Screenwriting Advice From The Past: Character On The Screen [Part 1]

July 29th, 2012 by

If you are a screenwriter, you should know about Anita Loos. Loos was one of the most influential writers in the early stages of American cinema, associated with 136 film projects per IMDB.

Married to writer John Emerson, the pair wrote one of the first books on screenwriting in 1920: “How to Write Photoplays”. I have been running a weekly series based on the book. You can access those posts here. Today we look at “Character On The Screen” [P. 64]:

Every character in the story of the scenarist should be established as an individual — a living, breathing, real person.

If you read this blog regularly, you know this sentiment is music to my ears. The surest way to avoid the curse of Formulaic Writing? Populate your stories with compelling, entertaining — and as Loos & Emerson say — “living, breathing, real” persons. That story universe? It exists! Your characters? They exist! How do you know when your characters are becoming ‘real’? Loos

The best method according to a famous critic, is to carry your characters about in your imagination for a few days before you start your story, to think about them until they become, to you, flesh and blood. When you have reached the point where you can say to yourself, “That’s wrong. Mary would never have done such a thing,” you can be sure your characterizations are crystallizing in the right way.

When you can feel what your characters might be feeling or hear what they could be saying, you’re on the right path to finding your characters.

Loos & Emerson offer a bunch of insights into developing and writing characters, so I will spend the next several weeks in this series excerpting their ideas from this particular chapter of their book.

Next week, more screenwriting advice from 90 years ago.

If you live in the U.S., you can read “How to Write Photoplays” via Google books online here.

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