Elinor Glyn. The Elinor Glyn System of Writing - Bppl I. Redditch, Worcestershire, England: Read Books Ltd, 2011. (originally published in 1922)
Glyn was a screenwriter (then referred to as a photoplay writer beginning in 1920. She created the term “It”, designating a person who has an appeal of “animal magnetism”.
The author wrote then that “anyone, anywhere is welcome in the profession” of writing movies. She foresaw, before the invention of Internet accessible writing such as blogs, there would be a time when there will be millions of writers.
One need not be a genius to write prose, she argued. It is quite possible to learn photoplay principles which were then the forbearers of screenwriting principles). Everyone has a story and a movie story inside them, which is a fact D.W. Griffith proclaimed.
Glym predicted that “stories of the West will always be popular.
The movie industry then had created thousands of photoplay writers.
A writer, Glyn wrote, observes what is around, absorbs it, and writes. One doesn’t have to go to college to become a writer.
The author advises writers to write about that which is most meaningful to the writer. What is written should be something that is natural to write. An observant writer draws from past observations. A writer should present writings from the writer’s own unique perspective. Details may relate information about true meanings. Glyn advised that the simplest ideas often are the best.
It is important to have a good and understandable plot. The author should add a unique inventiveness to the plot.
One must write from one’s imagination of things the author knows or has experienced, Glyn argued. Otherwise, it may come across as unreal.
Writings should be original and not contrived.
An exercise Glyn recommended was, after viewing a movie, to consider different climatical endings.
A character should be developed with sympathy and written reacting with emotions.
Glyn advised writing a character who calmly approaches subjects without bias. The character should not have prejudice.
Glyn advised writing with a sense of humor.
A story must have a theme. Themes are sometimes about life’s problems. The theme relates the story to a foundation of an idea.
Stories require characters, incidences, settings, emotions, and ideas.
A story is told from a point of view. It could be from a character’s view, an observer’s view, or a combination of these.
There should be captivating characters. They should appeal to the audience. They should have multiple traits. The characters that are most appreciated are typical and strong. A writer should decide what a character is like in behavior, appearance, and speech. The interactions among characters is important. the audience should feel sympathy for the characters.
A plot should result from q natural progression of situations. The plot entails the Preliminary Situation, the Climax or Culmination, and the Conclusion or Denouement.
There should be suspense in the plot. It should create curiosity. There should be a calm before the climax. Consider ways to intensity the conflicts and create some humor i conclusions.
Elinor Glyn, The Elinor Glyn System of Writing - Book II. New York: The Author’s Press, 1922,
A strong should have a strong, dominant beginning. Do not keep an audience bored and waiting. Maintain interest throughout the story. The story should conclude logically, clearly, and in an entertaining manner.
Glyn argued against moralizing in the conclusion. The conclusion should settle the theme’s end or terminate from the climax.
Characters must be clearly identified in good dialogue. The dialogue shows their moods. the dialogue should only be such for further developing the story, Dalogue is not like real talk.
There should be a proper setting. The settings influence incidences and how characters act.
The style should fit the story. A story should have a clear appeal to the audience’s senses, have emotions, and create beauty within people’s minds.
There should be unity in a story’s tie, place, and actions. The story should create a unity of impression with a harmonious tone. It should create enthusiasm. Expectations should be met, such that romances should not become tragic and melancholy stories should not become joyous. There should be a unity of impression.
A title should be short yet compelling. Avoid using names as titles, as names are not interesting. A title should infer a story’s tone.
A mystery story should present puzzles, maintain suspense, provide hints, and have a clever villain.
The writer should write what the writer intends and means to say. Things unimportant or redundant to the story should be removed.
Photoplay is showing a story in pictures, rather than words. Only actors performing are presented (in the silent films of that era). There must be action.
The viewer looks for gestures, facial expressions, and other actions in viewing a silent film.
Photoplay writing requires that characters act.
