Writing Treatment that sells!

Treatment Writing skills, 3 Act Structure, Synopsis...

What is a Treatment?

There seem to be three accepted versions of a treatment. One version is a one-page written pitch. The second version is a three to five-page document that tells the whole story, focusing on the highlights. The third version is a lengthy document—some say up to 60 pages—providing an elaborate, scene-by scene breakdown of a script.

I consider this third version to be an outline, and, frankly, a waste of time as a marketing document, though it can be an important step in the creative process.

The point of a treatment is brevity without sacrificing juice. That’s why, in my experience, the two to five-page version works best, and an example is included later in this article.


How to Write a Treatment ?

This two to five-page document should read like a short story and be written in the present tense. It should present the entire story, including the ending, and contain some key scenes and dialogue from the screenplay it represents.

What Should be in the Treatment?

1. A working title.

2. The writer’s name and contact information.

3. Register your document and get a "Registration number".

4. A short logline.

5. Introduction to key characters.

6. Who, what, when, why, and where.

7. Act One in one to three paragraphs. Set the scene, dramatize the main Conflicts.

8. Act Two in two to six paragraphs. Dramatize how the Conflicts introduced in Act One lead to a crisis.

9. Act Three in one to three paragraphs. Dramatize the final Conflict and resolution.

The Three-Act Structure Any discussion of treatment writing should, at the very least, touch on basic screenplay structure. Although everyone reading this article is probably familiar with this concept, revisiting the basics can be helpful.

Aristotle suggested that all stories should have a beginning, middle and end. The writing method I have developed uses the terms Set-up, Conflict and Resolution as more evocative words for describing the movements of a screenplay.

Breaking the movements of a story in this way gives us a three-part, or three-act, structure.

The word “act” means “the action of carrying something out.” Many screenplays are organised into three act structure. The tradition of writing in this form comes from the theatre and was followed by filmmakers. Think of it as a foundation for building a house that others can easily identify, even if the details are new and original.

Act One, called the Set-up. The situation, characters and Conflict are introduced. This act classically is 30 minutes long.

Act Two, called the Conflict. Often an hour long, this is where the Conflict begins and expands until reaching a crisis.

Act Three, called the Resolution. The Conflict rises to one final crisis and then is resolved.


Writing the Treatment

There are several preliminary steps before actually writing.

Find a Title: Whether the screenwriter is creating a new story or writing a treatment based on an existing script, the first step is to make sure that the screenplay has a good title.

The first contact a prospective producer has with any script is with the title, so pick one that gives a clear idea of what genre the screenplay is written in. A good title can predispose a producer or reader to like a screenplay because it arouses curiosity and suggests the kind of experience that is in store.

Great, classic film titles include It Happened One Night, Psycho, and Die Hard. 

Of course, the title does not determine whether or not the screenplay is good, but it can be a great marketing tool. If you want a producer to read your script, pick a title that grabs people’s attention and matches your story. Write a Logline: The second step is to write a logline.

Preparing one for your screenplay is a basic marketing tool that I have repurposed for developing treatments. Similar to the summaries given in TV Guide, logline writing is a technique for boiling down a plot line to its essence. It’s not easy either—it has been described as trying to “vomit into a thimble.” Here’s the logline for the film: And Then Came Love is a character-driven romantic comedy about a high-powered Manhattan single mom who opens Pandora’s box when she seeks out the anonymous sperm-donor father of her young son. Write a Synopsis: The third step is to write a synopsis.

A synopsis is a brief summary of the plot. Begin by expanding your logline into a three-act story. I find that a good technique is to start with the ending. For example, let’s work with The Silence of the Lambs: In Act Three, Clarice Starling catches the killer and saves the intended victim. Next, break the story down into three acts and start at the beginning.


Now try the process for yourself.