How to write a script treatment by Michal Aviram - screenwriter - Israël
Mis à jour : 28 août 2019
WHAT is a script treatment?
A script treatment tells the events of your film/episode, in the order they will appear on screen. Roughly, each paragraph should represent a scene.
Make sure to include these 3 key elements, It’s easy to remember them as THE 3 C’s:
1. Character Objective.
Character Objective – “What does the character want”.
Conflict – “Why can’t the character GET it?”
What is keeping our character from getting what she wants or need? Is there another character at play here that doesn’t want our character to get her way? That is conflict, and without it, there is no scene, no drama, no story.
Change – “How did our character do? Succeed or failed?”
What is the outcome of the scene, that will lead to what has to happen next? The answer to that question will be found in the next scene…
Try not to write any dialog. You’ll want to but fight that urge.
So, we know what a treatment is (not scary at all, is it?) but –
WHY do we need it?
We need a treatment for 2 main reasons:
1. It will save time while writing the episode.
2. It will expose failures in our plot and character motivation.
If the treatment is boring so will be the episode, and no dialogue, no matter how funny or brilliant won’t save it.
That’s why you have to try NOT TO write dialog while working on your treatment. The dialog will only hide the cracks in the scrip the treatment is designed to expose.
Now that we covered the WHAT as well as the WHY, let’s go to the HOW.
How to write an episode treatment that works?
We can break this down to 3 steps.
STEP ONE – main building blocks.
In every episode, film, and story, you will find:
- Inciting incident
- 1st turning point
- 2nd turning point
- Climax – (Resolution or Complication)
In a TV episode, one of the plots may find a resolution, but the main plot will usually not.
The episode’s Inciting incident – what happened that the protagonist can not ignore and has to act?
In CSI, it would be a new case.
SUPERNATURAL might start with the new and urgent danger that threatens the world.
In GIRLS we saw Hannah going to interview a writer. This Inciting incident is the starting point to one of that most talked about episode of the year.
Chose a script of a show you know and love. Read it and find the episode building blocks:
Inciting incident, 1st turning point, Mid-point, 2nd turning point, Climax – (Resolution or Complication) If you have a question please feel free to ask
Learn from screenplays you love.
Photo by J. Kelly Brito
STEP TWO – write down every scene in a few short lines.
Make sure to keep asking you’re self – What does your character wants and what keeps him from getting it.
You should have something like this:
1. Donna gets extra work at the office, at 2 in the morning she sneaks out to get a shower and change of clothes.
2. Inciting incident- Donna is in her apartment and surprises a guy who broke in. She is trying to escape, but he won’t let her.
3. At the office – Donna’s colleague is trying to steal her project since she is not there.
4. Continue to do this all the way to the very last scene of your episode….
Keep in mind:
- You will rewrite it many times, don’t obsess. The first draft of a treatment is a huge win. Write!
- Remember the 3 C’s: Character Objective, Conflict, Change.
- Some shows have 2-3 lines of the story in an episode (AKA plot A, B, C) some don’t. (Orange is the new black, will have 2-3 lines of the story, as most sit-coms. Law & Order will usually have one). Think what is the right structure for your show.
STEP Three – The fun part!
Now it’s the time to put in some magic. To bring your unique tone and voice to the work.
For Example – If on step 2 it looks something like:
Donna gets extra work at the office, at 2 in the morning she sneaks out to get a shower and change of clothes.
On Step 3 you elaborate it to something like that:
Donna sits at her cubical. The whole floor is empty and dark but a small light coming from a cubical near the window. Donna is looking at a massive pile of papers in front of her, holding a red pen. She’s tired and has a tone of work to finish… She looks tired, her hair is a mess, a stain on her blouse. She’s had it, she stands up and walks to the cubical. When she gets there, she gets a cold look from Gene who is there in front of a pile of paper just as big. Gene tells her immediately not to go anywhere if they don’t finish it by morning their boss will kill them. Donna asks Gene if she wants coffee. Gene declines, and not kindly, and adds – be quick about it. Donna nods casually and walks down the hall. The second she’s out on Gene’s sight she sprints out to the street.
The 3 C’s are on this scene are:
Character Objective –Donna wants to go home and freshen up.
Conflict – Donna wants to go, Gene wants her to stay.
Change – Donna lies and leaves.
That’s it! Keep working this process, scene by scene.
That’s how you write a treatment. When you have the whole episode/film laid out move on to the next part -write the scene, including dialogue. FUN!
Let’s recap the 3 steps of building a treatment:
Step 1 – Get the episode’s main building blocks in place.
Step 2 – Write down every scene in a few short lines. Now you have a page or two that tells the story.
Step 3 – Elaborate on every scene. Bring your unique tone and voice to the show.
Remember – it is not a formula, you should do what’s right for you and your scripts. But keep in mind, these are principles that work, so try to use them. If you have a different technique to write a treatment that works please tell me about it!
Good luck and try to enjoy the process!