“What’s this?” you ask, “I’ve never heard of a treatment before”. Well, in the simplest terms, it’s the entire story of a film (book versions of treatments are generally called “synopses”). It gives the characters, and the situations they find themselves in within the story.
Technically speaking, there are two types of treatment, the draft, which is typically longer (a lot longer at that), goes into great detail about the characters, most of which won’t be immediately seen on-screen, and generally isn’t seen by anyone except the writer, while the presentation treatment is traditionally shorter, describing the story in broad strokes and only telling that which is necessary to tell the story. “Why is that?” say you, well, simply put, producers HATE sitting at their desks reading page after page of treatments for hours on end – for one thing, they really don’t have the time. So writers give them the short version, the one that they can scan in five minutes and decide whether to pursue it or not in another minute on top (assuming the producer hasn’t chucked your idea into his shredder after reading your opening page, of course).
I said that this is my journey, so I’m going to tell you about my experience with treatments. It’s a simple, one-sentence story, and that story is that I didn’t until very recently do them.
Seriously. The first treatment I ever wrote was one called “The World Snowball Fight Championships”. I had my characters, I had my story, I had my three acts (more on that in another post), I even had my front ten (I will write a post on that at some point) in mind when I was writing it. It was written about the same time as I started this blog, actually, and it covered everything. I ended up using it in a screenwriting assignment in my first year – I had to analyse it and describe how I imagined it being filmed, or something like that, I don’t remember precisely. It got me a first in that assignment, and saved me having to re-sit the whole unit.
Of course, then I lost the thing when I got hit with technical difficulties, like my HDD dying on its backside at Christmas and then my laptop following the HDD a few months later. I haven’t even tried to rewrite that project, and I’m not even sure I want to. I’m not entirely sure why – the premise was a bit wacky, yes, but that’s what made it unique; no-one (as far as I know) has written a film revolving around a series of snowball fights, and it was grounded by the characters and the situation. Speaking purely from a writing perspective, there was nothing wrong with the thing, and I can still remember nearly everything that happened in it, but I’m reluctant to resurrect the project. For now, I’m perfectly willing to let it lie in peace, but I might nip by that grave with a shovel at some point in the future.
I didn’t write treatments for a while after that – I got caught up in other things like college and the ilk, didn’t really have time to write (and that’s another subject I’m going to discuss in a separate piece), but then I got my screenwriting assignment for my second year screenwriting unit, and found myself being forced to write a pair of treatments for potential projects.
Now, I realise that this is a long piece, so at this time I’m going to give you the single biggest piece of advice regarding writing now:
DO NOT RUSH YOUR WRITING.
I got complacent with this assignment and spent a lot of time writing one treatment, neglecting the other one to the point where I had to change my idea several times just to try and get something down for the second one. My second idea was OK, but because I rushed it just to make the deadline, it was by no stretch of the imagination as good as it could, and deserved, to be. When it comes to writing, any kind of writing, from essays to short fiction to novels and screenplays and poems, any kind of writing, you need to be willing to put the effort in to make them as good as they can be if you want anything out of it.
It’s a common thought that academic essays rushed out by students strung up on Red Bull five hours before the deadline are worse than one that was properly researched and developed over a period of weeks and months. As a student, there is little else that annoys me more than someone saying that they deserved a better grade on an essay because they stayed up all night and missed their favourite show to knock out that essay in one night.
A hint, to those that do this: You deserve what you’re given. If you’re given a fail grade, you deserve a fail, and you know why? Because you didn’t put the effort in. You thought that you could slap some heap of steaming monkey turd together and pass that off as an essay. You rushed it, and you got your due reward for it. If you want a better grade, put more time into the work – we live in an age never seen before, filled to the brim with technology. You have every opportunity to watch Desperate Housewives or X Factor or whatever, at a later date. It is non-essential to your way of life that you sit and watch another Muppet cry his or her eyes out on national TV for the umpteenth time.
Your future depends on your work at university, not on the latest allegedly fit fad fresh off the box. If you can’t put in the effort to get a good grade at university, you might as well stop writing now, because you won’t make it as a writer. I can categorically say that right now. You will fail. You can’t do things like that in the real world – you write half-hearted cack dreamt up at stupid o’clock in the morning while you’re in no fit state to think about writing, then you won’t get an agent, because the agents know that they can’t sell that rubbish, and if you can’t get an agent, then you won’t get a publisher. You just won’t.
The amount of publishers that take un-agented material can be counted on the fingers of one hand. And even if you do somehow get an agent, and a publisher, you won’t make money out of it. The inner workings of the writing industry (how many topics that I will post about later is that now?) mean that the writer makes very little money unless he or she is a JK Rowling or a Stephen King. They’re the ones getting the million pound advances. You, a little, let’s say early-twenties writer with no previous credits and no previous history, will be lucky to get five grand, and you’re probably looking at something like one or two thousand realistically.
Even after you get your agent, your publisher, and your advance, you can’t do another thing I see a lot at university: make excuses. You can’t go to your publisher and say “sorry I missed the deadline, I had a cold” or what have you, because then you’re right up the famous creek with no canoe, and by the time the publisher’s done with you (and they will be, because they’ll refuse to do any business with you in the future), you will be sans canoe as well, because they’ll demand the return of their advance, which, in all likelihood, will have been spent by the time the publishers want it back.
Now, to return to the original topic, I have no idea how well I’ve done with those treatments. I don’t have the grades back for my last semester yet, they’re not due for another week or three I think, but I do have my grades back for my first semester.
I have to say, I was surprised. Why? Well, again, I didn’t give each assignment (I had nine separate assignments due either on the Friday of the penultimate week of term, or the Monday after, which is a complete pain in the rear at the best of times, but at Christmas? Yeah), the attention they all deserved, or at least I personally feel that way.
Evidently my lecturers disagree, because I got straight 2:1s for that semester. Four units, all 2:1 quality. I don’t know how. Which, handily, leads me into my next thing you need to be a good writer:
You have no idea what a good bit of luck can do for a writer. Look at JK Rowling. She spent nearly all her time writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in cafes, absolutely penniless and looking after a young daughter. She finished the book, sent it out, and was on the verge of giving up a dream she’d had since the age of six when she found an agent. Then she nearly gave up again when a publisher was hard to come by, until Bloomsbury came in and took it. Cut to some four or five years later, the first of 8 films that together became a multi-billion dollar franchise was released, and before long, Rowling was one of the richest people on the planet.
That’s the sort of luck that comes round to one in a billion people, so don’t expect it to happen to you because it probably won’t, but never underestimate Lady Luck. Also, do you know what impresses the Lady most? The one thing that makes her want to help out a writer most of all? Those people that show that they deserve her help. The JK Rowlings, that never stopped believing that they could make it, the Stephen Kings, who took every rejection letter (which you will get a lot of) and stuck them on a spike to spur him on. The ones that are determined, the ones that show they care about their work.
Another tip about luck? Don’t question it. One of my journalism pieces should have failed thanks to me not meeting the criteria - I didn’t question it, I just accepted it, and I got a 2:1 for it. Take everything you can get, because you won’t get much given in this job.
But the one thing you cannot forget in anything you want in life, from writing to beyond? NEVER GIVE UP.
This post finished in a rather different place to where it began, but I hope you all take something from it anyway. Thanks for reading.