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?
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!