Treatments are essential both for developing and for marketing your scripts – and yet many good screenwriters fail to write good treatments.
It took me a long time to realise why.
I assumed for a long time that writing screenplays took different skills from writing treatments and that you could not be good at both.
I was half right.
Three Gears for Treatment Writing
It was, ironically, while researching hypnotherapy for a novel that I realised that writing treatments needs extra writing skills that can be learned like any other.
As a good screenwriter you learn to be very specific in your work, searching obsessively for the most vivid image, the most focused action to tell the story. But in a treatment this leads to a clogged and indigestible style that goes “and then… and then… and then…” All too often, the alternative is to become vague and waffly.
A good hypnotherapist (and a good novelist) can also be very specific, but also learns to shift smoothly from the specific to the general – from the detailed to the abstract – and back again, constantly changing perspective.
This is one of the skills demanded of you when you write a treatment. Like a driver shifting gears, you learn to shift easily and confidently from bottom to top and back again.
For instance, a screenwriter might write:
“Suddenly the car shudders to a halt.”
This is what I call “scene” mode – or first gear. And you must write scripts in scene mode. However, for a treatment you learn next to move up a gear, to become more generalised. For example, you might continue:
“For the next five hours the team fights hard to get the engine to work.”
Such a sentence would never work in a script, it’s too general, and yet is crucial for a treatment to flow. You might even go up to third gear, even more general, and write:
“No-one can survive a night in the desert.”
From here, you can shift back down step by step into scene mode for some more specifics and the loop continues. This is how good treatments – like good short stories and novels – avoid the curse of “and then, and then”.
Before I learned this, I was like a driver who never got out of first gear! Try it out.
And if you want to learn more come to my next Exciting Treatments workshop to learn more about this and other crucial treatment writing skills they don’t tell you in the screenwriting books.
Quotes from previous participants:
Brilliant! – LS
Very condensed. Full of good information and tips from an experienced tutor. Encouraging. – MS
I recommend it to anyone dealing with narrative. Very liberating and dynamic. – TJ
Charles Harris is an experienced award-winning writer-director for cinema and TV. He sold his first script for production in Hollywood and has since worked with top names in the industry from James Stewart to Spike Milligan. As script consultant, he has helped professional writers from Britain, Europe and USA, sat on BAFTA awards juries and lectured on MA courses at London University and London Film School. He is also a qualified trainer in NLP