A photoplay needs a plot. A photoplay needs a Synopsis presenting a story, a Cast of Characters a Scene-Plot so the Producer knows how many sets are required, and a Scenario. A photoplay writer, in that era, should not have written a continuity in a manuscript submission to an editor.
The plot must depict opposition. It could be characters opposing each other, or a characters against nature or society or temptation. There must bve clearly defined struggles. The plot should present a simplification from life It should have a unified structure.
A photoplay / screenwriting, Glyn recommends, should keep audiences satisfied by letting the audience know what is going to happen next Audiences want understandable, orderly stories, she argued.
A plot should be interesting and suspenseful. The needs to be some complications in the plot. That complication should build to a climax.
A plot should have a beginning, with a complication, a middle with more complications or a major knot, and an end with an explication that unties the knot.
A photoplay should begin naturally but some something interesting. The climax should make an audience breathless in anticipation. The end often occurs shortly after the climax. An audience must feel satisfied that the ending shows what happened to the characters and what it happened. It should be a natural ending.
There must be unity and consistency in a photoplay. The audience must know where the story is leading them. A predicament must create suspense. A solution to the predicament must be shown.
A plot must be strong, Glyn stated. 99% of manuscripts fail due to lacking a good plot. Real life is not always good for plots. A strong story often arises from unordinary events. Yet the unordinary must feel like a true event.
A synopses is important in a photoplay. This, rather than continuity, is what is submitted.
Elinor Glyn. The Elinor Glyn System of Writing - Book III. Auburn, N.Y.: The Authors’ Press, 1922.
Continuity, also known as the Scenario, in movies then, was controlled by the Director. Continuity included the action that was shown on the screen.
In movies earlier than then, writers wrote the scenarios. Producers found that writers often were better at writing either plots and creating characters or that they were better at building plots in synopsis continuity form. Thus, there were often two classes of photoplay writers: 1.) those who wrote plots and ideas and 2.) those who developed the plot into continuity as it would appear on film.
Most big studios had a Scenario Department, as well as departments for Art, Architecture, Electrical, Research, etc.
Producers handled mostly the business side of producing films.
The Scenario Department searched for ideas it could use. Authors were paid for ideas that were bought. Two or three continuity writers would then write what actions would appear on film. Continuity writers also determined camera angles and when to use a long shot or close up shot.
Continuity writers often added their own ideas for what should be shown. Their script would be presented to the Board of the Scenario Department. The Board would then present the script to the Director. The Production Department would usually select two actors and the Director selected the rest of the cast. The cast, Director, and Production Manager would determine the sets and gives the studio set instructions to the Architectural Department. Some other scenes were filmed on location, which were handled by the Location Department.
The Art Director obtained furnishings from the studio store or hired from large emporiums that served studios. A Wardrobe Department created the wardrobes.
Movies then took from three weeks to two months to be photographed. The Cutting Department found the most usable film. The Director picked which film was used in the movie. The Titling Department wrote titles. The Board of Censors reviewed the film.
A continuity writer had to visualize what would be seen in the film. This writer wrote what the characters were to do.
Glyn advised presenting characters as soon into the movie as possible, They should initially remain on film long enough so the audience would become familiar with them.
Glyn advised against presenting too many preliminaries. This bores audiences. She advised beginning with action. The plot should begin during the first scene.
The action should easily progress along each scene. Everything characters do should move the story’s action, reveal motives, or show their inner nature. There should be a logical flow. The action should not be too rapid or jumpy.
Sub-titles were used for showing either spoken dialogue or showing descriptions or explanations. Sub-titles take action away from the movie. It was advised they be used sparingly They also should be able to be read quickly. It was advised they at most have 15 or 20 words.
It was advised against stating something in a sub-title and then showing it. Never use a sub-title when it can be shown.
Sub-titles should be as short as possible while being instructive. They should not be vague.
Sub-titles were advised to not use monotonous exposition such as “the next day”, “two years later”, etc.
Sub-titles brought conversation to a silent movie. Superflous titles, it was advised, should be avoided.
