Guide: Writing a Synopsis, Outline and Treatment

outline

outline

Summarizing your story isn’t just necessary for your sales pitch, it’s also a very easy way to make sure that every scene you write relates to the story you want to tell. You will need to write a few different types of summaries for different purposes.

The synopsis

It is no less than one page and no more than five pages long. It should tell your complete story in prose from beginning to end. Writing a synopsis is essential if you’re writing a screenplay. Production companies will often ask to read that before they ask for the full work. Write the broad story rather than a detailed description of events. Reveal just enough to create interest in your script. Write it as if it’s a short story, in present tense prose. Writing it will also help you outline your story as you begin to write your screenplay.

Outline

Plot is a chain reaction of actions and reactions. Pick the six most important scenes for your outline, these are your guidelines for all scenes. Start with the ending of the story, the climactic scene so you are completely sure that everything else will build up to that properly. The next scene is your opening scene, which sets off the story with a problem or goal.  The other four scenes are the opening scene for Act II and Act III and the last scene of Act II and Act III.

Your 6 scenes:
  1. Opening scene Act I (closing = 1st turning point)
  2. Opening scene Act II
  3. Closing scene Act II (2nd turning point)
  4. Opening scene Act III
  5. Climax scene Act III
  6. Closing scene Act III
Step Outline

This describes step by step what happens in each scene in one or two sentences, following the order and action of each scene. This lines up the direction and sequence of the script as well as creates a blueprint for screen writing. Every scene included to the outline must relate to the spine of the story.

Treatment

Treatments usually consist of between 20 to 40 pages, doubled spaced and typewritten. It details step by step the narrative account of the story, in present tense prose and includes every scene of the full script. It is an expanded version of your outline and written in exciting prose. It includes all the action that would occur in the film. While writing the treatment, do not explain to your reader what is happening. Show them through external action and concrete verbs and action words (stay away from adjectives and adverbs). Show, do not tell. Remember that it should translate into a film, so write visually.