Reader Question: What does a good treatment look like?

November 7th, 2009 by

Open forum question from Lalithra Fernando:

What do you think a good treatment looks like?

I posted something about the distinction between a treatment and an outline here, so that might be worth checking that out.

If your question is about what makes an effective treatment, that’s simple: Tell a whopping good story in 5, 10, 20, 30 or however many pages it takes.

If it’s literally about how a treatment should look, as in its appearance, I’m not sure how far you want to drill down on the subject. But I’d frame the discussion by saying that there is no definitive style-guide that I know of re treatments. Here are some different takes on the subject:

* If you go here, they suggest three possible approaches: Headers, Prose-Style, Combination. The latter is intriguing as they suggest dividing up the treatment into five “sub-categories”: concept, characterization, theme, tone, and story. As the article states, “This method is a popular choice for some as it allows you to add into your treatment what is unique about your approach, what people will find interesting, as well as telling the story.”

* If you go here, you can see how ITVS (Independent Television Service) advises producers to handle treatments to present to them for possible PBS programming. The format is TV, but the guidelines, I think, are relevant to a film treatment.

* This article gets more to the heart of where I think treatments can be of value: In the prep-writing phase of writing a screenplay. As the article’s author states, “When you are preparing to write a screenplay or even preparing to do a major rewrite, it is very helpful to create a blueprint or treatment of what you are going to write prior to actually writing or rewriting it. This is what a treatment is used for. It will help you layout the direction of the entire screenplay and work out some of the kinks before jumping into the whole thing.”

Finally there’s this: TV writer and novelist Lee Goldberg’s take on writing treatments. He ends his post with these sage words:

Don’t fixate on treatment format, because there isn’t one. Tell your story in the style that works best for you. Don’t worry about whether the character names are in capitals or not (it doesn’t matter). Concentrate on telling a strong story.

Lee has a great blog which I heartily recommend.

GITS readers, what say ye? How do you approach writing treatments?

5 thoughts on “Reader Question: What does a good treatment look like?

  1. Garrett says:

    I'm currently writing a treatment in preparation for writing a screenplay. I'm finishing it up today. It totals 36 pages.

    I cannot tell you the value in writing a treatment. It's a much more fluid form of storytelling than a screenplay or short story. There doesn't have to be much form. I wrote mine basically as a screenplay would be written, but without the formatting. The timing is exactly as it will be in the screenplay, the dialogue, everything. I think the best way to describe it is if you had a chance to sit down and tell your story as best you could with all the little details, this would be the transcript.

  2. itstartedwithawindmill says:

    I had a producer ask for a treatment after receiving the script. As a relatively new screenwriter, I had no clue what a "treatment" actually was. A trip to the Screenwriter's Bible got me through it. I've decided to do a treatment along with the writing of a script. I guess it could really help with editing and discussing the script.

  3. Lalithra Fernando says:

    Thanks again Scott. It's always very helpful.

    I've seen similar resources to what you've posted, but when a school asked me to write a 2 page treatment "following professional treatment guidelines," I wondered if there was anything more specific.

    I guess that's why it says guidelines haha.

  4. Laura Reyna says:

    I've never written a treatment. Never had any reason to.

    I don't use them in my writing process b/c I think using the "bullet point"/outline method works better. You don't have to worry about writing pretty sentences.

    I'm not a natural writer & worrying about constructing nice sentences in the story development phase would slow me down. I'd rather just focus on ideas & story.

    It might work better for people who come from a short story or novel writing background.

    Here are some more resources:

    Terry Rossio gives some pointers on treatments here:

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