What is a treatment? 19 comments


A typewriter holding a sheet of paper upon which are typed the words 'Once upon a time ...'

A treatment is a full exploration of a story in the form of a detailed story summary. It’s like a preliminary short story version of a longer work (such as a screenplay). A treatment tells the story of your script, scene by scene, plot point by plot point,  as a coherent story, but without dialogue (although some treatments may include key lines of dialogue). Ultimately, a treatment functions like a prototype or a proof of concept for your project.

A treatment is like a short story version of a longer work. Click To Tweet

Who Writes Treatments?

Treatments are a common feature of the screenwriting world but anyone tackling a long-form fiction project might consider writing one.

I haven’t come across novella/novel writers or playwrights who write treatments but I bet they’re out there. Do any of you write treatments as part of your prep for larger-scale writing projects?

A treatment functions like a proof of concept for your project. Click To Tweet

There are Two Kinds of Treatments

Remember, there are two kinds of treatments–the kind you write for someone else (such as for a sales pitch), and the kind you write for yourself as part of your writing process.

If you're a serious screenwriter, writing effective treatments is an important skill to master. Click To Tweet

Writing a Treatment for Someone Else

As far as writing treatments for someone else is concerned, there’s a growing trend towards writing treatments, or even multiple drafts of treatments, as part of the Hollywood script acquisition and development process. On the positive side, this means writers may be paid to write treatments. On the negative side, your unwritten script will be judged by a limited story summary format. If you’re a serious screenwriter, writing effective treatments is an important skill to master.

Writing a Treatment for Yourself

If you’re writing a treatment for yourself, you can write it any way you like.! You’ll hit a lot of conflicting advice about writing treatments, so do what serves the your writing process. Whether writing treatments is the norm in your field or not, you have the option to write one as part of your prep process.

Hands up: who here has experience writing treatments? Who hasn’t but would like to try it?

This article is the first installment in a series on writing treatments. Coming up next week: Why Write a Treatment. If you don’t want to miss an installment, sign up for our newsletter!


19 thoughts on “What is a treatment?

  • Rod Thompson

    Nice! I was reading the other day how a studio will email a few selected writers with a premise, ask for a treatment, and then they select the Writer based on that. So now, in addition to writing phenomenal specs, I’m exercise writing treatments for when the day comes.

    • Shaula Evans Post author

      I like the way you think, Rod. Writing treatments can be a powerful way to prep a project and it’s also smart to cultivate the skill before you need it.

  • Mayur Patel

    Along with polishing up my script, I am writing three treatments at the moment. The reason for this is that if execs are asking for what else I have done, then I can show them the treatments whist I’m working on the scripts.

    Normally what I do is write a draft story beats so I generally know how the story is going to go. Then I write a treatment as if I am writing for someone else. I don’t plan to sell a treatment, just to show what I’m working on. I save an extra copy of the treatment and with the story beats in mind, I break up each paragraph in the treatment and bullet point the major events in each paragraph. That’s how I set up my story before writing the script.

    • Shaula Evans Post author

      Hurray, Mayur! It’s lovely to see you here.

      > The reason for this is that if execs are asking for what else I have done, then I can show them the treatments whist I’m working on the scripts.

      Yes! This is a great point: treatments are a great way to build out your writing portfolio, especially when you’re starting out.

      > Normally what I do is…

      Aha, we’re kindred spirits. My approach is similar to yours.

  • Debbie Moon

    I used to hate writing treatments, but the more I do them – and for TV commissions, I have to – the more I appreciate how useful it is to break story before getting down to the actual writing…

    • Shaula Evans Post author

      Yes, when you’re starting out, it’s one of those “do this because it puts hair on your chest” sort of things, isn’t it? (Do mothers in the UK tell children eating their toast crusts will put hair on their chest? Mine in Canada did, to me as well as to my brother.)

      I was intimidated by treatments for a long time but when I found myself in a situation where I had to write one, I surprised myself by falling in love breaking the story before I do the “real” writing, too.

  • John Connor

    Thanks in advance for this whole series on Treatments, Shaula. I’ve never written one, and I know it’s a skill I’m going to have to acquire at some point if I’m serious about screenwriting, so hopefully these articles will turn out to be the kick in the pants that I need. ;-)

    • Shaula Evans Post author

      I hope they’re the kick in the pants that you need, too, John!

      I don’t ever think there’s only one way to write, but I find writing a treatment to be an incredibly productive stage in prep for me, and I suspect many writers would benefit from committing to writing at least one real treatment and seeing if it works for them.

  • Mark Walker

    I find they do help me with writing the script – if I have a blueprint of the story it is much easier to get the first draft out. But part of me doesn’t really like writing them. I don’t think I am lazy, I just want to get into the writing side of things quicker.

    Having said that, when I wrote a script without any planning (just, you know, to see if I could) I enjoyed the process, but the output was lacking in structure and length.

    So I think I need to find a balance between the two – not too much and not too little! I’ll have a go on my new script. I started planning it out this morning and paid for a full Scrivener license as well, so that’s something else to use it for!

  • Lydia Mulvey

    Treatments are like dental check-ups. Unpleasant but mostly necessary. I’ve only ever written one (for an agent) but I’m sure it wasn’t very good. I hope to get better at it this year and need to practise.

    Really looking forward to this series. I know I could use as much help as possible.

    • Shaula Evans Post author

      You have so many stories in different stages of development. If you found you way in to writing treatments smoothly and enjoyably, I suspect that whipping off a treatment so you have a stack of “evidence” of all your projects would ultimately pay off for you in some way. (At least that’s what my mostly-infallible crystal ball says.)

      Hmm. So in addition to being The Year of the Short, it looks like 2015 might also be The Year of the Treatment. Good!

      • Lydia Mulvey

        “You have so many stories in different stages of development. If you found you way in to writing treatments smoothly and enjoyably, I suspect that whipping off a treatment so you have a stack of “evidence” of all your projects would ultimately pay off for you in some way. (At least that’s what my mostly-infallible crystal ball says.)”

        Very good point. And something I’m going to seriously look at doing. Because it makes perfect sense.

  • Angel Mirou

    I was asked to write long treatments during the development of my first script, and I acquired the habit. I find it helps me figure out if the scenes really work without the crutch of dialogue. A bit of dialogue that reads well makes you get away with a scene out of focus, but in the long run you’ll get in trouble with the story… Better to wrestle with a 20 page document than a 150-page draft. (I know, I’ve been there).

    If I have to do extensive rewrites on a script I fall back to the treatment form for clarity. I find it enormously helpful. You can take liberties with the format and play with the mood and the nuances of the interactions, and that should help you when you finally write the draft…

    • Shaula Evans Post author

      > If I have to do extensive rewrites on a script I fall back to the treatment form for clarity

      Yes! A treatment can be an effective and efficient rewriting tool.

Comments are closed.