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?

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.