How to Write a Treatment
In the world of writing, if you want to sell an idea for a story, whether you have written it yet or not, you write a treatment. A treatment is a summary of your story written with a marketing slant to sell your story to television, print, or film. In a treatment, you've got anywhere from one to ten pages to pitch your story, so concise writing is important.
Create an outline of your story, highlighting the most crucial elements. Introduce the main characters, plot, climax and conclusion. Do not leave out the ending, as the reader will need to know the entire story.
Write a your first draft of the treatment from this outline in first or third-person. Worry more about explaining the story at this point rather than word count or length. You can whittle it down later. However, do try to keep it at a manageable level.
Edit the first draft by removing any unnecessary sentences, flowery language, adjectives, adverbs, etc. If it isn't pertinent to the progress of explaining the story to the reader, remove it. The editor or producer is pressed for time, and are more likely to read shorter treatments than longer ones.
Set the treatment down for a day and then read it with fresh eyes. Again, remove any unnecessary flowery language, adjectives, adverbs and so on. Get to the meat of the story.
Research a market for your story using online resources or writer's magazines and books. Send them the treatment in a 9" x 12" manila envelope so as not to fold the treatment. Also include a cover letter and a self-addressed stamped envelope for the reply.
Register your treatment with the Writer's Guild of America. It costs $20 and will protect your story from being unlawfully copied or otherwise stolen.
- Whether you realize it or not, you verbally construct treatments regularly. Most of the time, when you describe a show or book to your friend, you're giving them a treatment. It's a summary with the juicy bits emphasized in order to sell them the piece.
- Treatment lengths vary depending on the medium, but a good rule of thumb is to aim between one to ten pages.
- Don't write a treatment for movies or television unless you're an established writer with credentials. Most producers only read treatments from writers who have sold something already.
- Don't leave the reader hanging with any unresolved conflicts. Don't tell the reader, "To find out the end, you'll have to see the finished product." They don't want to hear that. They want the whole story.
- Gimmicky treatments don't work. A producer or editor is looking at this with one thing in mind: Will it sell? They care most about the story, not how cute you can present the treatment.