Views From Your Muse

On treatments, agents, dialogue, and retreats


Synopsis, Treatment, Outline—What are the differences?

I've been asked this question by several people. One asked for a "concise answer." Well, here you go.

The terms synopsis and treatment are often used synonymously. Both are written summaries. However, often the term treatment is used to refer to a story summary used as a marketing tool (regardless of length), while the term synopsis might refer to an informational document, such as the synopsis that's included with a coverage. Both are written in present tense, but the treatment will be much more interesting to read because it is written to sell.

On rare occasion, someone might use the term outline when they mean treatment. Don't confuse an outline used in this sense with the more detailed scene-by-scene step outline. Generally, an outline of any kind refers to a list of scenes.

How long should a synopsis and treatment be?

A synopsis is usually a 1-3 page summary of the story. Depending on who is asking for it, it could be written to inform (as in a coverage) or to sell.

A treatment is usually about 3-7 pages when it is used to sell your project; that is, when it is used to interest people in asking for your screenplay. However, some selling treatments can be as long as 10-14 pages. My rule-of-thumb is to use as few pages as necessary to sell the material since Hollywood types don't like to read more than they have to.

In a development deal (where a producer hires you to write a script from scratch), you might be asked to write a 45-50 page treatment before writing the script. Keep in mind that a treatment can be as long or short as the producer or agent who requests it wants it to be.

For more on the subject, read the chapter entitled "Synopses, Treatments, and Outlines" in The Screenwriter's Bible.

"What's free?"

Visit my freebie page for a list of everything that is free. That includes a free copy of StorySorterTM.

Dialogue formatting tips

In dialogue, do not place any words in all-CAPS or italics. If you must emphasize a word or phrase of dialogue, underscore it. Also, never use more than one exclamation point at the end of a sentence, and use exclamation points sparingly. Your dialogue should not look like a want ad!!!!

If a character interrupts or is interrupted, use a dash to show that interruption. To show continuity of thought, use an ellipsis. Here's an example of an interruption followed by a continuation of thought:

                   What I want --

                   -- Don't tell me what you...

                   ... want?

See Me on TV

The accolades keep pouring in for The Freelance Writer's Bible. Noted author of writing books Sheila Bender reviewed it in Writing It Real. Read the review. And there are many more professional endorsements listed at the Freelance Bible page.

I was also interviewed by Connie Martinson, host of the longest running cable TV show devoted to books. If you have broadband capability, watch the interview.

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Agents and fees

I keep hearing stories of writers who are being scammed by unethical agents.

As a general rule, be wary of agents who ask for a reading fee, or who demand a few hundred dollars for a professionally written coverage, or who ask you to send your script or book manuscript to a particular consultant for an analysis or review.

When you get such a request contact the Writer's Guild of America (if a script) or the Society of Author's Representatives (if a book), and do things: 1) Report the incident, and 2) Ask if they have any information on that agent or agency.

Once you have done this, you'll be in a better position to evaluate your situation. Keep in mind that there are a few reputable book agents who might require a nominal fee to read your book manuscript.

Sundance Sold Out; More Retreats Coming

My September Sundance Retreat sold out in April with several people on a waiting list. Obviously, I need to do this again. As always, I try to respond to your needs, so feel free to provide feedback and requests.