10 Steps to Write a Treatment 3 comments

Underwood 11 Typewriter

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.

  1. Start with a strong, well-tested concept. Research and prep it.
  2. 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.
  3. Write a broad, high-level outline of the story. Save this for reference.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. When I’ve achieved a “critical mass” of detail, write the treatment in narrative form.
  7. Put the treatment in a drawer.
  8. Edit/rewrite (in all cases) and proofread (if the treatment is going to be shown to other people).
  9. Get notes on the treatment from trusted readers.
  10. 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!

3 thoughts on “10 Steps to Write a Treatment

  • Mark Walker

    I sort of work in this way Shaula, although may not exactly the same as your 10 points. Where I differ is that some of the first stages (obviously not the research) are done “in my head” – my writing time is limited, so I do spend a lot of time mulling ideas around in my head while I sort out some of the broader structural “stuff” and think about scenes and sequences.

    I do jot some ideas down in my little black book if they are good and I don’t want to forget them – or pop them into Scrivener now!

    The first point at which I really put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) is writing the more detailed narrative for the treatment which can run from 5 to 50 pages depending on where I go with it!

    My current project is currently on the third iteration of the treatment as I have changed things, incorporated new ideas and worked towards that “critical mass” that you described – something akin to “saturation” as experienced in social research, where you get to the point that what you are adding to your work isn’t contributing anything further to its development.

    I suppose its a bit like kneading bread….or perhaps fractals? Remember them?

    Not quite there yet, but hoping to be soon, and then I can start stage 11 – writing the script!

    Thanks for sharing your process!

    • Shaula Evans Post author

      Left to my own devices, I’m often an “in my head” writer too, Mark, for similar reasons. I find that I make discoveries when I start getting stories onto the page (in notes or synopsis form, even before a first draft) that I never make while the stories are in my head. So I’m constantly nudging myself to move stories to the page earlier–it’s a counterintuitive move for me, but it seems to pay off.

  • Mark Walker

    I find it works very well, working in my head, until I forget to write something down. And it has happened a few times when I have come up with something “amazing” and then not written it down. Always have a pen and paper to hand!

    But your recommendation on Scrivener has helped me put “pen” to “paper” earlier in my latest story, and I can make my little notes all over the shop in that program, so it might help me find a happy medium!

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