Writing - What To Write About
( Originally Published 1922 )
Why the Human Element Is Important.—The human element-heart interest and human interest—sells more manuscripts than anything else. No matter how cleverly your work is written, how carefully constructed your plot, how gripping the events, it will fail if it lacks heart interest or human interest. You must capture the interest and smypathy of your audience. This is the charm that sells manuscripts. Make the public admire your hero and heroine. Make them think. Make them dislike your "villain." Move them to laughter, tears, even hatred. To do this you must give them human nature.
The quickest way to reach a person's mind is through his heart. Love appeals to the heart; therefore, nearly every successful photoplay contains heart interest, or a touch of love interest. Heart interest, of course, is not love interest. Heart interest may exist without love interest, but love interest cannot exist without heart interest. Your work will be cold, barren, lifeless if it does not contain heart interest in some form. And it is only in remote cases that a photoplay meets with any great success if it does not contain a love story. On the other hand, some of the greatest successes of all time have been written around love. Most people are subject to love at one time or another. Consequently, a love story appeals to the majority. No matter how young or old your audience is, it likes to see love portrayed. The youthful gaze at it in anticipation; the aged, in fond remembrance. And remember that the average person, when witnessing your play, unconsciously thinks he is actually living the incidents presented on the screen. The fifteenyear-old girl, the middle-aged matron, the sweet-faced grand-mother, all imagine, for the moment, that they are the object of the manly hero's ardent love. This is why the photoplay is so popular. It lifts people out of the commonplace things of life and puts them on a higher level where they long to be. A love story will elevate them in this manner more quickly than any other type of manuscript.
Some Pertinent Suggestions.—Henry Christine Warnack has so cleverly written on this subject that his words are here quoted in full:
"Why is it, since everybody is trying to write motion picture plays that the studios all over the country cry out that they are starving for stories?
"Mostly, the answer is that our stories are not human. They are things we think up. They are mechanically clever. They have plot and action, but they are not human. They have artifice, but they are also artificial. They have none of that spontaneity of the thing that springs from the heart. They are not written with a glow and they bring no new joy to the beholder when once they have been filmed. They have none of that stuff that makes the bud and bloom of spring-time. They amuse the mind, but the laughter they provoke is not from the heart, and they have no tears.
"Speaking of the human note in stories, at least two of David Wark Griffith's recent great successes have been based on the simplest of stories wherein he has the leading characters merely a girl and a boy. He gives them no other name than these, nor has he need of other names. Life holds nothing more wonderful than a girl and a boy and the love between them that springs like a pure flower from holy ground. Two shall look and tremble; afterwards, nations follow.
"We have been striving too much for effects and have not thought enough about naturalness. We have been fascinated by the magic of the camera and have let fine mechanics put the text out of mind. We can have only one item, and that is life.
"One thing we dare not forget; it is that the world is starving for love. Any story that has not love for its cornerstone is short of the greatness belonging to drama. All other passions have their place in the wonderful fabric of life, but love excels them all.
"Today the good story must also have purpose and it must have light. Love is the degree of understanding. Sacrifice has such a wide appeal because it manifests the unselfishness of a great love and becomes its understudy. Nobility is never blind.
"Generally speaking, I should say that the safest rule for story building is to choose a theme and a set of circumstances that contain and express deep feeling in a way that will arouse the feelings of an audience. Let a story be flawless in all other respects, yet if it cannot make the people feel frequently, I maintain that it is not a success. I place the quality to arouse the feelings of the public as of first value in any story, and the more natural and unstrained the effort in this line appears to be, the surer will be the effect."
The Popular Appeal: The great majority of the people who go to see photoplays are of the middle class. Better pictures are Constantly being made—pictures that will appeal to the more educated—but the average motion picture theater would have to close its doors if it did not exhibit stories that reach the heart of the average individual. The photoplay is a cheap amusement ; that is why it is so well patronized. The average working than can take his entire family to see a photoplay for no more than it would cost him to buy one cheap seat at a theatrical performance. Hence, the great need of pleasing the ordinary individual.
