Screenwriting Advice From The Past: Character On The Screen [Part 4]

August 19th, 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. 67]:

Character development means a change in character taking place during the story. For example, many stories have been built about the vampirical woman who is gradually reformed through love until in the end she is shown in plain, but becoming frocks, plucking daisies, instead of souls. In the same way, a weak man might be gradually strengthened through force of circumstances until in the end he is able to make a sacrifice of which he would have been incapable at the start of the story.

While there is a great demand for such stories in the motion picture field, they are most difficult to write. Any change of character during the story is legitimate, but it must be the logical outcome of events in the plot. The author must present to the audience sufficiently strong reasons why his crook should reform.

Even back in 1920, the idea of a Protagonist going through a metamorphosis was a staple of the film writing business. And note how this change has to be perceived as “legitimate.” Once again, a message from the past that resonates with our task as writers in the present.

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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