Screenwriting Advice From The Past: The Final Close-Up [Part 2]

March 24th, 2013 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 Final Close-Up [P.103]:

If any considerable action takes place after the climax in the “big scene,” you will have ruined your photoplay with one of these deadly anti-climaxes. On the other hand if you write “The End” before your plot has been fully unraveled, you have failed to accomplish anything–you haven’t any story at all.

Both of these points is true:

* Too much action after the Final Struggle / Resolution can often lead to a feeling of hanging on, a story straggling to The End rather providing a solid definitive conclusion.

* Too little action, specifically the kind that actually brings a sense of resolution, can leave a reader feeling unfulfilled. You may think “you haven’t any story at all” is rather hyperbolic, but ponder this: A script’s ending is often what impacts a reader most. You’ve built everything in the story up to this moment. If you fail to deliver, it can be anything from a mere disappointment to a decisive one. In any event, a story without an ending does not qualify as a fully baked story.

Here’s the thing: In my view, a story’s ending is indicated in its beginning. How? Look to your Protagonist. What is the nature of their Disunity? If you can dig down deep enough to discern what those dynamics are, you surface what the essence of their Authentic Self is, yearning to emerge into consciousness, then your story’s ending will almost always have something to do with a Final Struggle that caps the Protagonist’s metamorphosis allowing that to happen.

The seeds of the ending are there at the very beginning of the story.

Next week: More on from Anita Loos and John Emerson’s book from 1920.

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

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