Write about the things that are popular with the public today—the problems of marriage, the pleasures and sorrows of average, every-day folks. Do not forget that interesting drama is just as prevalent in the lives of all commuters and straphangers as it is in the lives of any other class. Some of the most absorbing plots may be built up from the misunderstandings which are bound to arise between husband and wife, who are really greatly in love with each other. Write of the grief you have seen parents undergo. Make photoplays of the desires, ambitions, sacrifices, or blasted hopes of the people who live next door to you or in the little cottage just around the corner. Editors know that theatergoers are intensely interested in stories dealing with the problems of people in the world about them--of the toiling mother, the overworked father, the wall-flower girl, the ambitious young man, the romantic hero. The story of the young man who delays marriage to support his aged mother is of more vital interest to theater-goers than the story of Hercules Hal who escapes from man-eating savages in the South Sea Islands.
In your haste to please the majority do not overlook the minority. Simply remember that anyone enjoys best the things he understands most. Therefore, while all cannot understand some things, the average playgoer is not necessarily unintelligent. The production and success of such plays as "Les Miserables," proves that the average American enjoys high-class plays; but the probabilities are that he enjoys more those plots dealing with every-day American events, such as, "What's Your Hurry?", with Wallace Reid, or, "Enchantment," featuring Marion Davies.
In this connection it will be well to note what Ludovic Halevy, the French novelist, has to say: "We must not write simply for the refined, the blase, and the squeamish. We must write for that man who goes there on the street with his nose in his newspaper and his umbrella under his arm. We must write for that fat, breathless woman whom I see from my window, as she painfully climbs into the Odeon omnibus. We must write, consequently, for the bourgeois, if it were only to refine them, to make them less bourgeois. And if I dared, I should say that we must write even for fools."
What a world-wise man was Halevy.
Why You Should Choose a Familiar Subject—In casting about for suitable subjects for your plays, do not make the mistake of attempting to build a play around some theme with which you are not familiar. If you have always lived in a small town, do not attempt to write plays of city life. You may be able to do it and do it well; but the safer procedure is to choose a subject from your own surroudings. There al-ways will be a demand for stories with rural settings, so there really is no good reason why you should turn to the White Lights for material. There are just as many plots in your life, even if you live in the country, as there are in the lives of city folks. Perhaps more. Of course, it is much easier to imagine you see more romance in the other fellow's existence! This is probably due to the fact that most people think that their life is more humdrum and less romantic than the lives of all other people. But you should not be led astray by such thoughts, Apply your imagination to the events constantly happening all around you—even in your own life—and you will find no difficulty in choosing a subject with which you are perfectly familiar.
You must realize that romance and adventure is everywhere about you in your daily life if you will only see it. Look at O. Henry. He saw adventure on the subway, in tenements, and in the streets. As a result, his short stories have proved to be a permanent contribution to the best in American literature. Look at homely events of your daily life with clear, truthful eyes, and you will then see the beauty, the brightness, and the blackness of same. Tell of them with feeling.
You probably will not, however, be able to find material in your own life, and the lives of your friends, which can be used exactly in the form in which you find it. You will have to take out certain elements and insert others. Real life rarely makes suitable photoplay material exactly as it occurs. Here, again, you must use your imagination.
There is no reason why a person living in the country should not write of the city; but, since there is plenty of material in every life, why try to write business plays, or society dramas, or war plays, if you have spent most of your days in an entirely different atmosphere? Why risk failure through ignorance of your subject? In order to be salable, a manuscript must be sincere. Before you can write sincerely, you must have an intimate knowledge of your subject. This is the best reason in the world why you should confine your early efforts to the writing of those things with which you are well acquainted.
On the other hand, if you live in the city, do not attempt stories with a rural flavor. The city furnishes enough elements without your having to resort to outside influence. Take New York's East Side, for example, or Wall Street, or the gay life of Broadway. There is so much material for the city writer that he never should be obliged to look outside for suitable themes.
"If you live in the country, try to put the country on paper. If you are a dweller in the cities, seek the streets and city life for inspiration. An editor from the West commented the other day on the splendid field lying fallow in New York's East Side, and yet it is seldom that a story of the East Side is written that `gets over,' not because there are no photo-playwrights on the East Side, but because they are all busy writing society plays and stories of business life, passing unheeded the wonderful pathos of the section of the town in which they live. With half the imagination they use in map-ping out a story of high society, they could weave about the life they see the tender veil of poetry and make the sordid almost sacred with tenderness of touch. In the same way, the girl who lives uptown wants to write about settlement workers and Salvation Army lassies, and the absence of convincing color sends the story back."
