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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Writing a Treatment

More than one Rouge Waver contacted the Wave-inatrix and asked about the difference between a treatment and a synopsis.

The short answer is that in general a treatment is a proposal or blueprint for what you will be writing in script form. A synopsis is a summary of what is already done.

A treatment is when someone says hey, build me a new airplane - what would it look like? How fast would it go? Would it have drink holders? A synopsis is: the airplane is done - describe it to me because I'm going for a Sunday drive. One is an imagining of the story and the other is a description of what already exists.

Treatments can be used for a variety of reasons. They can be a great tool for the writer as the story is being "beat out" and imagined; my partner and I have a great five page treatment for an action-thriller which is relatively detailed. Other writers might have a 30 or 50 page treatment filled with details. James Cameron uses "scriptments" that can be upward of 134 pages.

Treatments can also be a tool to pitch an upcoming script you've begun to work on. You pitch your idea in a meeting and the executive says - do you have a treatment? Yes, you do. Though the script is not done yet, the treatment does give a detailed sketch of what the script will be like.

Treatments are longer and much more detailed than a synopsis. It is unusual for a new writer to be asked for a treatment since most newbies are querying or pitching a spec which is already complete. If you are asked for a treatment versus a synopsis, just get your synopsis out and add more prose-like detail; extend the whole thing by another page or two and call it done. A synopsis is significantly more likely to be requested.

The Wave-inatrix recommends that writers use treatments as a way of outlining and planning a new script idea not as a selling tool. The truth is, while a treatment can be time consuming, you should know your story well enough to write either a synopsis or a treatment if requested.

Bottom line:

Treatment: a lengthy, detailed, by act outline for your script-to-be.

Synopsis: a relatively brief yet entertaining summary of the script you have finished.

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potdoll said...

Hi, what about if you're asked to write a two page outline? How is this different from a synopsis?

Also "detailed sketch" confused me. I thought to sketch meant to leave the details out?

huge thanks and I'm loving your blog!

Julie Gray said...

the word "outline" in this instance is being substituted, for no good reason, for synopsis. Just adjust the synopsis to two pages and bob's your uncle. if you are confused about the "outline" word, ask the agent or producer how much detail they would like. this, I believe is simply a semantics issue.

oh you nasty nasty rouge waver for questioning the wave-inatrix's seeming contradictory use of "detailed sketch" :)

use common sense: a sketch is a drawing or something really unfunny on SNL; to sketch something out means to give a thumbnail. That thumbnail can be more or less detailed; depending on the recipient, the material and the importance/relevance of the moment being described.

JPS said...

...and then, of course, there's the infamous "beat sheet"...

potdoll said...

thanks for clearing that up for me!

and sorry, I didn't mean to be 'nasty nasty.' I am working on a ten page treatment and trying to guage the balance of details and sketches etc. It's HARD!!!

Still I've only done one draft and I expect I will need to do around five...

thanks again!
cheers! :)

Julie Gray said...

You are forgiven, Potdoll; the Wave-inatrix has a sense of humor and besides, I love my nasty Rouge Wavers. And your treatment sounds like the 7th circle of hell. Make me proud.