Yesterday I spent the day at Euroscript‘s Exciting Treatments workshop run by Charles Harris. I can’t remember the last time I attended any kind of course to do with screenwriting. I have certainly never done a workshop.
I have to say I was a little intimidated, apprehensive. The idea of standing up in front of people and reading out loud fills me with a paralysing terror. I can not read out loud, and when I do, I stumble over words like an illiterate infant. Thankfully there was none of that. Instead we were workshopped through a series of writing exercises designed to help us write the best possible treatment of our story.
Some were specifically to do with writing treatments, others more generally to do with story. For me the most interesting section, the highlight of the day, was the time spent workshopping language patterns, and the different patterns used when writing screenplays and treatments.
Screenplay scene description is concrete, specific, should never contain anything that can’t be filmed. I know this, I have spent a long time teaching myself to write to this standard. The problem is this style of writing makes for a dull treatment. It basically ends up being a repetitive catalogue of events. I can see now that most of my treatments have fallen into this trap.
What I learned yesterday is that treatments need to move smoothly “between the different levels on the hierarchy of ideas from the abstract to the specific”. The key levels on this hierarchy are generalisation, sequencing, and scene description. Basically you move through the hierarchy to create a more interesting read.
The approach is nothing short of a revelation to me, and now I have been shown how it works, it seems completely obvious. I’ve read a lot of books on screenwriting, numerous online articles about treatments, and never seen this approach even hinted at.
So if you’re struggling with your story, writing flat treatments, this workshop is definitely worth a try.