Going Beyond the Range of Personal Experience.—By advising the writer to treat only of those subjects with which he is familiar it is not meant that he must write only of those things coming within the range of his personal experience.
Marion Crawford and George Eliot wrote of experiences never felt and places never seen. They had great imaginations. Furthermore, they knew the art of building a story around what might be aptly termed "second-hand knowledge." That is, if they couldn't get material by personal experience, they got it from friends, or acquaintances, or books, or periodicals; but, no matter how they got it, they got it just the same, and they got it correctly. Therefore, their work was sincere.
You can do the same. If, after you have succeeded in selling your stories dealing with subjects well-known to you, you decide to write about foreign themes, first read extensively on the subject. Find out the truth about the thing you want to treat of. Look it up in books; go to the library if you have one in your city; read what books are in your family and those you can borrow from your friends. No matter how you get your information, be sure you do get it; and be sure that you get it true to life. Then it will be reasonably safe for you to attempt the theme in mind.
There is this element of uncertainty, however. You may know thoroughly the conditions and circumstances about what you intend to write; but the fact that they are not your own experiences may make it rather difficult for you to correctly interpret the different characters' reactions to certain circumstances. It is a difficult matter to say just what a person will do under certain conditions, and, unless you have "gone through" it yourself, you may not be able to tell it sincerely.
Jules Verne wrote of conditions and things never seen. He wasn't an extensive traveler, yet to read some of his books you might be inclined to think he had traveled all over the world. He thoroughly and convincingly wrote "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea," yet we all know he was never that far down. In fact, he had but very little personal knowledge of the sea. He also wrote, "A Tour of the World in Eighty Days," but he never toured the world in that time. The secret of his success was great imagination and extensive reading.
But, where Jules Verne succeeded, it is safe to say that most beginners would fail. Therefore, it is better for them not to make the attempt. Until your name and work become familiar to a number of editors, you should confine your efforts to writing about your own experiences; that is, about themes with which you are familiar.
Write of People and Places That Interest You.—It is important that you write on subjects interesting to yourself, or with which you are in sympathy. A writer cannot interest an audience in his work unless he himself is interested in it. If you are going to arouse any passion in your spectators, if you are going to make them feel anger, hatred, contempt, you, yourself, must first feel it.
Suppose stories of poverty and tenement life are popular. Determined to deal with a popular subject, you decide to write a play of tenement life. Perhaps you have some knowledge of the subject, but are not particularly interested in it because it does not appeal to you. In fact, all the environment of the tenement district may be somewhat repulsive to your tastes. Still you are anxious to sell your work, so attempt the subject. You spend a lot of time on your play. Discouraging as it may seem, the chances are the script will never sell, for it will not be possible for you to inject the necessary "punch" into the subject, not being deeply interested in tenement life. A similar script written by one who had done tenement work of his own free will would readily find a sale, all other things being equal, while yours would be rejected.
Choose Unusual Subjects.—It is also vitally important that, in choosing a subject, you select something out of the ordinary. Try to avoid the commonplace themes which have been worked to death by the average writer. Or, if you must treat of a subject -rather ordinary, try to write about it in an unusual manner.
Do not, however, be grotesque in your attempt to be unusual. In your effort to be out of the ordinary, do not be impractical or impossible. With the possible and practicable always in view, make a tremendous effort to get out of the rut, to traverse untrodden fields. No matter where you live, or in what circumstances you are, there are everywhere about you plenty of subjects which easily could be worked into very unusual productions.
Don't hesitate to write about the unusual for fear that it will be difficult to find an editor to produce your work. Editors are constantly looking for things out of the ordinary; and, if you can produce an unusual photoplay, still true to life and practicable, you will have no difficulty whatever in selling it. The chances are ten to one that it will bring you much more than a commonplace production.
Be Careful How You Create Sympathy: We have seen that plot is a struggle, a never-ending conflict. Before there can be struggle, however, there must be antagonism. Each play must therefore exhibit a protagonist and an antagonist. To oppose the good in your play, there must be evil. But, in writing of evil characters, you must be exceedingly careful not to let them perform actions which might gain sympathy for them. In other words, the people who witness your play must be constantly in sympathy with your hero and not with his opponent. Be careful to create very little, if any, pity for the evil-doer. Unless you are cautious in this respect, the audience will be dissatisfied when things go against the villain.
