Finally. . .how to write a treatment. Just like any other type of writing, it’s entirely possible that someone may simply want to take a seat at their computer and begin. But as with a screenplay, a little preparation never hurts.4
That’s why some Writers may decide to start with note cards, beat sheets or even an outline before writing their treatment. In the same vein, these tools can provide a useful roadmap as a Writer creates their treatment and make the overall process an easier one.
Also, these tools can actually help Writers focus on the “bigger picture.” Unless the intent of the treatment is for the Writer’s eyes only as they eventually make the leap to their script, it doesn’t necessarily need to have every minor character and side plot explained.
As mentioned earlier, many times treatments are provided in lieu of a script so that the person on the receiving end can spend less time reading it. Therefore, having a concise list like a beat sheet or even a condensed outline can be a strength in making sure that the treatment sticks to only the major characters and significant story arcs within the three-act structure.
One disclaimer: Like a script, each new character who is introduced into the treatment should have their name capitalized at first mention. This lets the reader take note of their introduction and more easily track them in the story.
Otherwise, Writers should craft the treatment in conventional prose form as if they are writing a story. Writers should also include the (eventual) script title and logline, as well as their contact information.
Once finished, the next steps follow a similar trajectory to a script. Some Writers may choose to put the treatment away for a few days or weeks and come back to it with fresh eyes. Some may put it away for a while, make revisions and then send it out for feedback to a few trusted colleagues. There’s no one way to polish a treatment outside of recognizing that a first draft should never be the draft sent out for submission.
Screenwriter Steven Vivell emphasizes the importance of working and reworking a treatment, “You want the story you love the most. . ..This means exploring and eliminating lots of options. You might waste your time writing a script that doesn’t have enough to sustain the story and characters. Then you’ll go back to the drawing board anyway.
It’s better to do that preparatory work first and save yourself a lot of time and effort. Some Writers fear this because story plans or character biographies might feel technical and mundane, like writing an official report. But it’s an extremely creative and critical part of the process, and adopting a creative mindset for this may help.
It’s also fun, because you can dream up anything without committing to anything (yet). Also, none of this is permanently set in stone. The treatment can and will change once you start writing the script. You must be open to change during the writing process, as you’ll discover new things you like, and some things you planned won’t work out.”
When it comes to treatments, “always be prepared” is a handy motto to keep in mind. Because every Screenwriter wants to put out the strongest script possible, and knowing how to write a treatment can help them towards that goal.
At the end of the day, not only can a polished treatment support those efforts, but also—and perhaps more importantly—it can provide a Writer with confidence so that when opportunity knocks, they’ll be ready to open the door.