Screenwriting Advice From The Past: The Kinds Of Stories That Sell [Part 4]

September 30th, 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: The Kinds Of Stories That Sell [P. 74-75]:

People do not want very tragic stories which depress them for the next twenty-four hours. Hence the necessity for a happy ending in most stories. Few people like to cry, but every one likes to laugh. Therefore the story with many laughs has a hundred fold better chance than the one which deals with little Eva’s sad demise.

So the established pattern that movies generally have to have “happy endings”? That goes back decades. Indeed there’s an old Hollywood saying I heard years ago: “Give ’em what they expect, then give ’em what they want.” So you write an ending that’s sad, then top that with a happy ending.

Here is a classic example: The ending of Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey:

“It was too far. He was too old.”


“Oh, Peter. I worried about you so.”

Give ’em what they expect, then give ’em what they want. A happy ending.

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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