In order to make your play a success, your characters must arouse the sympathy of the audience. Therefore, in writing a play in which the hero commits a wrong, it becomes vitally necessary for you to show that there was a powerful motive for his act—that it could not be avoided—if you expect the audience to be in sympathy with him, though not necessarily approving his act.
On the other hand, when a crime is committed by an antagonistic character, you must be careful to prove that he was not morally justified in committing the crime. You must do this in order that the audience will not pity him. The evil deeds of dark forces in your play should not be morally justifiable, however; but they must be actuated by a fully sufficient motive.
Importance of the Happy Ending.—There are three things without which any life is sadly incomplete: "Faith, hope and love." It has been said that the greatest of these is love. However that may be, it is certainly true that the average person's life is made up, in no small degree, of hope. Much of life is built upon hope. Hope often makes life endurable—the hope that things will adjust themselves eventually, or be better to-morrow, and that everything will come out all right in the end. The average individual takes up his burden each day with the expectation that, by so doing, he will eventually reach a brighter goal. In fact, most of us constantly center our minds on the hope element.
It is the most natural thing in the world, then, that people should look for hope in photoplays. While your characters are undergoing a severe trial, the audience is constantly hoping that their misfortunes are only temporary, and that, in the end, better conditions will prevail. For this reason, the tragic ending has steadily declined in popularity. We have reached the point where it is almost impossible to sell a manuscript unless it has a happy ending.
This does not mean that there must not be an element of tragedy in your plot. There is no reason why misfortune should not be allowed to overtake some of your characters; this may be desirable, even necessary. But before your play ends, the majority of your characters should find happiness, peace, and love. Before the final scene of your play vanishes from the screen, the lives of your main characters should be filled with hope and happiness—if this be realistically possible.
Do not understand by this that, in the last scene of your play, the hero and heroine must fondly embrace, or hurriedly marry, or go through any of the "stock room" endings tacked on most photoplays. It is possible, and altogether desirable, to end your script in a different way. But no matter just how it ends, no matter whether the girl actually marries the boy or not, the last scenes should at least suggest peace and happiness, in order that the audience will leave the theater feeling that the future is hopeful.
The vital need of the happy ending becomes readily apparent when you recall that most people, in watching a photo-play, unconsciously live the events themselves. If they see an interesting play, during which much misfortune befalls the main characters, but happiness comes at last, they are satisfied. But if misfortune all through the play is capped with a tragic ending, the audience is apt to take it all to heart, and leave the theater in an unhappy frame of mind. This is not desirable' for reasons too obvious to mention.
What is Meant by the Picturesque Element.—Every photoplay should contain the picturesque element. Some themes, otherwise good in themselves,. necessitate homely treatment; perhaps the background is lacking in beauty. But, even in such extreme cases, it is necessary to add picturesque elements to the plot, not only to make the play more pleasing to the eye, but also by way of contrast.
Background and setting are not of primary importance, but they are important nevertheless. You will find that often one of the most vital elements of attraction in your work will be the setting in which your plot develops. The background in a photoplay is much the same to the photoplay as the setting is to a short story.
Action Must Feature Ending. Your play must end in a way that makes any other ending impossible. The disposition of your characters must be inevitable; as previously stated, the audience must be satisfied that you could not have made any other disposal of them. In other words, your work must have a true ending, it must satisfy. And as you approach this ending, there must be fewer and fewer speeches between your characters and less explanation. The latter part of your play should be nothing but action. This is due to the fact that the human mind begins to slow up after about thirty minutes of attention upon explanatory details. Tests by scientific men have proved this to be true. Therefore, the public does not care to read explanatory detail after the first two and a half or three reels of your play have been placed upon the screen. During the latter part of your production, people want nothing but action. The only time it is permissible to insert subtitles in the latter part of a photoplay is when they are very short speeches of the characters—answers, questions, or short commands.
The first half of your story, then, is merely a foundation for an absorbing climax. The beginning of your work places the characters clearly in the mind of the public and does the preliminary work necessary to interest the audience with the characters so that they will be absorbed in the conflict to follow. Having built up this interest, you must lose no time in leading your characters toward the finale and having one climax grow out of the other and one event follow faster and faster upon the preceding. Your plot should overcome obstacles that may seem unconquerable up to the moment of triumph. And it must move to this satisfying close without injecting unbelieveable events.
