Tips for Writing a Killer Treatment

Who likes hearing a good story?  Everyone right? Well I would assume everyone because, despite economic hardships, so many people flood the movie theatres to see a good story play out.

That’s basically what a treatment is, a good story in a written format.  The difference is that a treatment is much more abbreviated, usually 1-20 pages long.  It’s written in your own writing style and has the typical elements of a story, of which I outline below.  You can read more about storytelling here.

I do want to point out that this is not only something reserved for Hollywood films, or even just fictional stories.   Any good outdoor adventure documentary also began with a treatment being handed to a producer or someone who might be interested in helping fund the movie.  At any rate, here we go:

Firstly, I would start out with an outlined summary of the story.  Included in this would be a concise, paragraph plot summary, descriptions of your character(s); which can be actual people, a social issue or a community, and then the climax and resolution.  For me, this simply helps organize my thoughts and visualize the whole story.

Secondly, think about your audience.  Who will you be handing the treatment to?  Like I said above, probably this is a producer, a movie executive, or just some millionaire you know who likes your style; we’ve all got one of these in our back pocket.

Thirdly, research more deeply the structural components of a treatment.  But in short you need your name and contact info, a logline (explained further below), character summary and then the classic three acts; set-up, conflict and resolution.

Fourthly, write up your first draft using the present tense and in the third person with no dialogue, just description of what happens in the three main acts.  Revise as many times as necessary to keep the original story interesting and intriguing.

Fifthly, take time away from your treatment for a fresh returning perspective.  Come back and read the treatment out loud. Would people around a campfire enjoy hearing this tale?  Anything awkward or boring when it’s heard audibly? Either way, revise it again and again. Get rid of any unnecessary words and descriptions. Remember, it needs to be brief.

Lastly, hand it over to your associate the millionaire who can help you get your outdoor adventure film made and on the big screen!

Here are some quick snippets about the specifics on the content of a treatment:

Logline – Essentially this is a one-liner; one sentence to describe your story.  Yes, just one.  It normally and ideally contains the protagonist, what the conflict is, and at least hints at what the beginning, middle and end will be.  Obviously depending on the genre, you’d want to include bits of comedy, drama, etc.  The main purpose is to HOOK them! Hook, line and sinker!  This principle is extremely important to your pitch, which is also a necessity, and essentially the treatment is an exhausted pitch.

Who, What, Where, When, How – These should be included and flushed out in your treatment.  These are all seen within the narrative arc.

Narrative Arc – This is the story of your protagonist, and again, your protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be a person or persons.  You have to establish the protagonist and his/her/its goal to accomplish.  How will it be achieved?  Then the conflict comes, “Oh no! Obstacles!”  Then the climax, you know what this means.  And finally the resolution, which is how the conflict/obstacles are overcome.  See more about this in my other article The Arc and Art of Storytelling.

If you’ve never written a story before but have yet to tackle a treatment, you may want to do further research into the topic and then just write, write, write until you have something you know everyone will flood the theaters to see!

Here’s a little ditty from Nina Rosenblum on treatments