Here is my personal 10-step method for writing treatments. It’s never failed me, even on tight deadlines, and I hope it will serve you well, too.
- Start with a strong, well-tested concept. Research and prep it.
- Create a template (or refer to a previously-created template) that addresses any structural concerns specific to the form or genre. (E.g., this is a step I take when writing TV pilots which have particular structural expectations about teasers, act breaks, etc.) Save this template for future use.
- Write a broad, high-level outline of the story. Save this for reference.
- Fill in more detail to create a detailed step outline or beat-sheet, a more zoomed-in or granularized version of the basic outline. Save this for reference.
- Go through each scene or sequence in the detailed outline and make notes (as bullet-points) about what’s important to me to cover in each scene.
- When I’ve achieved a “critical mass” of detail, write the treatment in narrative form.
- Put the treatment in a drawer.
- Edit/rewrite (in all cases) and proofread (if the treatment is going to be shown to other people).
- Get notes on the treatment from trusted readers.
- Repeat steps 7, 8 and 9 until the treatment is good enough to send into the world and/or to use as the basis to write a longer work (depending on its purpose).
This “incremental” writing approach helps me because the smaller the immediate task, the easier it is to manage; and the more there is on the page, the easier it is to write. You would be correct if you guessed that the final stage after the treatment is finished is to just keep adding detail incrementally, in layers, until I’ve written the first draft of the script / pilot / story, etc.
If you try this approach to writing treatments, I’d love to hear how it works for you.
This article is the fifth installment in a series on writing treatments. The previous installment is HP Lovecraft on Writing Treatments. Coming up next week is Five Characteristics of an Effective Treatment. If you don’t want to miss an installment, sign up for our newsletter!