Four Reasons to Write a Treatment 3 comments

Clockwork at the Liverpool World Museum

Why would you take the time to write a detailed story summary like a treatment rather than jump into writing the main work? Especially if you’re not getting paid by someone else to write a treatment? Isn’t writing a treatment a waste of time?

Maybe not…

The beauty of treatments is that they function like a prototype of your main project: a treatment is a small-scale version of your story that is much easier to stress-test and troubleshoot than the full version.

Four Reasons to Write a Treatment

1. A Treatment is a Proof of Concept

Your story works at the treatment level or it doesn’t. But if your story doesn’t work, that’s often easier to see when you’ve committed the story to the page than when it’s a limitless mass of potential in your head.

2. Treatments Make Diagnostics and Fixes Easier

If you have a problem in Act 2, that problem shows up on page 3 or maybe page 10 or your treatment, not page 55 of your screenplay or page 150 of your novel. It’s less intimidating to make radical changes in a smaller document and more efficient–you haven’t wasted time on pages and hours of work that will now be discarded. Starting with a treatment effectively lets you “skip a draft”.

3. Treatments Make First Drafts More Efficient

My personal experience of working with treatments is that once I have worked out the story problems at the treatment level and I sit down to write, the full version of the story flows because I’m no longer working out the story at a conceptual level, I’m just doing the work of getting the story onto the page. I write first drafts incredibly quickly as a result.

4. Treatments are an Important Skill to Master (for Screenwriters)

If you advance in your career as a screenwriter, you will probably wind up needing to write treatments well on tight deadlines. It makes sense to learn how to write treatments before you need to write them like a pro!

Given that there’s so many potential benefits to writing a treatment as part of your prep process, committing to learning how to write treatments outside of a pressure situation is a way to make your writing process more effective and efficient, and at the same time to acquire a skill that may help advance your (screenwriting) career as well. In other words, learning to write treatments is an investment in your writing skills and separately in your (screen)writing career.

If you’re looking for a new challenge this year to help you grow as a writer (of any kind of long fiction, not just screenwriting), writing your first treatment is a great project.

This article is the second installment in a series on writing treatments. Previously: What is a Treatment? Coming up next week: How Screenwriter Brad Wilke Writes Treatments. If you don’t want to miss an installment, sign up for our newsletter!

Photo credit: SomeDriftwood, under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

3 thoughts on “Four Reasons to Write a Treatment

  • Mark Walker

    Great subject!

    Part of me hates writing treatments. When I have an idea I just want to get into the writing – anything that stops me firing up Final Draft and typing “FADE IN” is a frustration.

    However, not as frustrating as hitting page 20 and not knowing where I am going. Oh, I always know where I am going in a broad sense, but I find the detail starts to escape me if I don’t plan properly. I’m very good at coming up with an opening and an ending, but ACT2 often meanders and, if I don’t have a plan, will end up as the weakest part of the screenplay, when it is the bit that should be holding the whole thing together. There is no point having a killer first act and then boring the audience for 50 minutes because your second act lacks direction!

    I have found that a treatment – whether 4 or 40 pages (I’ve written treatments between 10 and 70 pages in the past) stops those problem (to an extent) and allows me to write more fluidly when I start writing proper. When I look at the long game, I can probably get to the end of the first draft faster with a treatment than if I let my exuberance get the better of me and start pounding out words without one.

    So, the thought of writing a treatment when I want to get into the nitty-gritty of writing a script may annoy me and frustrate me, but I also know that it will benefit me greatly if I plan my story more thoroughly at the start. I’ve tried both ways and, every time, working with a treatment wins…. hands down.

    I know Shaula will be the first to say, “there is no ‘one way'” to write – and I am firmly wedged in that camp with you Ms E – but, if you have never tried writing a treatment, or have dabbled, but never really given it a proper go, I would say try it. You might like it. It won’t work for everyone, but it would be interesting to hear from people trying it for the first time to see how it compares (for them) to writing without that blue print.

    All in my humble opinion of course!

    • Shaula Evans Post author

      I agree, Mark. Writing treatments won’t work for all writers but if you write anything longform, it’s worth giving a committed try, and if you’re serious about screenwriting, it’s a good skill to master.

      • Will Hare

        I really try to do it, but, up to this point, I’ve kinda pushed it aside and started writing. I do know that I have to practice treatments if I ever want to sell my pitches, but I hate homework, so…

        {Will hangs his head, resigned to the fact that he has to actually work at screenwriting in order to succeed}

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