It was once the belief that movies should present the entire figures of characters on the screen, D.W. Griffith demonstrated that details can be interested, He used Close-up Shots.
A Fade-Out and Fade-In indicates a time lapse. A Dissolve-Out and Dissolve-In is similar except the scene ends and then a scene appears with a mist or haze in-between. This is known as a Lap Dissolve.
Double Exposures were part of the movie photography then for special effects.
The Flash is a scene that appears briefly This is a device to speed the film’s action.
The Vision is used to show a character’s vision, perhaps while a character meditates. Double exposures accomplished this.
Reverse Action shows what was filmed backwards.
A Cut-Back interrupts a scene with another scene, This is used to create suspense, show a gap in action, or was used instead of using a sub-title.
The Board of Censorship then would not allow a crime to be shown. Cut-backs were used to show before and after a crime.
A character should be worth knowing. A writer should deeply love the character being written.
Some characters are found from direct observation, indirect knowledge, or from one’s imagination.
A character should evoke moral sympathy. The audience must sympathize with each character, even the antagonist.
A photoplay with too much sex was not then appropriate. Photoplays were not to delve into intellectual sciences and arts that would not appeal to many viewers. Characters should exist in a natural environment. Characters should be modern, as “yesterday is dead”.
Heroines had to be modern, They had to be sophisticated, wholesome, innocent yet not ignorant, have ideas, be independent, be active, not masculine, vivacious but not coarse, and have a sense of humor. It was noted that then earlier heroines were often blonde, angel-eyed, frail, fruitful, yet were also drab and lifeless.
A heroine then could flirt or kiss, but could not be a vamp. The flirting could not be deceptive. She could be animated but not silly, but should have had wholesome humor.
A heroine should not smoke. She should not be a prude, She may dance. She may wear powder and rouge, dress in respectable low necked gowns, and may bob her hair.
A heroine may be married. A common theme then was about women adjusting to marriage She should dress and retain her beauty as she would before marriage.
A married heroine creates conflict for a husband who wants others to admire his wife yet not flirt with her. Many stories about these feelings were popular then.
Some photoplays dealt with women with children, for people realized then “that a mother can care for children properly and still maintain interest in other things.”
Write thinking of good characters. Do not write thinking of a particular actor who should play the part.
No hero should be of questionable character. an adulterer, or one who makes love to many unmarried women. A hero should have one woman and he would revere her. He should overcome obstacles to obtain his love. A hero should have some faults, yet not ones that would keep him from being held in high esteem.
A hero should be admired, sincere, and not conceited.
Most photoplays have 5 to 18 characters. A varied cast is often best as the contracts create interest. A large cast may confused audiences.
Heroes and heroines should be young or in their prime ages, An extreme hero or villain usually doesn’t work. People have shades of good and bad. Characters should be realistic.
Setting, or Atmosphere, refers to the place, time, and conditions in which he move depicts. The setting affects how characters are chosen and behave. Glyn advised then against writing photoplays uncommon to American settings Distant, expensive setting s were then often rejected for cost reasons.
An audience generally likes beautiful, pleasing settings.
Settings mattered less in the then earlier movies as films were a novelty. Settings developed from previous cheaply made sets to more elaborate screen settings that then cost thousands of dollars.
Setting should emphasize emotions.
D.W. Griffith advised photoplay writers that “you do not know about the streets of Belgium in 191 or Fifth Avenue in 1820. You do know Main Street today. Write about it.”
Exterior settings con lift an audience’s spirit.
A movie’s title should attract public attention. Avoid titles that are too general, too depressing, or too revealing as to what happens.
The Photogply stage is what is viewed by a camera.
Photoplay writers would include lighting instructions. It was advised they avoid difficult lighting schemes.
Do not write scene that would create risk for an actor, Glyn advised.
Audiences like movies with a human element. There is a charming hero and a dislikable hero in what Glyn advised movies should be. There is laughter and crying.