Write About People You Know.—Write about the in-tensely human characteristics of people as you know them. Do not be afraid that the lives of the people about you are not sufficiently dramatic or strong enough for a photoplay. Do not get the mistaken idea that in order to depict romance you must show a youthful American of the navy breaking the heart of an unsophisticated Japanese girl amid a hurricane of cherry blossoms. You will make a great mistake if you do this. You should write about the romance of lives about you and not about foreign standards of romance. Use your imagination in determining the aims and ambitions and dreams of the people about you, and banish from your minds the idea that moving picture audiences are interested only in the lives of rich people. Great things and real romance is just as frequent in the lives of the poor, and often more so, than in the lives of the rich. Think how frequently the masterpieces of painting and sculpture depict events in the lives of peasants and toilers. This is probably due to the fact that the poorer classes all over the world cover up their emotions and human qualities less than do the more sophisticated and cultured classes. Therefore, it is possible for a painter or sculptor to look more easily into the soul of a farmer than into the inner being of an artificial duke, whose whole training has taught him to conceal his emotions. Of course, America has no peasant class, but the lives of all Americans, with very few exceptions, are open enough and easy enough for you to look into to find human and very interesting material for endless productions.
Forget Technic.—Remember above all that editors are not interested in reading technical manuscripts. They do not want to read manuscripts developed in any formal style, with the use of cut-backs, fade-out, sub-titles, and so forth. All they want to receive is a clearly written story in less than five thousand words. They want you to forget everything about the writing of your story, to forget all about the technique of scenario writing, even to forget yourself, and merely put down your ideas of life as you know them to exist.
Forget Other Photoplays.—As you develop your plot, and as you begin to write it out on paper, do not think of it with relation to other motion pictures. If possible, forget all other motion pictures. Think only of your own story. The only connection you should have between your story and other pictures is the question of whether or not the action in your photoplay can be depicted on the screen. So you should avoid writing into your synopsis any phrase dealing with "remembered," "thought," "planned"—or any other word that means activity of the human mind with no physical response. Thoughts and remembrances cannot be depicted easily on the screen. You must constantly bear in mind the fact that the photoplay deals only with action. Of course, it is possible to have considerable mental action in your production. That is, your characters may be intelligent people and the resultant action of your production would come from a clash of wills, ambitions, or opinions. But you must always remember that the mental activity of your production must be expressed in physical action before it can be photographed. So words, when you are writing a photoplay, should lose their sound in your ears. You should use only words which describe pictures in your own mind. 'You should write more or less in the attitude of a deaf person who depends entirely upon his eyes to see and not upon sound at all.
Do Not Put Too Many Characters in Your Scenes.—Be very careful to see that you inject a variety of scenes into your production. Look over your story carefully to see whether there are not too many big scenes necessitating long-shots, or too many close-up scenes. You must remember always that the best photoplays are those in which there are about an equal number of long-shots and close-ups, or in which there are perhaps just a few more close-up scenes than long-shots. Many very good photoplays have been greatly injured by having too many characters before the camera throughout the bulk of the action. It is practically impossible to show a close-up of more than two faces at one time, therefore, when there are many people in a scene it is always necessary to move the camera back. When this is done, personal interest is lost.
Remember the Camera Eye Is Limited in Scope.—Always remember that the eye of the camera does not take in as much as your eye. Therefore, when a large number of people or great crowd is to be brought upon a scene, it is necessary to move the camera back. And it is a difficult matter to create dramatic effect unless the camera is quite close to the actors. Therefore, a mob scene is only dramatic when you know some one in the mob and are deeply interested in him. Consequently, whenever possible, you should let the camera keep close to your important characters and let it get a good view of their faces; for, after all, it is the faces of your characters, helped along with positive action, that must relate the plot of your production. Your story should be one that faces, plus arms and legs, can tell. No matter how important your story is, or how much it depends upon minds, wills, and ambitions, it must be told through the face. In the words of D. W. Griffith, "One good nostril or eye-brow is worth a hundred subtitles."
