If You Need to Write a Treatment, Use This Guide to Write One that Will Get You that Assignment!
Before The Script
For many writers, the desire to write the Great American Novel has been replaced by the desire to write the Great Hollywood Screenplay. Writing for the movies is already the subject of dozens, if not hundreds of books. You can search amazon.com for Linda Seger, William C. Martell, John Truby and scores of others whose books will take you from premise to finished script.
What many of them don't cover though, and something many new writers ask quite often, is how to write a treatment. Though the likelihood that you'd ever have to write one is rare, it does occasionally come up. Some years ago, I was a Hollywood Script Consultant. At times, writers asked if they could send me a treatment for evaluation of concept and structure. At other times, they were asked for a treatment from a producer, and were clueless as to how to proceed. They wanted to know if they had a story, characters, structure, etc. before they committed weeks/months and 120 pages to it. And I can tell a lot from a good treatment.
How You Can Write A Great Treatment
All the treatments I read are done the same way. Present tense; tell the story in a narrative with little or no dialogue. The number of pages varies so greatly that I couldn't offer a ballpark figure there.
The best treatments are those in which you eschew dry "this happens then that happens" and instead demonstrate your talent for weaving a good tale, still making it an enjoyable read. You tell a story that someone will enjoy reading, it's as simple as that. Make sure the basic ingredients are there, meaning the main and important secondary characters, the major beats of the story (structure is usually evident in them) and the major obstacles, reversals, barriers that affect those beats. Act Three and the climax have to be included. This is an account of what's involved in the story so it all has to be there.
It should also reflect the personalities of the characters, what they want and what they need. And it should show us your unique style, as well as can be done in the form of a treatment. Don't get fancy. You aren't writing a short story that needs to stand alone. Try to find a balance that works for the treatment form in the genre your script will be.
It needs to be free of typos and misspellings, and the grammar should be correct. Watch your punctuation. The usual things. You're judged on everything you submit, including presentation of the materials in a professional manner.
So, if you can do that in three pages, that's fine. If you need thirty pages, that's fine, too. On the other hand, if a producer asks for a treatment in five pages, do it in five. As I said, this is rare. They'd rather see if you can write the script itself and a treatment won't tell them that, but if they ask for a treatment, you can deliver it if you follow these guidelines and whatever the producer particularly requests.
And take the time to rewrite it, just as you do your screenplay, until it shines. It has to be a good read. Do whatever you have to do to make it just as much a page turner as your script will be. If a producer has asked for the treatment and it's a good read with all the right story elements, it could lead to an assignment and that Great Hollywood Screenplay might soon be a box office hit!