David Wark Griffith noted the simplest story resonates. A boy and a girl falling in loe has appeal, Glyn observed that “two shall look and tremble; afterwards, nations follow.” People love a good love story.
Popular problems have public appeal, such as marriage problems and everyday d difficulties. Misunderstandings between two people who love each other can create good stories. Photoplays about ambitions, desires, and dashed expectations often work, Glyn advised.
Glyn noted that movie audiences prefer American stories than foreign stories, such as “Les Miserables.
Write about familiar subjects. Research when writing about topics you don’t know.
Avoid writing about commonplace themes that viewers have already seen.
Avoid writing the grotesque.
Do not make the villain appear too sympathetic.
A movie should have a happy ending. there can be any element of tragedy in the plot. Yet the characters must find happiness at the end.
A Picturesque Element, such as a beautiful background, is importnat even as it is of secondary importance.
The mind considerably slows after 30 minutes of explanatory details Movies should not have long speeches Move should depict action.
A photoplay submission was advised as being a clear story of 500 words or less.
Close-ups of more than two people are impossible, Glyn advised then Do not have too many characters in a scene.
A mob scene works only if the audience knows a character in the mob.
Photoplays must show action. Keep action moving rapidly.
A character could die, yet this depressed audiences. Glyn advised against having too many characters die.
Stories about working women are often interesting.
Comic relief adds to movies.
Characters should be natural.
Some directors advise that scenes should contrast from the previous scene. This creates an emotional audience.
A writer should write what the market determines.
Glyn then advised: Do not writ movies that would be expensive to produce. Avoid writing about children and animals. Avoid stories requiring expensive costumes. It was required they write stories that would approved by the National Board of Censorship, A movie about crimes depicting a repulsive crime or had a horrid murder could not be then shown.
Among other things that could not be shown were a presentation of a unique manner to create a crime, anything that featured suicide, showed theft (a burglar could break in that it could not be shown the burglar stealing anything), was vulgar or suggestive, involved mischievous joking on the young or invalid, involved property destruction, showed lynching (unless in a Western), showed deadly weapons except in historical contexts, or showed kidnapping.
A movie could not be suggestive, bt then only when proper. Glyn observed “a woman might unnecessarily reveal more of her ankle then not customary, and make the scene objectionable.”
Avoid depressing subjects such as having too much death.
A photoplay could not then afford a political or religious view. A photoplay could not favor socialism. Glyn advised “if you write a political theme, politics should not predominate.”
As for race, Glyn advised “it is permissible to make light humor of certain racial characteristics, but, if you do this, you must be careful to make audienes laugh with the characters and not at them.”
Do not be too obvious in stories, Avoid hackneyed theme, Avoid such plots, Glyn advised, as a child stolen by gypsies and returned to parents by a ridiculous method, a child who keeps parents from separating or who brings them back together after separating, a woman choosing between two men who creates a task where one cheats and she marries the other, a rich crippled child and a healthy poor child get together, a husband jealous or an in-law who grew up in South America, a vengeful discharged employee who is hired back for doing something heroic, a couple in love who discover they are brother and sister, a marriage met with disapproval that become approved when they have a baby, a young boy who is mischievous, a burglar who is thwarted by his own child now living there as an adopted child, a convict escapee who steals clothes and gets the man whose clothes were stolen into trouble, someone who pretends to be a hero when someone else wa the hero in order to love a friendless person at Christmas or Thanksgiving, a man winning the love of the boss’s daughter by gaining favor at work against a scheming foreman or parter, or a man who falls in love with the daughter of a man he arrested.
Also to be avoided, Glyn advised, as movie about labor problems, that require trick photography, have uncommon influences, or involved a pair of baby shoes. She also advised avoiding Bible stories as well as stories about sex, drugs, and alcohol which, while had been been dealt with then in the past were then no longer subjects filmed.
Elinor Glyn, The Elinor Glyn System of Writing - Book IV. Auburn, N.Y.: The Authors’ Press, 1922.
This book presented examples of photoplays with comments