How to write a treatment for a script

What makes a memorable treatment for a TV or film script? Students on our John Yorke Story: Story for Screenwriting course have been reading treatments as they start to write their own. Here are their tips on how to keep a treatment focused, confident and easy to read.

John Yorke
  • Use the present tense so the story feels immediate and engaging.
  • Choose good strong verbs to mimic the action in the story.
  • Think sparse and economical; no rhetorical frippery. Sentences do not need to be written out in full. You are witnessing an unfolding story and need to provide just the essential words to convey what you see happening before you.
  • Stay invisible as a narrator: pass no judgement on the story so as not to distract from it.
  • Keep right there with your protagonist, almost walking alongside them, like you are being led on a virtual tour through the story.
  • Write mostly action so the structure is clear. Dialogue is less important at this stage, though some bits can subtly set the emotional tone you want to convey.
  • Keep backstory to a minimum ­– it impedes the forward momentum of the present story.
  • Bring the tone of the script to bear. Alien II, for example, is tense, frightening and set in an unknown landscape, and the treatment clearly evokes all these things.
  • Reflect the pace of the film – gloss over the less important parts so you can give the really important parts more detail and time.
  • Make stage directions/setting descriptions minimal – they should give a sense of the setting without boxing things in. There should be freedom to play with this in the direction/production.
  • Stay neutral – write as though you’re witnessing the story through fresh and amazed eyes. Your readers will have no prior experience or knowledge of your story world, or where it’s going to take them.
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Meet your Course Director

John Yorke

John Yorke is a drama producer, author and teacher who has spent 30 years studying how stories work and why we tell them.

His long career in TV drama has given him the tools to identify the underlying shape common to all successful narratives — from drama to corporate reports.

As former Head of Channel Four Drama, Controller of BBC Drama Production and MD of Company Pictures, John has shaped stories that have attracted some of the biggest audiences for drama in UK TV history. He has overseen some of the UK’s most enduring and popular programmes, from Shameless and Life On Mars to EastEnders and Holby City, alongside award-winners like Bodies and the internationally acclaimed Wolf Hall.

His bestselling book on story, Into the Woods, is the basis for our John Yorke Story online training courses.

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