Last weekend, screenwriter Trevor Walsh attended another Euroscript workshop, this time about writing treatments. Here are his comments.
Last Saturday I attended the Europscript Exciting Treatments Workshop. The purpose of the day was to look in to treatment structure and ways of portraying the essence of the story in an exciting and emotive way, leaving the reader with the urge to read the script. One particular view of Charles Harris, which I found interesting was his philosophy that any writing problem can be solved using the GOATS principle. I will quickly break it down.
G is for Goals, the character needs a specific objective for the scene or sequence, for example his goal could be to leave the room to grab a coffee.
O is for Obstacle, the character should have an obstacle in his way, preventing him from leaving the room to grab a coffee. For example a locked door.
A is for Action, what action the character will take to exit the room. Will he try and pick the lock, will he call for help, will he kick the door in. His action will be born out of his character and can act as character exposition.
T is for Tactics, the options open to the character to achieve his goals despite his obstacles. As writers we have tactics for writing each and every scene, Charles recommends that we come up with three tactics for how we might treat the scene, the first may well be the best but who knows what magic may come out of exploring tactics.
S is for Stakes, what motivates our character to get out of the room. Why is it so important that he leaves at that moment rather than wait for rescue to arrive.
This is an interesting way of looking at it, not just for treatment writing but actually as we are in the process of writing. Definitely food for thought. But to be honest, overall I wasn't overly impressed with the workshop and didn't feel it was anywhere near as good as the comedy one I attended previously.
There's no doubt about it, writing treatments is a tricky business. I for one hate it, and most writers I know feel the same. Give me a script to do and I'm fine. Relish it in fact. But treatments are a whole different story. The biggest problem I think (and I am talking about mine as much as anything else) is that they are overally focused on plot. But reading a straight, 'this happens, then this happens, then this happens' document is probably nowhere near as exciting or satisfying as the actual story and script you are describing. A friend of mine actually has the opposite problem, in that her outlines and treatments are not plot cohesive enough but a full of energy, emotion and passion. We joked that if we could combine our brains we'd have the perfect treatment. So instead of embarking on what would surely be a dangerous operation, we wrote a few together and they are a marked improvement.
I think the important thing to remember is that not every plot point or script detail has to go into a treatment. (But always include the ending for my money - I know there are different opinions about this and some favour the cliffhanging end - but this is a risky choice.) As long as the story makes sense, you can leave some plot stuff out and put some emotion on the page. What does that mean? It means get across what the characters are feeling, how is the story impacting on them. Because this is why we will care about it.
It's tricky, but as a screenwriter treatments/outlines/synopsis are impossible to get away from. We all have to do them, and far more frequently than we'd like! So it's a shame Trevor didn't find this course so useful. And whilst there are plenty of script sources on the internet, sample treatments are few and far between. But they are worth seeking out and, as with anything in the writing lark - it gets easier and better the more you do it!