all about. In around 10 pages you can tell your story in prose – no dialogue required. By breaking down what happens, and who is involved, your treatment can become a great working document for the development of the first draft of your screenplay.
Besides planning your story before writing the script, a treatment can also be a fundamental aid to pitching and communicating your story with the many creative collaborators who will be involved in bringing it to life. A treatment can serve as a starting point to entice executives and producers into reading, developing, or purchasing your idea. You can also use a treatment to get a feel of whether or not your concept has the potential to become a fully-fledged screenplay.
Treatments are powerful tools in the screenwriting world; they can enable different stakeholders to come together around your story idea—from financing to lighting, costume department to marketing.
Having a treatment is a great way to kickstart your story.
But what exactly is a treatment? There are many examples of treatments out there, and they can vary in length, content, and formatting. Fundamentally, it’s an organized summary of a film or television show. Your logline, character descriptions, general synopsis, and themes are outlined in this document.
Read on to learn how to write an effective treatment step-by-step and how it can help your story development.
What Is A Treatment?
A treatment captures important plot points and overarching elements of your stories. In regards to length, it can vary as mentioned previously. For beginners, it’s preferable to stick to 2-5 pages; although, for some, the document can be as long as 10-15 pages total. But as always, writing for film/TV is best kept pithy and concise.
Treatments are an essential part of the development process. Ideally, they’d be no more than 4-5 pages because it can be challenging to see the forest from the trees if a treatment is too long. So short treatments are a great development tool, and it’s only after I’ve written a few drafts of a 4-5 page treatment that I will then go script stage, or ask the writers I work with to go to script stage. In between writing drafts I always return to the 4-5 page treatment and make any necessary changes to get a better overview of how the story is developing. – Stéphanie Joalland, Director.
Additionally, you should approach writing the synopsis of your story for a treatment as prose in the present tense. There is no dialogue or long descriptions. Instead, it is a play-by-play of what happens in your script. You should still include the twists and turns of the plot and maintain your unique sense of voice but don’t get bogged down in too many details.
Primarily, the characters and the plot should be front and center. What is the main story arc being portrayed and who is driving it? Minimize subplots and minor characters as much as possible. Only the bare elements are necessary here.
When I’m making a film, I always ask myself, “How would I tell this story to some friends in a crowded bar?” In other words: “What is the compelling core thread which would hold their attention?” You can also think of this in terms of storytelling around the campfire: how can you tell your story so that no one will get up and go for a pee in the bushes? How do you keep your audience held captive? Writing a treatment can be a great way to distill this core story. Sometimes I record the audio as I tell friends my new film idea—then I transcribe that audio to create the first draft of my treatment. Once it’s refined, I should have something that is both a concise pitch for my film and also a solid guide for myself when it comes time to write the script. If I just dramatize the story beats in my treatment, bringing each moment to life with truth and specificity and resisting the urge to add in extra “filler” (unless it makes the core story even stronger), it tends to turn into a good script. – Sam Baron, Director.