It’s a perplexing question for authors, particularly newbies. Do you write an outline, or a treatment, before you begin writing your book? Or do you just sit down and start writing?
Outlines vs Treatments
Outlines are recommended for nonfiction books. They can be more precise. However, this blog is for fiction writers, so I’m going to talk about what is the best approach for us. And that is to write a treatment.
A treatment is a short summary of what your story will be about. The amount of detail you wish to include is entirely up to you. Some fiction authors may choose to write treatments summarizing each chapter. Others simply write a brief one or two paragraph description. It’s all a matter of personal preference. We’re creative writers, not technical writers, and the keyword is creative. For us, writing is an art and not a science.
My treatments tend to be short; no more than a page to a page and a half. My objective is how I will begin my story, and how I will end it. I used to fret over what to include in the middle. However, experience has taught me to keep it brief. The details will come after I begin writing. In other words, my treatment is my launching point.
What about the characters?
Some fiction writers write bios for their characters which is certainly okay. However, I don’t do it myself. My characters come to life rather quickly, and once that happens they have minds of their own. (Which may sound freaky to non writers, but trust me, every fiction writer experiences this.)
Some authors like to refer back to their treatments as they write, and that’s perfectly okay. I prefer to put my treatment aside once I begin my story. As your characters come to life you may want to go in a different direction than you originally planned. Other ideas may come to you as you delve deeper into your story. Again it’s okay. We’re creative writers. This is how creativity works.
Once my manuscript is complete I like to go back and look at my treatment. My books never end up as described in the original treatment. They always turn out better. It happens because I let my creativity flow as I write, and many new ideas will pop into my head as I go. My favorite example would be my first Marina Martindale novel, The Reunion.
One of my supporting characters, a young man named, Jeremy, was intended to be a rogue character. He would do his dirty deed and quickly exit the story. However, Jeremy was also Ian’s, the leading man’s, son. And as I got into the story, I quickly realized that Ian would never have a son like that. So, Jeremy went from rogue villain to a rival, competing with his father to win Gillian’s affections. This made for a completely unexpected twist in the story that resonated with me, and my readers.
As I’ve evolved as a writer, my treatments have also evolved. They’ve become less detailed and more generalized. However, as I’ve stated before, how you choose to write your treatment is entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong way to go about it.