Write only Plays of Action.—As stated in the chapter devoted to plot in the photoplay, action is one of the indispensable requisites of a successful photoplay. Motion picture producers are constantly crying for action and more action. They demand plots that move rapidly. A common interpretation of action on the part of the amateur writer is the belief that it concerns merely the physical activity of the characters in the story. The average beginner imagines that if he can keep his characters racing from scene to scene he has achieved action. This is a very mistaken idea. While physical action of characters is desirable in working out the climax of a story, yet it is activity of an entirely other type that is necessary. The kind of action wanted is that which involves the plot itself and its component situations. In other words, action in a photoplay means that the presentation of the scenes themselves in the building of the plot should progress rapidly. Event after event in the development of your plot must move swiftly to the climax. You may see photoplays in which scene after scene is presented in which the physical exertion of the characters is practically at a minimum and yet you will be in-tensely gripped by the rapid movement of the story itself. In other words, real action does not concern the physical movement of your characters but merely the situations of your plot as they follow each other toward the conclusion of your story. Always keep the action of your production moving as rapidly as possible. Devote as much of your synopsis as possible to the action of the plot itself. Do not wander into unnecessary by-paths that have no direct effect upon the climax of your story. Do not indulge in unnecessary descriptive matter.
Keep the Mortality List Down.—Let few of your characters die. If it is necessary to eliminate a character in your story, do not kill him off just to get rid of him. If you are tempted to do this, pause a moment and see if you cannot find a better disposition of the character. There are many ways if you will only stop to figure them out. Of course, it is frequently necessary for death to take part in the construction of a photoplay. Yet there is no excuse for the whole-sale murder and destruction which takes place in many productions. There is a certain depressing effect accompanying death and it is a good idea to get away from it as much as possible.
Remember the Public.—Do not forget that your photoplay is written for the benefit of the average American citizen, his wife, and his children. When writing photoplays you are very much in the position of a merchant who has some wares to sell. If you had an opportunity to sell one of two articles, one of which was in great national demand and the other in demand only by a very limited class of people, you would not hesitate a moment to sell the former article. It is the same in writing for the screen. You are creating something to market. You want to appeal to the greatest number of people possible. Therefore, you must write to please the average person, who is greatly in the majority. The most successful photoplays are those in which the author has been very careful to please the average person. The most unsuccessful writers of to-day are those who go blindly ahead and write something which pleases themselves regardless of public taste. Do not scoff at the public's taste. Do not think that you can force down the throat of the public something you think they ought to have, something they do not want. No person or group of persons can dictate the kind of entertainment the public is to have. To be successful, you must be guided by the public it-self. Remember this always.
Be Logical.—Shun coincidence. The public has stood about as much as it cares to stand in the matter of coincidence. To-day you must be logical. If your hero is to appear suddenly at the crucial moment to save the heroine from death, there must be a logical explanation of how the hero learned of the girl's whereabouts, how he happened to get there just in time. It will not do to have your hero just happen to be around at the right time. There must be a logical explanation of his presence. Of course, it is true that life itself is often made up of coincidence, but such events do not ring true on the screen. Motion picture audiences demand that everything be logical. Otherwise your drama will turn out to be a comedy in the eyes of the public. So if any important phase of your plot is based upon coincidence, it would be a good idea to dispose of the event and work out another solution. Of course, it may be permissible to bring in the element of coincidence in some of the less important situations of your production, but you should never let coincidence play the leading role in the main event. If you will simply consider the situations of your plot a little carefully, you will find that it will be a simple matter to turn coincidence into an absolutely logical happening.
Remember the Girl Who Works.—The girl who works should form an interesting topic for many of your best photo-plays. There are many plots in her life due to the fact that she comes in contact with hundreds of men, where her mother met but few, and she is brought in direct contact with every phase of industry and life. No matter whether she is a stenographer, a teacher, a model, a clerk, or a settlement worker, the problem is essentially the same. There are countless interesting phases of her life which may be developed into excellent productions. Is a girl justified in using her feminine appeal to secure a position? Just how should she conduct herself to be pleasing to her employer and yet keep a respectful distance? How much can a girl "make up" when applying for a position? Should a girl strive to make herself exceedingly attractive when applying for a position, or should she merely try to create an air of efficiency? To what extent should she mingle with male employees around her? Should she adopt the attitude of conversing, laughing, and joking more or less intimately with them in order to preserve harmony, or should she remain aloof and attend, strictly to business? All these questions and problems may form the basis of up-to-date photoplays. All are problems more or less common to the average person and about which you should be able to write with feeling. Every employer should be familiar with all these questions for they are all problems in the daily affairs. He knows how difficult it is to keep the men and the girl employees working side by side without wasting each other's time. Every man who has worked in an office and has witnessed the problems arising from these things ought to be able to write an interesting photoplay. And ambitious girls themselves who have not been contented to remain at home, but who have been desirous to earn their own way, should be able to write intelligently on this subject. The question of personal conduct is an important one. It is common to every one. A photoplay written about this subject will prove very popular.
