Marilyn Horowitz, U.S based script doctor gives advice on writing treatments.
Learning to write a treatment allows a screenwriter to test and communicate their screenplay idea in a brief and compelling way. It also can be a powerful diagnostic and creative tool to iron out story problems before you write the script.
WRITING A TREATMENT
There is controversy about the length a treatment can be. Some say up to 60 pages, but the point of the treatment is to communicate your story as quickly as possible.
There seem to be three opinions about what a treatment is.
One opinion is that it is a one page written pitch. I’ve heard this called an “extended synopsis”. This can really only cover the three acts turning points and overall character, theme and plot points.
The second is that it is a two to five page document that tells the whole story focusing on the highlights. This is probably the better selling document because it reveals how the story might be executed.
The third opinion is that a treatment is a lengthy document that is a scene by scene breakdown of a script. They usually come in at 10-20 pages. This is really an outline more for the writer’s benefit rather than a selling tool.
Treatments should read like a short story and be written in the present tense. It should present the entire story including the ending, and use some key scenes and dialogue from the screenplay it is based on.
WHAT SHOULD A TREATMENT INCLUDE?
1. A working title
2. The writer’s name and contact information
3. WGA Registration number
4. A short logline (1-3 sentences)
5. Introduction to key characters and their dramatic roles.
6. Who, what, when, why and where.
7. Act 1 in one to three paragraphs. Set the scene, dramatize the main conflicts.
8. Act 2 in two to six paragraphs. Should dramatize how the conflicts introduced in Act 1 lead to a crisis.
9. Act 3 in one to three paragraphs. Dramatize the final conflict and resolution.