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Crafting your screenplay treatment

screenplay treatmentConcept

The concept is a very brief outline of the basic elements involved in your story. It describes the dramatic engine that will drive the story in no more than a few sentences. Who is in this film (protagonist)? What do they want, what gets in the way, and what do they do (goal + conflict = actions)? And where does it all take place (location)? Once you have determined the basic, but specific, elements of your story, and understand how they work together, you are ready to write a treatment.


The treatment is a prose description of the plot, written in present tense, as the film will unfold for the audience, scene by scene. A treatment is a story draft where the writer can hammer out the basic actions and plot structure of the story before going into the complexities of realizing fully developed scenes with dialogue, precise actions, and setting descriptions. The treatment is the equivalent of a painter’s sketch that can be worked and reworked before committing to the actual painting. It’s much easier to cut, add, and rearrange scenes in this form, than in a fully detailed screenplay.

Generally, a treatment involves writing one paragraph for each major dramatic event, also called a narrative beat. A narrative beat is a dramatic event in which the action, decisions, or revelations of that moment move the plot forward either by intensifying it or by sending it in a new direction. In other words, a treatment sketches in the essential events. For a short film, a treatment might be one to three pages long. For very simple short films, you can simply write one sentence describing each scene or each narrative beat. This shorter version is called a step outline or a beat sheet.

Ask Yourself…

  • What is the story about?
  • What genre or type of story is it?
  • Why would audiences want to see the story?
  • What is it about the story that will attract an audience?
  • Who are the characters?
  • What does the main character want to achieve?
  • What does the main character do to achieve his goal? (the choices they make)
  • What are their obstacles?
  • What or who is standing in their way and why?
  • Will they achieve what they want? Will the ending be triumphant or not?
  • What do the characters learn by the end of the story?