Inject Comedy Relief.—Put a little comedy in your most serious photoplay. No matter how serious your plot may be, it is a good idea to inject a few humorous scenes, especially in the early part of your story. Not slap-stick comedy, but merely some of the many human events that make one laugh every day—little side-lights on human nature, or little vanities, pretenses, or imaginings. Laughter is a species of excitement that acts as a tonic. A little laugh follows a serious scene, or series of them, as a happy relief and serves to make the seriousness of your production all the more effective by contrast. Do not be afraid to let your hero and heroine do laughable things, provided only that they are not made ridiculous. Of course, there are tense moments in every production when no comedy should be attempted under any circumstances. But there are many lesser important scenes in which it can be advantageously used. You can find hundreds of humorous events to be used in your production by watching people on the street, in public places, in their homes. Even search your own life; it is not so different from that of other people. Think of the embarrassing situations you have seen and how laughable they were nevertheless.
Be Natural.—Do not inject into your plot anything that an ordinary, natural, normal man or woman would not do under ordinary, or occasionally extraordinary, circumstances. The every-day life of everyday people is sufficiently interesting and enthralling to make photoplays. that will prove successful. This is proved by the fact that the best selling novels and most popular photoplays are built around natural events. People have stood for hours on the street waiting to see "Way Down East," simply because it told a story of people with whom the average person was well acquainted. The plot traveled in channels with which the average person was familiar. When produced on the screen, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" was a very artistic picture in which Mr. Barrymore acted excellently; but the play did not prove very popular with the public and was not a big money-maker. This was because it did not deal with natural events. No one had ever gone through the peculiar experiences of Dr. Jekyll. While one might admire the characterization and wonder at its gruesome effect, there was little personal feeling involved. You will do well to write only plays of natural events.
The Importance of Contrast.—A prominent producer gives this excellent advice relative to contrast in the scenes of your photoplay:
In the first place visualise each scene as a little story in itself. In that way you will make it tell something, and do not forget that each scene is building toward the climax and must have continuity with the whole. Now, when you have laid your story out in scenes think of it as pieces for a patchwork quilt and weave the pattern for your quilt as our grandmothers did, with the dark and light pieces pleasingly balanced.
Let us think of the sad scenes as dark pieces, the happy scenes as light pieces and the turbulent, stormy scenes as striped pieces. Now pick carefully and do not have all your dark pieces on one side and your light ones on the other. You must place each one where it will contrast the other. It is by contrasts that the high lights in a story—or a quilt—are brought out.
A successful director once told me that he directs every scene for contrast; that a death scene is the more gripping if it follows some manifestation of carefreeness and happiness, and that a strong emotional scene is the more impressive if it follows a calm in the story.
To go back to our story quilt. Perhaps we will start with light or happy scenes. After several of these, so that the pattern is pleasingly on its way, we will take a few dark ones. Then, just as it seems the dark ones are going to predominate we will put in another light one. Building this way we will work up to the climax or motif of the pattern. Then we will use a striped piece—or turbulent scene. That piece, or scene, will contain the "punch," as motion-picture folk say, of the entire work. It must be placed carefully, so as to get the full value.
Satisfy Market Demands: When writing your plays, keep one eye on your script and the other on the photoplay market. There are certain types of plays that editors do not want, and other types that they are mighty anxious to get. It goes without saying that you want to write the latter; therefore, before you begin to write any particular type, find out if it is in demand.
In this connection, remember that certain classes of plays are "hatched up" in the studio—written by staff writers. If one of the studio writers learns that certain peculiar types of plays are wanted by his company, he is, of course, wise to write them. But there are enough exceedingly popular subjects everywhere to supply you with so much material that you will not have to resort to writing about subjects the demand for which is limited.