The differences between a treatment, synopsis and your TV Guide recap

I’ve never written a book so I can’t say what promotional tools you should have to help interest literary agents and/or publishers. However, what I have long found is needed for a playwright or screenwriter to have in his or her pocket after completing a final draft.

The thing is, when I first started sending out feelers to production companies for possible interest, the hardest part was knowing what each individual company would accept. Some will accept digital submissions of my manuscripts. Some would accept only printed manuscripts. Some just wanted my resume and a web site address.

Soon, I started getting asked for certain promotional items about my works which I didn’t quite understand. I started to hear words like TV Guide line, or recap, Treatment and Synopsis. Obviously I knew was a synopsis was but treatment and guide line I had no clue. And again, some companies wanted a treatment, some just a synopsis and my first two scenes, some just wanted a guide line and for me to wait until they request the manuscript. Nothing was uniform but some things were consistent. Part of those consistencies were the need for me to write a treatment, a synopsis and a guide line for each of my works if I intended to get them produced.

So in case you don’t know either, as I did once upon a time, let me break down the differences between these three promotional tools.

1. Treatment – This is basically a 20-40 page telling of your story with very little dialogue. It’s most commonly requested when you’re pitching a screenplay and it’s probably smart to copyright the treatment as well as our script. A lot of producers I hit up, if I wasn’t turned down immediately, had requested to see a treatment prior to me sending the manuscript. I didn’t run into this very much when promoting a screenplay. However, the next two for stageplays is a must have.

2. Synopsis – This is a one page telling of the basic plot points of your story and what it’s attempting to say or convey. It should let the reader know it’s themes and messages and mention the important of every line speaking character. In the instance of a screenplay, make sure you mention your principal and reflective characters. No need to mention walk on roles specifically unless they bring a huge plot point with them.

3. TV Guide Line, recap or log line – Now since I don’t know anyone who may still remember TV Guide, let me use DirecTV or Dish Network as an example. So you are combing through your satellite TV provider’s guide on your TV screen. You see a movie listed on TMC titled “Roman J Israel, Esq.” You’ve never heard of this movie so you hit the “Info” button on your remote. The screen then provides you a 2-3 sentence guide line of what the movie is about. That’s what people meant when they wanted my TV Guide Line.

So think of these promotional tools as sharing your story in 2-3 sentences (guide line), one page (synopsis) and 30 pages (treatment). And that’s the basic difference.

Believe it or not, I’m far better at whittling a description of my scripts down to 2-3 sentences than I am writing a 30 page treatment. The treatment takes up so much time for me trying to decide what all should go into it. However, a guide line is basically what you would tell someone at a cocktail party who asks, “What’s your new script about?” You only have a few seconds or minute of their time, so a quick recap of your work should be something that comes easily to tell them, and put on paper. The guide line is what you will use in your query letter to get a producer to request the next step of your pitch (the treatment or manuscript or sample pages).

So below is an example of my guide line for my stage play “Fat Farm” found on my “Stageplays” page.

Below is an example of my synopsis for the same play, found on its devoted page.

If I were to get a call from a producer who said “Hey I got your query letter,” (with my guide line. “I’d like you to tell me more but I only have a few minutes,” then the synopsis is what I would tell him.

The treatment I would even write unless someone requests it. But that’s just me. A lot of screenwriters use them as an important piece of their pitch so don’t disclose it. I just haven’t the need for it that much. Usually, from the synopsis, the producers I’ve come in contact with either weren’t interested or wanted the entire manuscript.

Usually the rejections came for silly reasons like I had more characters than what they were looking for, the run time was too long or too short, or the set requirements were too great for their available spaces, etc. What can you do? Some producers or companies are looking for specific material and you may not have a work that is a good fit for them.

On a side note, if you ever do get a response like that with a rejection for one of those reasons, always ask for a referral for a producer or company which may be a good fit for your work. A lot of times, someone who rejects you is willing to help you by letting you drop their name to someone else. And so I don’t forget, theatre producers are far more willing to help than those who solely produce motion picture or television, in my personal experience.

So hopefully, you get an idea of the differences between a treatment, a synopsis and a guide line. All are important and all should be written up and ready to present with as much care as the work itself, especially with you want to end up seeing your work on the stage or screen.

#treatment #synopsis #guideline #recap #logline #promotionaltools #itneverends #bennfarrellwriter

1 thought on “The differences between a treatment, synopsis and your TV Guide recap

  1. Pingback: Self publish your scripts: Free to you and many benefits | Benn Farrell, playwright/screenwriter

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