Screenwriting Tip #1: Write a Treatment

This is Screenwriting Tip #1 from my list of “50 Tips to Be a Better Screenwriter.”

A screenplay treatment is a comprehensive document that provides the following information about your feature-length screenplay:

  1. A Logline
  2. Character Bios
  3. Genre or themes present in your script
  4. A detailed “treatment” or outline of your script
  5. Additional notes (if necessary)

Separate from a visual “pitch book” or a television “bible,” the feature-length treatment is typically a ten-page document that thoroughly expands upon the above five points. The treatment is a helpful strategy for you to become familiar with, because:

  • Producers and/or directors might ask you for it…
  • It provides a road map for you to understand the flow of your story…
  • It helps you better understand who your characters are…
  • The treatment presents your work in a concise (yet detailed) manner, so that any potential investor could read it and understand exactly what you’ve created, but in a much shorter time than it takes to read the entire script…

Let’s break it down:

  1. The Logline: this is a sharp sentence or two that accurately paints the A -> Z flow of your story. Here are some examples that I found with a quick Google search: Click here. Run your own idea through this mode of narrative framing. Make sure that you’re providing a solid “beginning, middle, end” flow as well as (if possible) giving any brief insights into the protagonist and the conflict(s) that he or she will face in the story. I usually go through five to ten drafts of any particular logline before I feel it’s gotten to a satisfactory place. This, of course, varies by project.
  2. Character Bios: these are important, because if you don’t know your characters, or know what purpose they serve in your story, you’ll wind up with flat characters, aimless, and boring on the page. If possible, nail down who your major players are in advance and they might start talking to you (which is what you’re aiming for). The more you can inhabit their imaginary spirit, the more powerful their interactions and purpose in your story will become. Sketch out their pasts, their presents, their desires, their needs, their secrets, etc. Know them from the inside. Study them like you would study your own mind.
  3. Genre and/or themes in your story: Are you presenting a horror story? Thriller? Action? Be clear. Does your script work with mother/daughter relations, father/son, grandparents, love, fear, loss, grief, etc.? Let the themes, tones, and moods come to the forefront. The more you understand what kind of story you are telling, the better you’ll be able to nail exactly what needs to be nailed.
  4. A detailed outline: This is the meat of your treatment. It actually is your treatment. I like to provide possible page numbers so I know where my emotional or action beats fall. I also like to be able to structure out my story so that I can completely understand my page goals. You might be different. You might want to tackle it more like a prosaic experiment. Maybe you write three pages on the first twenty, another three on Act 2, and then three more pages about what happens during the climax. No matter how you do this, make sure that someone who doesn’t know your story, can sit down, read this outline and completely make sense of how the script would read. Include powerful scenes, dialogue excerpts, etc. Give them the flow. That’s the goal.
  5. Additional notes: these might come at the producer’s request, or you just might want to include a few points or related links, etc., but don’t let this be the focus of the treatment. The main focus of the treatment is the treatment itself.

Your Mission:

Do you have a script that you’re mulling over, but haven’t pinpointed its major directional flow? Take a step back, spend a few hours writing the treatment, and then spend a few days doubling-down on that treatment. Make it exactly ten pages long. That’s your goal. I bet that the more you work on it, the better your story will be. Or, at least you’ll be able to see all the possible pitfalls and dead-ends that might haunt the actual writing of the story.

But the most important reason this is helpful is that it allows your imagination to actually journey through the entire story. Once properly undertaken you’ll be able to hammer out a coherent first draft in less time than it normally would have taken you. And, my friend, that’s a fantastic achievement.

Keep up the great work. You’re growing as a writer and that’s a major plus. You’re doing your best. Don’t give up!

If you are interested in receiving professional coverage from your screenplay, check out my screenplay consultant service. Thank you.

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