Having read (literally) hundreds of drama treatments in a few short weeks over the summer, I began to realise what it is that makes a treatment really stand out from its rivals so without further ado, here’s Part One of my 15 Golden Rules For Writing a Killer Treatment – to help YOURS stand out from the crowd:
- Think about your show’s USP (Unique Selling Point). What makes it feel different to a dozen other shows, also vying for a commission and, possibly, set in the same world? What do you have to offer that’s different? It might be something about the tone, the characters, your approach to the world or even your star-casting but think about what it is that makes your project special and make sure that, whatever it is, it’s writ LARGE at the heart of your treatment.
- Size is important. Whatever anyone else may tell you, prose documents are a bit of a chore to read so keep your reader wanting more. Generally speaking, it’s good to err on the side of less is more however, if your project has a very complex plot, make sure all the essential information is present so the reader can make an informed decision.
- “…” Whilst we want treatments to invoke atmosphere and a sense of intrigue, they are not the places for an unresolved cliffhanger. Do not leave your reader guessing as to where you might be taking your story – the buyer needs to know you can pull that rabbit out of the story hat and not write yourself into a story corner. Get me? Cos nobody wants to see Baby in the corner. Show that you know how to plot AND that includes the ending.
- The treatment outline should reflect the series & not just the set up. Don’t spend pages and pages – and then yet more pages – on the set up with half a page devoted to the rest. Give me the kind of story balance I would expect in the script and all the information I need to understand the DNA of your series.
- Timing is everything. The flow of information in your treatment should be just that: a flow! Don’t tell me something on Page 2 that only makes sense if I skip several pages to read your crib notes on Page 5. Give enough information for the story to make sense as someone is reading it.
- Don’t just tell me about your characters, justify their existence. All too often writers create characters who are passive. Show the reader how yours will drive the story forwards and how their relationships with each other, and the setting they find themselves in, will create story/conflict/tension. It’s always handy to think about how your characters are different rather than the same – and how those differences might create drama or comedy (tension can be played both ways)
- Avoid clichéd short-hand. If I had a penny for every “beautiful and brilliant hacker/surgeon/lawyer etc etc” offered to me in the last year… Trust me, if I’ve read it once, I can assure you I’ve read it a thousand times. It reads as a bit of a laaazy “blind me with laptop science” way out of a character cul-de-sac. Don’t be that writer. Show me HOW they are brilliant. Is beautiful relevant really? Why so? Take my metaphorical spade and dig deeper.
Part Two of the 15 Golden Rules after a short break…