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How to Make Indie Comics: Treatment and Beat Sheet

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Are you ready to turn your script into a comic book? The next step is creating a cohesive outline that can give publishers or potential teammates a broad picture of your vision. In the world of film, TV, or books, this document is known as a “treatment.” It’s a crucial tool for effectively pitching your story ideas to producers, publishers, or illustrators you want to work with. But what exactly is a treatment, and why is it so important? Let’s dive in and take a closer look.

A treatment is essentially a long-form written pitch for your story. It’s a short document that outlines the plot, main characters, and themes of your project. A treatment is usually a few pages long, and it can be written in any format, such as prose, bullet points, or a combination of both.

The purpose of a treatment is to give producers or publishers a clear idea of what your story is about and how it will be executed. It’s a way to convince them that your idea is worth investing in. Think of it as a teaser or a summary of your story that will grab their attention and make them want to know more.

When writing a treatment, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, make sure you have a strong hook that will grab the reader’s attention right away. This could be an interesting character, an unusual setting, or a unique plot twist. Whatever it is, it should be something that sets your story apart from the rest.

This ‘hook’ is called a ‘log line’. A log line is a brief, one-sentence summary of a story or screenplay that is used to pitch or promote the project to potential investors, producers, or executives. It is often described as the “elevator pitch” of a story, as it should be concise enough to be delivered in the time it takes to ride an elevator. The log line should be the first thing the publisher reads when opening the treatment.

A good log line should capture the essence of the story and hook the listener or reader’s attention, leaving them wanting to know more. It typically includes the protagonist, their goal or motivation, the conflict or obstacle they must overcome, and the stakes involved.

For example, the log line for the movie “Jaws” could be: “When a small island community is terrorized by a great white shark, a reluctant police chief teams up with a grizzled fisherman and an oceanographer to hunt down the beast before it strikes again.”

In just one sentence, this log line sets up the main characters, the conflict, and the stakes involved, creating a sense of suspense and intrigue that makes the listener want to know more.

Log lines are a crucial component of the pitching process, as they provide a quick and effective way to communicate the essence of a story and generate interest in a project. They are used in a variety of contexts, including film and TV pitches, book proposals, and even video game concepts. Readers for publishers or producers will often decide whether the rest of the treatment is worth reading or not depending on how enticing the log line is. Make sure your log line doesn’t go over 1-2 sentences.

Next, focus on the plot. Make sure your treatment outlines the major plot points and the overall story arc. This should give the reader a clear idea of where your story is headed and what kind of journey your characters will go on. It’s also important to include any major conflicts or obstacles that your characters will face along the way.

When I was studying writing for film & TV, I was taught to break the treatment down into Acts and Scenes to make it easier for readers to understand the narrative structure of the story. In addition, to prepare a “bible” and a beat sheet as supporting documents. The bible provides details of the world and environment, particularly useful for stories set in a fantasy or sci-fi background. The beat sheet is a document that tracks the major actions taken by the characters that drive the story forward. It’s important to note that the treatment’s level of detail can vary depending on the audience. While some producers may prefer a more in-depth treatment, others may prefer a more concise overview. It’s essential to tailor the treatment to the intended audience and adjust it accordingly based on feedback. That said, like most things in the industry, nothing is set in stone. When I showed one of my TV treatments to a friend who works in the industry, he commented that it was too detailed!

Finally, be sure to highlight the themes and the target demographic for your story. What is your story really about? Is it a love story? A coming-of-age tale? A political thriller? Is it aimed for children? Young adult? LGBTQ+? Whatever it is, make sure it’s clear in your treatment. Themes are what give your story depth and meaning, and they can be a powerful selling point for producers or publishers.

In summary, a treatment is a concise and compelling pitch for your story idea. It should be well-written, engaging, and give the reader a clear idea of what your story is about and why it’s worth investing in. With a strong treatment, you’ll be well on your way to getting your story made into a film, TV show, or book.

Why Beat Sheet is Important

Let’s dive deeper into what a beat sheet is and how it can help you and readers better understand the structure of your story.

A beat sheet is a tool used by writers to plan out the major plot points or “beats” of their story. It’s a type of outline that breaks down the story into specific sections, each with its own purpose and goal.

A typical beat sheet will include the major plot points of the story, such as the inciting incident, the midpoint, and the climax. It will also include character development beats, such as the introduction of the protagonist and the antagonist, and any major character arcs.

The purpose of a beat sheet is to provide a clear roadmap for the writer, helping them to stay focused on the major plot points and character developments that are essential to their story. It can also help them to identify any gaps or weaknesses in the story and make changes as needed.

Beat sheets are often used in screenwriting, where the structure of the story is particularly important, but they can be useful in any form of writing where a clear structure is desired. By breaking the story down into specific beats, the writer can ensure that their story is engaging, well-paced, and ultimately satisfying to their audience.

When it comes to creating a beat sheet, there are many templates available online, but I prefer to keep it simple by using bullet point note form. Once all the beats are written down, I then organize them into acts and steps based on the hero’s journey structure. Any beats that don’t fit the structure should be removed. However, in some cases, it’s okay to deviate from the traditional structure. For example, in my self-published comic series, The City, I intentionally break from the traditional structure as a running gag between myself and my writing partner. However, this is something I can only do because I have full creative control over the project.

 

Beat sheet example from The City:

Act 1 (Teaser/Cold)

  • MO and CAMUS shoot up Butter Bacon’s (Foreshadowing)
    • They enter Butter Bacon’s as a ‘last meal’ option -Mo not happy with Camus’ restaurant choice. The restaurant is packed with a lineup.
    • They reveal that they are both strapped with guns but Mo will not rob the restaurant because they’re on a timely mission.
    • Camus begins to flirt with the cashier which pisses off a cyclist waiting in line behind them.
    • Cyclist starts fight with Mo by pushing him down.
    • Mo realizes the time has come to start their mission (hears noise outside of restaurant). He shoots the cyclist.
    • Mo and Camus shoots up the restaurant.

Act 2 (Ordinary World)

  • Issue 2
    • K rallies the Ruins by taking the police hostage.
      • K has the police on display to the Ruins. He speaks to everyone on a mic (police vs ruins exposition).
      • Police chief is given opportunity to reason with the ruins but fails to convince.
      • The ruins chant K’s name as he points his gun to execute the police chief.
    • Mo, Camus, and Albert lead a gang of terrorist to hi-jack the Legion’s weapons transportation.
      • The terrorists have jacked the weapons transportation vehicles and are being chased by the police in the Ruins.
      • The terrorists are fearless and they shoot back and kill the police.
      • The terrorists get a radio call from a Legion soldier advising them to return the vehicles.
      • Mo throws out a terrorist who cowards at the call into another truck.
      • Legion armored car with a turret chases after the terrorists, effectively killing a few.
      • As the chase gets deeper into the Ruins, biker gangs join the chase to help the terrorists.
      • Mo takes this opportunity to shoot a rocket launcher at the armored car, destroying it.
      • The terrorists are victorious.
  • Issue 3
    • Lil and Isis break into Legion HQ’s server room to reroute weapons transportation for Mo, Camus, and Albert.
      • Lil and Isis gear up in the middle of the night to sneak into Legion HQ’s server room. Isis kisses Lil.
      • They swim out from the sewers, kill Legion guards, set traps then enter Legion HQ’s server room via pipes.
      • Grims lead Legion soldiers towards the server room to stop Lil and Isis who are hacking into the weapons transportation system.
      • Lil completes rerouting the weapons transportation and attempts to escape by throwing a smoke grenade.
      • As Isis tries to bring Lil up to the pipes, Grims cuts Isis in half.
      • Lil falls to the ground and is captured.
    • Mo, Camus, and Albert lead gang of terrorists to steal Legion’s weapons transportation.
      • Legion’s weapons transport arrive at a lone gas station by the edge of the Ruins. They are sketched out and decide to leave after a short wait.
      • They draw interest from innocent Ruin locals.
      • The terrorists take over the transports. Albert receives a message from Lil.
    • Lil is tortured by Jericho, Grims and Locke.
      • Lil, butt-naked, is beaten to a pulp in an empty concrete cell by Grims and Locke.
      • Jericho steps in and tries to reason with Lil (terrorists vs. Legion, and ‘The Program’ exposition). Jericho offers Lil to join the Legion.
      • Lil rejects Jericho’s offer and questions their motives.
      • Jericho beheads Lil.

    • As mentioned above, the beats of my story structure are not conventional. They’re setup in a non-linear fashion, which my writing partner has advised against, especially due to another decision of mine to not to use exposition boxes. On top of that, as you will see in the upcoming Chapters 4 and 5, the hero’s journey stages are also switched around.

 


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